Tag Archives: library staff

The Positive and Negative Impact of Using Volunteers in Public Libraries

The following post is from Gina Baber a Library & Information student at UCL. Gina has produced an excellent paper looking at the positive and negative impact of volunteers in public libraries. The full article can be found on the UCL website.

I came across the article via Twitter and Ian Anstice also highlighted it from the Public Library News site. However, it’s well worth publicising a widely as possible and Gina has kindly agreed to it being posted here.

Gina can be followed on Twitter @Gina_Baber and I highly recommend that you do.

The Positive and Negative Impact of Using Volunteers in Public Libraries

Gina Baber

Introduction

‘Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management. CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money….If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.’ (1)

The following essay is a discussion on the impact of using volunteers in Public Libraries. It will focus on the experiences of Library Professionals and Volunteers; and consider the overall effect of Volunteers on the Public Library Service.

Public Libraries are a vital resource, and according to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, are a statutory requirement (2). Public Libraries are a centre for communities; a place for lifelong learning; and a sanctuary for the vulnerable, including the elderly, mentally disabled and homeless. Libraries improve accessibility to information; help to develop literacy and information literacy; and are a catalyst for social empowerment and social mobility:

‘…A strong public library service is the foundation of a literate and inclusive society and a competitive knowledge economy.’ (3)

There has been a change in the way many Public Libraries are being run. Cuts to funding have forced some Libraries to reduce their paid staff and introduce unpaid workers, resulting in a significant increase in volunteers in some areas: ‘paid library staff fell by 5.3% from 18,028 to 17,064, volunteer numbers rose by 7.5% to 44,501.’ (4)

The Librarian as Volunteer Manager

Managing a sizeable cohort of volunteers is a complex undertaking, and there are many aspects of management that need to be taken into consideration. These include: the challenges faced in training volunteers with little or no experience of library work; the varying reliability of volunteers (some can only commit to a few hours a week, or less, and they are often unable to commit to a regular shift pattern); and the effect volunteers have on staff morale, including staff who have seen colleagues made redundant, and who are being required to train volunteers who have replaced paid staff.

According to a 2017 review of UK Public Libraries, the top 4 challenges of using volunteers were as follows: 1. 82% The time investment that is needed to manage and support volunteers 2. 62% The time investment needed to recruit volunteers 3. 62% The level of commitment among volunteers 4. 58% The time needed to train new / casual users on systems (5)

The Government’s ‘Good Practice Toolkit’ also reflects the need for constant and considered management of volunteers:

  • a volunteer policy needs to be in place
  • volunteer roles need to be agreed
  • volunteers will require training for their roles
  • volunteers require ongoing access to professional advice
  • resources are needed to manage the volunteer roles (6)

After discussions with several Librarians and Library Managers, many examples of Volunteer Management responsibilities were highlighted. These included ‘coming up with volunteer opportunities; writing role descriptions; creating & managing advertising; drafting Service Level agreements; obtaining references; DBS checks for certain roles; maintaining records; training; holding regular meetings; and hosting volunteer thank you events’ (7)

The Volunteer Manager role is almost always performed in addition to an existing Librarian or Library Manager role. For example, Maria Bernal, who is the part-time Librarian and Volunteer Manager at Woodberry Down Volunteer-run Library (London Borough of Hackney), is also the Librarian at Homerton Library.

Similarly, Sophia Richards, the Community Librarian for Children, Families, Learning and Outreach at North Somerset Council, also manages the Volunteer programme in North Somerset (8). Inevitably, Librarians taking on these new responsibilities and often large numbers of volunteers, are frequently overworked and under a huge amount of pressure: ‘…We’re open 39 hours a week. I had 5 part time staff, now I have one full time member of staff and 102 volunteers…most of whom volunteer for only 2 hours once a week…It’s non-stop training and very tiring teaching 3 new people with minimal IT skills how to do frontline library work in 2 hour slot…the time it takes to train, the extra hours staff are putting in (unpaid, we don’t get overtime) just so we can keep on top of our admin and line management responsibilities is exhausting.‘ (9)

