Intended to deliberately cause upset (how could they not?) Ed Vaizey’s comments regarding volunteers in the Telegraph is par for the course. The biggest surprise is not that he delivers these inane comments with a straight face but that we are outraged when he does so.
Ed Vaizey is neither lazy nor incompetent. In fact he is delivering the political ideology of the coalition government and the instructions of his boss, Maria Miller, perfectly. Vaizey’s so called ‘inaction’ around swingeing cuts to libraries is in fact very deliberate and effective political action.
Cameron’s vision of the Big Society has, unfortunately, found fertile ground in certain areas and public libraries are the poster boy.
Councils of all political hues have bought in to the idea that libraries are the one service that can be run by well-meaning but unqualified, inexperienced and unpaid amateurs. We can argue over who is to blame for this fallacy: Government ideology, the LGA, individual councils and councillors, the lack of leadership and advocacy shown by the SCL and Cilip, and even the overoptimistic bumbling of ACE, but it is volunteers themselves who also must bear some of the responsibility.
Communities are often blackmailed or pressured by their local authority into running a service they already pay for through their council tax. However, despite the good intentions and the desire not to see services stripped from their community, the irony is that every time a volunteer or group steps forward to run their local library it justifies Vaizey’s position.
It vindicates the approach of keeping libraries open no matter what while ‘hollowing’ out the service in other ways. It expedites de-professionalization, the cutting back of paid, experienced staff, and the lessening of specialised services. The Catch-22 is that by saving something the volunteer places great value on; their local library, they expedite the diminution of the overall service.
Ultimately, despite the best of intentions, by taking on the running of their local library, volunteers become part of the problem, not the solution.