Friday, 10 February 2017

Volunteers and the Library Service

At the Library Meeting last week, HOWLS handed out a flyer with all the reasons why a library run by volunteers is not as good as a library run by professionals. I thought it was worthwhile going through the points here.

The first thing is that Librarian is a professional qualification, equivalent to a degree. There's a lot more to it than tidying the shelves and stamping books. Volunteers can be helpful, but a library needs professional staff to run it.

Librarians know all sorts of things about the local community that are best kept confidential. Hand over the service to volunteers, no matter how well-meaning.... and what could possibly go wrong?

That's if enough volunteers can be found to keep the library open long term. Many voluntary projects start with loads of eager volunteers - but come back a year later and there will be only a few left, doing more and more of the work.
And even volunteers cost money - they need to be trained when they start, and there are admin costs and so on.

At present, all the branch libraries and all the libraries in bigger towns are part of one organisation. This would not be the case with a volunteer-run library, which would be operating on its own, leading to wildly differing levels of service across the county.
And what about services like inter-library loans? What happens to them? At the moment, someone doing research on a subject in Hay can ask for books to be sent specially - would they be able to do this in a volunteer-run library?

And, we pay for this already, through our council tax. Why should residents be expected to pay for a service, and then volunteer to run the service for nothing?

Also given out at the meeting was a leaflet about CarnegieUK. Andrew Carnegie was a 19th century philanthropist who decided to use his fortune to provide libraries across the UK and the US. If you look around in many towns, you will see his name carved into the front of libraries, or buildings which used to be libraries.
Andrew Carnegie believed in giving people the opportunity to better themselves by providing them with books, and the Trust carries on that aim.

The leaflet points out that libraries give people access to literature, music, film and theatre that they would not otherwise be able to enjoy. Libraries lend CDs and DVDs as well as books, these days. Libraries widen peoples' horizons - at college, our Gilbert and Sullivan Society were only able to put on a performance of Iolanthe because we could borrow the scripts and music from the central library, for instance.

Libraries help job seekers. Libraries now have computers for the public to use, and this can be essential to jobless people who do not have their own computers - more and more job seeking has to be done online. And libraries contain books about craft skills and DIY and budgeting and how to start a new business, enabling people on a low income to help themselves without spending money they haven't got.

Libraries are one of the few public spaces left that are free for everyone to enter. They help with social isolation, an increasing problem in modern society, and can provide a point of access to a variety of public services.
Remember Library Plus? It was supposed to be a replacement for the County Council office we used to have in the Council Chambers, where you could go to pay your council tax and get in touch with County Council departments to deal with problems. It withered away pretty quickly but libraries could be used to provide services like that - as long as they have a sound proof room for using the phone this time!

And of course, I haven't even mentioned children using the library yet. When I was a child, I practically lived in my local branch library. I had my own coat peg in the staff room, and was a volunteer shelf tidier aged eleven! There is no way my family could have provided all the books I read as a child without access to a public library, even though there was a reasonably good library at school. I want to see that continuing for today's children.


Emma Balch said...


Anonymous said...

Volunteers can have a Confidentiality Agreement and thus be as safe with such information as any paid member of staff.
Librarians are not indispensable. We are now living in 2017 & not the 1960's. Times have happily changed & we should embrace different ways of delivering services.

Eigon said...

So, Anonymous, you're happy to exchange trained professionals for volunteers for libraries. What else would you be happy to have volunteers doing instead of professionals? This "different way of delivering services" is a much worse way of delivering services and is unsustainable in the long term.

Anonymous said...

We are talking about libraries here! I suspect you have little experience of the often excellent and inspirational voluntary sector.

Eigon said...

I have nothing against volunteers - but this is asking volunteers to take over a statutory obligation on the part of the County Council, which they (and we) are already paying for through our taxes. And it is also saying to those volunteers that if they don't do it, they won't have a service at all.
I would love it if volunteers were able to do inspirational work that they really enjoyed - but all too often they are being brought in to prop up things that should be paid for and done by professionals, as cheap labour, and there is no time for them to do the things they really enjoy.