When a Library relies on volunteers, consistent availability and reliability can be an issue. As volunteers do not have a contract in the same way a paid worker does, their attendance is not an obligation. This can lead to casual and sometimes erratic attendance, which can disrupt and put pressure on the rest of the workforce; as well as leading to valuable community group activities being cancelled, the library closing early, and the integrity of the service being damaged, ‘…volunteers typically are less bound to follow regular schedules or to work for extended periods of time…Limited, irregular schedules are ill suited for tasks needing frequent attention.’ (10)

The Positive Effects of Volunteering: Social Empowerment and Social Mobility

Many volunteers are used in Community Outreach and Engagement roles, supporting paid staff and promoting the Library Service. Examples of these volunteer roles include: assistance with the Summer Reading Challenge; IT and Digital Literacy sessions; reading groups; and the Home Library Service for users who are unable to visit the Library due to a disability or ill health (11). As well as a desire to assist the Community, there can be many other reasons people volunteer. These can include volunteering as a way to improve self-confidence or sociability; to gain experience before applying for a paid position; or as a way of gradually integrating back into the workforce. Volunteering can have a positive effect on volunteers with learning difficulties; mental health issues; those dealing with loneliness, bereavement, social isolation and social anxiety; those dealing with unemployment and the struggle to find work or return to work; and those with extended periods of illness which have impacted on their confidence, self-esteem and motivation.

Interviewer: ‘Have you had any positive feedback from volunteers on the voluntary work they do?

Community Librarian: ‘I suppose the most obvious is those who have gone on to secure employment. One of the volunteers with autism secured a full time position with BT and couldn’t thank us enough for giving him an opportunity to have an up to date CV and a reference. A volunteer who had been a social services manager had been claiming sickness following complications after childbirth. She hadn’t been in employment for over 12 years and had significant anxiety issues. I worked with her, slowly re-introducing her to the safe library environment…Eventually she became a volunteer and developed the confidence to attend a counselling course. She is now working part-time in that field. (12)

Volunteers and Motivation

‘Volunteers are fearful they will lose their libraries, so rather than be faced with that, people think of volunteering…I can understand…but they should never have been in the position to have to make that decision…Volunteers have a brilliant role to play in boosting capacity and outreach but they shouldn’t be compelled to take over running the service.’ (13)

Volunteers come from different professional or non-professional backgrounds, frequently with little or no experience of managing a Library. The view of the Library as a cultural hub and centre of the community, motivates volunteers to keep the service running; often with limited resources, shorter opening hours and few or no professionally trained Library staff.

As mentioned previously, reliance on volunteers can be problematic for several reasons; and motivation is a particularly powerful influence on reliability and retention. The initial determination to ‘save’ a Library may be an ‘intrinsic motivation,’ built on a strong and focused desire to keep the Library open; and the idea that this is a positive and important act. Initially, volunteers may feel that they are taking control and managing change effectively. This action is also a result of an ‘extrinsic motivation’ and ‘external pressures’ upon the volunteer or voluntary group, caused by the potential closure of the Library. Volunteering must be ‘a choice freely made by an individual…both the volunteer and the organisation that the volunteer works with should benefit from the relationship; and the contribution of volunteers should be recognised.’ (14)

The initial motivation of the volunteer to make a difference or improve the situation may decrease, when external pressures become increasingly evident and their free choice as a volunteer becomes more of an obligation or ‘social coercion.’ (15)

External pressure may also come from volunteers having to take on more work than they were initially able to, and outside their capabilities. Untrained volunteers may not be able to cope with increased and unattainable expectations and workload. As a result, demotivation could occur as follows:

1. The reduction in paid professional Library staff could result in a lack of support and training for volunteers

2. This constraint on volunteer training and development could then result in volunteers feeling isolated or unable to fully assist Library Users

