For anyone who has missed it there is an excellent interview with Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce and Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP, talking about library priorities particularly in relation to the Government Spending Review in November.
You don’t have to agree with everything that’s said but there are some very important points for library staff and campaigners alike to reflect on. Amongst the many comments the following from Nick Poole really stood out for me:
“My biggest concern is that we allow services to be hollowed-out in the name of keeping up appearances, keeping the doors open while reducing the range and quality of services offered by skilled and qualified staff.
We can’t afford to focus on the short-term situation while allowing library services to be systematically under-funded. We need to fight the battles ahead while remaining focused on the real aim – which is to deliver the modern and comprehensive library network that the public need and have a right to expect.”
I doubt there is anyone within the sector that would disagree with these sentiments and all credit to Nick for making such assertions so publicly. This acknowledgement of the importance of paid staff is further evidenced by Cilip Board members support for the resolution on the ‘amateurisation’ of public libraries proposed by Andy Richardson. The reason for the proposal is explained by Andy here.
The importance of skilled and qualified staff delivering a meaningful service to communities is highlighted through the Libraries Change Lives Award. Every year this provides a showcase for wonderfully innovative projects that have a real social impact within communities. It’s worth reading through the list of past winners and this year’s shortlisted finalists to get a flavour of how important libraries are and can be to their communities.
The real point here is that it is paid staff that dream up, develop, and deliver on these initiatives.
And let’s not forget that this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the projects that happen everyday within libraries. The real point here is that it is paid staff that dream up, develop, and deliver on these initiatives. Without them none of this innovation would be possible.
Unfortunately, the steady encroachment of volunteer run libraries threatens to undermine all of this. As Martyn Wade, Chair of Cilip Board states:
“Volunteers should be an asset. We should recognise the valuable skills, knowledge, enthusiasm, experience and fresh perspectives that volunteers can provide. But we must act when the quality and long-term sustainability of library services is at risk.”
Even innovation that is now taken for granted and considered standard service e.g. reading groups and film nights were first and foremost instigated by library staff or developed in partnership with individuals and organisations. Other initiatives developed with bodies like the Reading Agency have become mainstays of library provision such as the Summer Reading Challenge or Reading Ahead (previously the Six Book Challenge).
Staff continue to provide innovation from the library based Fab Lab in Exeter to the Get it loud in libraries project. Despite the challenging financial reductions and the fragmentation of services innovation is in the blood of librarians.
However, for this to continue skilled and qualified staff need to play a central part in all libraries; not just as managers and supervisors of volunteer run libraries, the overseers of the charity shop or hub and spoke model run by unpaid amateurs but as innovators embedded in their communities delivering core services.
For an overwhelming argument in support of paid staff look no further than the Libraries Change Lives Awards. Good luck to all those shortlisted.