After comments made during a speech to campaigners in Lincolnshire I wrote to Helen Goodman asking the following questions and for a reply for inclusion on this blog:
• You have stated Labour is committed to maintaining a core professional service. In your view what constitutes a ‘core professional service’?
• Does your party support the creation of community/volunteer managed libraries and if so under what circumstances?
• Do you believe that volunteers provide the same quality of service as paid library assistants and professionally qualified staff?
Her reply (below) is hopeful and one which I give a cautious welcome to. It’s encouraging that the shadow minister is willing to engage with librarians and to listen to our concerns, more than can be said for the present Minister for Culture. I do have some reservations about the wording concerning volunteers as personally I would prefer to see volunteers being used in complementary roles only.
That said, this is a far more positive response than anything we are used to getting from the current incumbent, Ed ‘completely useless’ Vaizey. It is also in complete contrast to the recent letter and comments by Karl McCartney MP (Conservative) to the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign.
I look forward to the outcomes of discussions with stakeholders and to Helen Goodman clarifying more firmly Labour’s stance on public libraries over the coming months.
Dear Mr Bolton
Thank you for your email. Apologies for the time it has taken to respond – I have indeed been extremely busy with local elections.
As I have said previously, Labour is committed to supporting our public libraries in the face of devastating local government cuts. We believe they should remain free and that there should not be a postcode lottery for quality.
In answer to your specific questions about the place of professionals and volunteers, Labour believes in maintaining a core of professional librarians in every local library authority. What precisely constitutes a ‘core professional service’ is something I wish to discuss with all relevant stakeholders over the coming months, but I am clear that it must include paid fully qualified librarians, alongside other trained library staff.
Volunteers make an enormous contribution to libraries and to community life as whole. However, it is not only unfair to expect volunteers to run whole libraries, but also risks a decline in service quality as volunteers have not been properly trained to manage a library or deal with issues such as health and safety; child protection; and data protection.
While I am not suggesting volunteers cannot, if they wish, run a small library for a few hours a week, they should not be taking on the full running of a library service.
Where volunteers are working in libraries, their role needs to be properly specified and appropriate (i.e. they must not be asked to undertake work they are not trained for or work that should properly be done by trained staff).
I hope this answers your questions. Over the coming months, I will be continuing my talks with librarians, campaigners, trade unions and professional bodies.
Shadow Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Communications
MP for Bishop Auckland