3. A lack of training and consequent limited understanding of information resources, could result in lower levels of self-confidence in volunteers; leading to frustration and disappointment that they are unable to fulfill the role

4. Frustration and negative feedback from library users, unable to receive the information or services they require, could result in a volunteer feeling that they are no longer in control

5. As a result of this lack of control, a volunteer may develop a negative association with the workplace and volunteer role. Volunteers may feel anxious, defiant, and demotivated; ultimately leading to amotivation and them leaving the volunteer position (16)

It is important to provide volunteers with consistent and thorough training and support, as well as a variety of tasks that suit their individual skills and experience ‘…having managed volunteers myself, I’m very aware that you have to make sure people are happy, stimulated, befriended and given a cup of tea and a chance to sit down and chat. Also, if they’re there for the long term, they need some autonomy over a task (this has to be appropriate for their level of ability), and a chance to change up tasks and routines when they get bored (or they’ll get burned out)’ (17)

Paid and unpaid staff require professional and personal development, including positive and constructive feedback and staff appraisal. If a volunteer does not receive consistent feedback and encouragement, they may feel undervalued. Similarly, if a working environment is hostile, isolating, apathetic, or not stimulating for a worker or volunteer, there will be little or no incentive to achieve goals. Problems may also occur when the paid workforce feel undermined or threatened by the increased use of volunteers. With many paid professionals losing their jobs or facing redundancy, there is a definite sense of unease, and sometimes a lack of respect or understanding from both paid staff and volunteers:

‘…without a doubt, many of the volunteers do not value nor respect our experience….It’s obvious that most of the volunteers don’t really know or understand what public library staff do. They aren’t intending to start a career in libraries, they haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it in the same way an applicant for a job vacancy would.’ (18)

Diversity: The Effect on Service

Interviewer: Do you think Equality and Diversity are fairly represented in Libraries that rely on volunteers?

Library Manager, Wirral: NO! The vast majority of our volunteers are elderly, white & middleclass/ retired teachers, engineers etc. (19) Community Librarian, Conwy County Borough Council: ‘My experience is that I haven’t seen someone from an ethnic minority, with a disability or anybody under the age of 60 volunteering. The simple answer therefore is no! However, I don’t think libraries are doing enough to attract these groups anyway and our users remain older retired and white and those with young children. That’s leaves a huge part of the population!’ (20)

Another issue with Volunteer recruitment, is the lack of equality and diversity amongst volunteers recruited. This lack of equality and diversity can have an impact on the relationship between the volunteer and Library user; and the quality of the service provided. The less diverse the workforce, the less diverse the range of knowledge; experience and understanding of different cultures; attitudes; beliefs; and lifestyles.

A lack of diversity, coupled with little or no understanding of information literacy, may ultimately lead to a biased or limited information service provision. Volunteers may be unaware of appropriate data protection laws and copyright, for example; and be unaware of the most efficient, accurate and ethical ways of finding information, such as using the most current databases to search for medical information.

Volunteers may also have little or no experience of how to manage the needs of a user with specific learning needs, a disability, or mental illness. It is important for a Public Library to employ professional staff to maintain as balanced and fair a service as possible, ‘…public librarians should provide expert assistance and advice to users as a public service without prejudice against persons and without a hidden motive of staff affecting search results…public librarians have an obligation to protect and promote the rights of every individual to have free and equal access to sources of information without discrimination.’ (21)

The Librarian Identity: Deprofessionalisation

‘What the profession needs to be vigilant of and something that should be challenged is appointing candidates to post as ‘librarian’ or equivalent without qualification or the need to pursue one. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of volunteer libraries it is the responsibility of all of us in the profession to uphold the integrity of what it means to be a qualified librarian. Anything else fundamentally undermines the concept of professional Librarianship’ (22)

Library volunteer roles are sometimes given titles with a professional association, for example ‘Marketing Assistant’, Library Ambassador’ and ‘Library Events Facilitator,’ which suggest a more serious position, with greater responsibility; and may result in an increased level of commitment from the volunteer. The language used can be encouraging for Volunteers, but problematic in its confusion with professional roles. Job titles used on the ‘Volunteering Wales’ website, for example, include ‘Assistant Librarian’ and Library Administrator.’ The requirement for the ‘Assistant Librarian’ role requests that the volunteer has ‘no particular skills, and training will be given.’ The role involves ‘talking to the public and using the computer to log books in and out.’ (23) Language and role descriptions like this, are in danger of undermining the view of the Library Professional.

