The ‘Amateurisation’ of Public Libraries

The 2015 CILIP AGM takes place on Thursday 24 September at CILIP Headquarters and unlike previous years is a fairly low key affair estimated to take just over two hours. As usual I would urge all those members who cannot attend to at least use their proxy votes.

The two areas that have grabbed my attention are the proposal by Andy Richardson and Anna Brynolf (below) and the, as usual, ever increasing subscription rates. The unnecessary increase in subs is something I argued against last year but it seems that Cilip is determined to treat members as milch cows despite the job losses and limit on public sector pay. This is a matter I will return to in a future post.

Well done to Andy and Anna for submitting the following proposal and saying what many within the profession think. The phrase ‘amateurisation of the Public Library services’ sums up the current situation succinctly and encapsulates in a single word the reductions, hollowing out, deprofessionalisation, and handing over to volunteers. Amateurisation indeed!

The wording of the proposal is:

“That CILIP actively oppose those public authorities and senior library staff over the “amateurisation” of the Public Library service by offering library buildings and contents to be run by the local community with little or no funding for professional or paid library staff. This is resulting in public libraries being run by volunteer staff and taking away work currently done by paid professional and library assistant staff. All current public library service points manned by paid local authority library staff should be the current base-line – and where such actions are suggested by the local authority and senior library staff, CILIP should support the opposition to such proposals and say so publicly.”

 

Vol stats

The loss of staff and increase in volunteers is starkly illustrated in this graph from the Guardian.

Recently Cilip has raised its profile around advocating for libraries and Nick Poole has done a round of radio and TV interviews talking about library closures. However, I still think Cilip’s approach is too softly-softly so will be supporting the proposal and urging Cilip to be more adversarial in its opposition to the removal of paid staff.

This proposal transitions interestingly into the announcement that Jan Parry, President of Cilip, has been appointed to lead a task-force charged with working out how Liverpool’s libraries will be funded from 2017 onwards. From one perspective this is a positive move to involve those who actually know about libraries, from another it could be seen as glossing over the relinquishing of 5 libraries to volunteers and the loss of paid staff.

So this is a precarious position for Cilip. Any move to find a solution which involves volunteer libraries will be met with outrage from members and campaigners alike and will run contrary to the above proposal if passed.

Cilip has released a statement in support of the work Jan has been asked to do. Unfortunately, it is couched in terms that immediately gives rise for concern and suspicion in that it is similar to the vague terminology and management-speak that seeks to disguise reductions to service and removal of staff.

Cilip needs to clarify in plain English whether or not this will mean supporting, even indirectly, volunteer run libraries. It would be reassuring if Cilip were to offer a base-line affirmation, along the lines of the SLIC recommendation, that volunteer run libraries without paid professional staff are not the preferred option.

There is a basic financial imperative for Cilip in all of this. It is paid staff, not volunteers, that pay subscriptions and without employment they are unable to do so. So less employment for members means less members for Cilip. Simple really!

Addendum

Interesting comment from librariesmatter:

Just a thought …..if CILIP had wider membership then perhaps it wouldn’t need to raise subscription rates and it wouldn’t be seen so much as a narrow professional body merely protecting its members interests.

For example the American Library Association provides personal membership to Library Friends, Trustees and Associates. CILIP for some reason doesn’t embrace such people.

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “The ‘Amateurisation’ of Public Libraries

  1. Just a thought …..if CILIP had wider membership then perhaps it wouldn’t need to raise subscription rates and it wouldn’t be seen so much as a narrow professional body merely protecting its members interests.

    For example the American Library Association provides personal membership to Library Friends, Trustees and Associates. CILIP for some reason doesn’t embrace such people.

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    • But does this not damage the argument for CILIP standing up for the profession, which I think it absolutely should do and, as the article says, much more forcefully.

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  3. With regard to the graph, I think it should be said that this is somewhat misleading. While the reduction in professional staff is an awful, stark reality, the increase in volunteers is also due to those who support libraries through adding value to the fantastic work libraries do, by supporting events and activities and strands like the Home Delivery Service. Volunteers bring a great deal to the offer, but should not be a substitute for professional staff. It is also a nonsense to think that they are a cheaper or more efficient solution than properly trained and supervised library staff.
    Finally, so many of them have stepped in because the alternative is to lose a valued and valuable public resource. They too would much prefer to have a properly run comprehensive and efficient service, if only government would define exactly what that meant!

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  4. I no longer am a member of CILIP. The final straw? This response to the situation in Moray – where a third of the Library service was cut –

    “As we are a charity we can only do so much as it is against OSCR regulations for us to do anything that supports a particular political party or agenda”.

    Totally irrelevant to the arguement – unlike other professional bodies who demand high fees but provide real services to their members CILIP appears to offer very little apart from very limited support and advice.

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