Many people who have worked as a Librarian or are working towards a professional role, have extensive practical experience, training, knowledge and skills – the Librarian role is far more complex and exhaustive than this simplified job description suggests. Deprofessionalisation is hugely problematic, and volunteers are rarely able to take the place of a trained information professional ‘…The shift towards volunteer-run libraries also promotes the misconception that being a librarian is not a profession. Working in a library isn’t just about flicking a date stamp about and re-shelving a few books…’ (24)
Some Public Libraries do not believe in the importance or necessity of qualified Library staff, and the retail customer service model is often favoured over the knowledge and professionalism of a Librarian ‘…Being a qualified librarian is desirable, but not essential for front line staff.

Also, a colleague was telling me recently that “…CILIP’s own research shows than only 46% of those polled think that librarians provide trustworthy information. This does put librarians in the top 5 professional nationally, but at the same time it’s not a full endorsement either”…’ (25). It was interesting to hear that the Idea Store do not use volunteers, believing that ‘…services are lessened by the use of volunteers, so Idea Store do not take on volunteers to do the work of professional, trained staff.’ (26) There appears to be an awareness of the current situation, where volunteers have been frequently replacing professional staff; but one cannot help but feel that management is missing out on valuable expertise, knowledge and service development potential by not employing qualified Librarians.

Conclusion

‘We, as members of the public, deserve better. We deserve (and are legally entitled to) a library service that delivers not only books but is a free public access point to information. We deserve someone qualified in knowledge and information management who is best able to provide that service – and that’s a real librarian.’ (27)

The general view amongst Library Professionals and many users, seems to indicate that replacing paid professional staff with volunteers will result in a lower quality service provision. Volunteers should, where possible, only be used to support experienced, qualified staff. Volunteers are a positive addition to a workforce, when used to support certain activities, but should not be relied on to run a Library service ‘…experience would suggest that the most effective use of volunteers is to support paid staff in delivering specific activities (storytimes, job clubs, reading schemes, etc.), rather than taking on the day-to-day logistics of running a library’ (28).

Personal experience of using (or attempting to use) a volunteer-run Library, has been problematic and disappointing, with the Library in question frequently closing early, or being unable to open due to lack of volunteer availability. For users reliant on accessing resources, including computers and internet access, this can be greatly inhibiting and frustrating. The impression created, is one of an inefficient Library Service – a service that is unreliable and nonfunctioning. Ultimately, the user may be forced to look elsewhere for information and resources; and the trust in the service is reduced. Reduction in paid professional staff and reliance on volunteers, also has an impact on the availability and discovery of accurate and balanced information sources; and there may be issues with volunteers’ inexperience with intercultural competences and diversity. Volunteers can be used in a positive and effective way, and volunteering can have a positive impact on those who volunteer. In a Public Library context however, volunteers need to be managed carefully. Where possible, they need to support and not undermine professional paid staff; and they need to be offered regular training, support and feedback.

Volunteers should not be expected to take on the responsibility and workload of experienced, trained Information Professionals. There should be a clear distinction between the role of a volunteer in supporting the Library service, and representing it entirely. Evidence shows that volunteer-run libraries are not sustainable, and cannot run in an efficient, freely accessible and wholly ethical manner. Leadership and management from paid professionals is essential in maintaining the standard of a Public Library service. Without paid information professionals working as true representatives of the service, perception of Public Libraries will be further degraded and the public may lose an important resource capable of empowering and mobilising individuals and communities.

References:

(1) CILIP Public Libraries use of Volunteers [online] 19 April 2017 (original date of Policy June 2012) [accessed 04/02/17] Available from: https://archive.cilip.org.uk/research/sectors/public-libraries/briefings-statements/publiclibraries-use-volunteers

(2) Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964: 7. General Duty of Library Authorities https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1964/75

(3) CILIP Public Libraries 2016 Available from: https://archive.cilip.org.uk/research/sectors/public-libraries

(4) Kean, D. UK Library Budgets Fall by £25m in a Year The Guardian Thursday 8 December 2016 [online] [accessed 19/02/2018] Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/08/uk-librarybudgets-fall-by-25m-in-a-year

(5) Axiel A Review of UK Libraries in 2017: A Guide for Delivering Sustainable Communitycentric Services [online] May 2017 Axiel Ltd. [Accessed 11/04/18] Available from: http://www.axiell.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Axiell-Report-A-review-of-UKlibraries-in-2017.pdf

(6) Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Libraries shaping the future: good practice toolkit: 3.3 Volunteering [online] [accessed 05/02/16] Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/libraries-shaping-the-future-good-practicetoolkit/libraries-shaping-the-future-good-practice-toolkit

(7) Library Manager, Wirral Interviewed by Anon 15/04/18

(8) Meet the Volunteering Team! https://northsomersetlibraryvolunteers.wordpress.com

(9) @ALibrarian1 ; Bolton, L. (ed.) One Hundred and Two! in Leon’s Library Blog [online] 20/09/2015 [accessed 25/03/2018] Available from: https://leonslibraryblog.com/2017/09/27/one-hundred-and-two/

(10) Leonard, K. B. Volunteers in Archives: Free Labor, But Not Without Cost USA: Journal of Library Administration 52 2012 p 316

(11) North Somerset Library Volunteers Available from: https://northsomersetlibraryvolunteers.wordpress.com

(12) Community Librarian and Volunteer Manager, Conwy County Borough Council Interviewed by Anon 16/04/18

(13) Powell, M. in Flood, A. Save your Local! Should Volunteers Help Keep Our Public Libraries Open? [online] The Guardian 8 August 2017 [Accessed 20/02/18] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/08/public-libraries-at-thecrossroads-should-volunteers-be-keeping-them-open

(14) Paine, A. E. ; Hill, M. ; Rochester, C. ‘A Rose by Any Other Name..’ : Revisiting the Question: ‘What Exactly is Volunteering?’ [online] 2010 UK: Institute for Volunteering Research p 9 [accessed 09/04/18] Available from: https://www.scribd.com/document/352352785/A-rose-by-any-other-name-Revisiting-thequestion-what-exactly-is-volunteering

(15) Ibid. pp 12-13

(16) Adapted from the points in: Taylor, B.M. Table 1,2, and 3 of Motivation : The Hierarchical Model of Motivation: A Lens for Viewing the Complexities of Motivation USA: Performance Improvement 2015 [online] 54 4 p 38 [accessed 04/03/18] Available from: https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/doi/epdf/10.1002/pfi.21475

(17) Library Assistant and Library Volunteer, London Interviewed by Anon 11/04/18 (18) @ALibrarian1 ; Bolton, L. (ed.) One Hundred and Two! in Leon’s Library Blog [online] 20/09/2015 [accessed 25/03/2018] Available from: https://leonslibraryblog.com/2017/09/27/one-hundred-and-two/

(19) Library Manager, Wirral Interviewed by Anon 15/04/18

(20) Community Librarian, Conwy County Borough Council Interviewed by Anon 16/04/18

(21) Kargbo, J. A. The Role of Public Librarians in Disseminating Information for True Democracy Public Library Quarterly 33:4 pp 362-371 [accessed 16/02/18] Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/01616846.2014.937216

(22) Bolton, L. When is a Librarian Not a Librarian? in Leon’s Library Blog [online] 20/09/2015 [accessed 25/03/2018] Available from: https://leonslibraryblog.com/2015/09/20/when-is-a-librarian-not-a-librarian/

(23) Volunteering Wales: Opportunities [online] [Accessed 11/04/18] Available from: https://www.volunteering-wales.net/opportunity/28652/

(24) Ash, E. in Flood, A. Save your Local! Should Volunteers Help Keep Our Public Libraries Open? [online] The Guardian 8 August 2017 [Accessed 20/02/18] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/08/public-libraries-at-thecrossroads-should-volunteers-be-keeping-them-open

(25) Dogliani, S. Deputy Head of Idea Store Interviewed by Anon 17/04/18

(26) Ibid. 22/02/18

(27) Finch, D. The Harsh Truth About Volunteers Available from: https://dawnfinch.co.uk/2015/04/05/the-truth-about-volunteers/

(28) Librarian, Adults & Communities Team, North Lincolnshire Library & Information Services Interviewed by Anon 16/04/18

 

 

Cilip AGM 2017

It’s been a busy week in the library world with the main event being Libraries Week, showcasing as it did the wonderful and diverse range of work that libraries and library staff do. As illustrated on the LW website libraries are still ridiculously well attended and not necessarily in terminal decline as some would have us believe.That said, libraries still face quite significant challenges.

Despite being the representative of a government that has overseen the closure of 340 libraries and the loss of 8000 library staff John Glenn wasted no time in exploiting the event for numerous photo opportunities. He appears quite happy to use libraries as a backdrop to deliver inane governmental platitudes but not actually do anything to protect them. As the old adage goes ‘actions speak louder than words’ and by taking none the new libraries minister is as much a paper tiger as previous incumbents of the post.

Ethics Workshop

This week also saw the Cilip AGM take place and it’s become a tradition on this blog to report back from it. Just before the AGM I took part in one of the ethic workshops that have been organised as part of the Big Conversation. While ethics might seem a long way from the practical, everyday situations librarians find themselves in the reverse is true and our values and behaviours should underpin everything we do. In my opinion we cannot claim to be a profession or act professionally if we don’t understand why we do what we do.

As Dawn Fince observes:

“It is worthwhile to reflect for a moment as to why ethics and professional values are so important. Our ethical principles do sit at the centre of our Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB), and should inform and inspire the way we use all the skills and knowledge set out in the PKSB, but they should be even more far reaching. At their best they should also protect the user, engender trust across all stakeholder groups and enable better judgement and decision making. To do that they need to be embedded in every aspect of our professional practice and promoted more widely within our user communities. This review is very much about the “public good” of our profession which, for CILIP, we express in terms of the following goal: “to put information and library skills and professional values at the heart of a democratic, equal and prosperous society”.

It was heartening therefore to discover that over 1500 responses had been received to the ethics survey. If you havene’t had the opportunity yet I would encourage members and non-members alike to visit the Ethics Review page and to read the recent blog what are the work-based ethical issues concerning you?

For a more in-depth look at the topic it’s worth reading the seminal Our Enduring Values by Michael Gorman and an excellent round-up of the various issues by David McMenemy: Sustaining Our Common Values (slide presentation).

Libraries Change Lives

The Highlight of any Cilip AGM is the Libraries Change Lives Award and this year was no exception. It’s worth viewing all four shortlisted projects, with introductory films, to see how much impact libraries can have on peoples lives. And while every year throws up wonderful and innovative work being done, this year’s winner was particularly inspirational and moving. So congratulations to the library at HMP Norwich that delivers weekly cognitive stimulation therapy to elderly prisoners serving life sentences, who are suffering from memory loss, dementia, and depression.

Congratulations also to the other shortlisted candidates:

  • Ipswich Library’s Chat and Chill:  for women from diverse and international backgrounds living in Suffolk
  • Kirklees Libraries’ Family Storywalks: bringing local families together outdoors to take part in learning and nature-based activities
  • Story Café at the Women’s Library in Glasgow: a women-only shared reading group which brings women from different backgrounds together to connect over literature

Honorary Fellowship:

There was also the awarding of five Honorary Fellowships

  • Joy Court – Carnegie Greenaway Award Chair, Children’s librarian and children’s literature expert
  • Martin Hayes – local studies librarian for West Sussex County
  • Stephan Roman – former Regional Director of South Asia for the British Council
  • Sheila Webber – Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield’s Information School

And last but by no means least:

  • Chris Riddell – triple Kate Greenaway Medal winning illustrator, political cartoonist and former Children’s Laureate

All thoroughly deserved and Chris Riddell kept the room entertained with an amusing story of why and how librarians had inspired him:  “This honorary fellowship has given me a chance to think of the important librarians in my life. She was called Helen…!”

Finally

It was an excellent day and a chance to catch-up with colleagues old and new and the opportunity to network. I would certainly encourage all members to attend an AGM if they get the opportunity.

Finally, Cilip members will have the opportunity to elect three new trustees to the Board over the coming weeks. Among the candidates is a certain Likable Loquacious Blogger..! Need I say more.

One Hundred And Two!

The following guest post is from @ALibrarian1 on Twitter who has to remain anonymous due to censure they would incur for speaking out about their experience dealing with library volunteers. Obviously, this will not be everyone’s experience and neither does it detract from some of the great work volunteers do in libraries around the country.

However, it will resonate with many library staff, especially those who have had volunteers foisted on them after losing dedicated colleagues to cutbacks. It’s also an antidote to the sometime hollowness of the ‘positive narrative’. Not quite ‘alternative fact’ but never the whole story either.

It’s a serious issue told with tongue-in-cheek humour and not a certain amount of frustration. if you don’t already follow @ALibrarian1 on Twitter I highly recommend you do.

One Hundred And Two!

Hello. I recently started tweeting as @ALibrarian1 to vent my frustration/shout into the void about what it’s like working with volunteers in a public library. It’s been quite a surprise to find that there are lots of library folks out there who are interested, are listening, and who have offered both support and advice. Thank you everyone. Particularly to those who have reacted with horror, surprise and horrified surprise at some of the things I’ve tweeted about. You are doing an excellent job of reminding me that some things just aren’t acceptable, particularly when managers go out of their way to reassure me that ‘everything’s going so well!’ I accepted the offer to write this guest post so I can expand on some of the things I’ve been tweeting about and offer a bit more of an insight into my situation.

In April 2017 my library authority implemented an ‘efficiency based’ restructure which replaced about 60% of our staff with volunteers (or at least that was the intent, as many branches hadn’t and still haven’t recruited the numbers of volunteers they’d need to cover their opening hours). Every single one of our branches now has volunteers delivering frontline library services. We have three tiers: core libraries, the big branch libraries which are 60% staff 40% volunteers; hybrid libraries which are 40% staff 60% volunteers, and community libraries which are fully volunteer run with staff who drop in maybe one day a week then are on call as support by phone for the rest.

I’ve been working in this library service for just over 10 years, and work full time (37 hours) supervising a busy hybrid branch. We’re open 39 hours a week. I had 5 part time staff, now I have one full time and 102 volunteers. One hundred and two volunteers, and we still need more. One. Hundred. And. Two. I have to keep track of one hundred and two people, most of whom volunteer for only 2 hours once a week. I don’t know all their names and I probably never will.

Luckily, I’m not responsible for recruiting, interviewing, checking references or arranging a rota for them. That’s the job of the volunteer committee. A committee of volunteers we recruited to manage the recruitment of volunteers. Writing this, I’m well aware of how ridiculous this sounds. And it is. It is absolutely insane. The committee were formed from the small number of people who, in response to the 2015 council consultation on the future of libraries, gave their contact details and said they’d be interested in volunteering. Because they couldn’t volunteer while staff were still in post, and management needed to keep hold of them, they were formed into a committee. Then they weren’t given anything to do for about 6 months.

In January this year management started holding meetings with them in the branch to discuss what would happen from April. Staff weren’t involved in these meetings and both staff and the committee were told that we shouldn’t speak or have any interaction due to the “sensitive” situation – staff being on notice and the committee readying to replace them as volunteers. We already knew who had been granted voluntary redundancy, who was staying in post and who was being made redundant. Being pointlessly secretive about what we all knew was going to happen didn’t assist good relations between staff and the council. Staff contracts ended on the last day of March, volunteers took over on April Fool’s Day.

The council began a county wide recruitment drive for volunteers in earnest in late 2016 by announcing that since we no longer had enough staff (and glossing over the ‘how odd that lots of staff would be leaving at the same time’ problem; some library customers still don’t realise there were redundancies) we’d need volunteers to help us keep the libraries open. I believe this call for help to run the libraries “because we’re short of people” has been interpreted by some of the volunteers (particularly those who make up the committees) as a call for help to run the libraries “because we aren’t sure what we’re doing anymore”. Without a doubt, many of the volunteers do not value nor respect our experience. The council devalued staff by announcing that anyone can have a bash at running a library, so why should they think otherwise! We’ve made it very clear that we can’t run this service without them, and in doing so have given them licence to interfere with core service provision. We now need to bend over backwards to keep them onside. Should they decide to quit, we’re done for and libraries will close.

What’s it like each day in the library with volunteers? Short answer: bloody hard work. It’s non-stop training and very tiring teaching 3 people with minimal IT skills how to do frontline library work in 2 hour slots. There are many things I find intensely frustrating, the things that drive me to vent on twitter: The repeated daily reminders not to overfill transfer boxes so they aren’t too heavy to lift. Not to leave boxes stacked where they block a fire door. Not to shelve adult graphic novels with toddler’s picture books. The difference between a DVD and an audio book on CD (call me naïve, but this is not a thing I’d ever expected to have to explain more than once). Not to leave name and address details visible on the computer screen when they’ve finished registering a new borrower and wandered away…

The volunteers all have an introductory training session before their first shift which covers the layout of the shelves, fire safety, where the loos are, the usual sort of first-day workplace induction. Then they’re turned loose in the library for me to find something for them to do. That’s the question my colleague and I are asked throughout the day, “what shall I do now?” I haven’t a problem with them being keen, and wanting to be helpful and keep busy, but there’s an impression I get that helping customers who have enquiries doesn’t seem to be an option they always consider in answer to this. There’s a list of routine daily tasks but they seem to want special ‘volunteer’ tasks to do, and as a result I’ve seen volunteers straight up ignore customers who are waiting for assistance. I’ve seen volunteers tell customers “I can’t help you, I’m just a volunteer”. At this point we do step in and prompt them to offer help, but it feels strange that we must keep reminding them that their ‘job’ is to help people.

It’s obvious that most of the volunteers don’t really know or understand what public library staff do. They aren’t intending to start a career in libraries, they haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it in the same way an applicant for a job vacancy would. There’s a deeply ingrained idea that all we do is lend out books. “I’ll come and volunteer, but I just want to tidy books” is a regular comment. We have volunteers who refuse to do anything involving computers. I wouldn’t have recruited them, it would be impossible to employ a member of staff who said that, but it’s up to the committee to decide who is recruited. I just have to find them something to do.

All the volunteers have been surprised by the variety of services we offer. That we can recommend a book for someone aged 9 or 90, but can also help with finding crossword answers, that we can process bus pass applications, help people print boarding passes, family history searches, shotgun licences, give out town maps, that we almost never say no, sorry, we can’t help you with that. It’s been a challenge to communicate that this is what I need them to gain the skills to be eventually be able to do. In their defence, it is quite a daunting request, but this is what a public library service is.

The volunteers are stepping into a role which was done by paid professional staff. I’ve deliberately used a small-p-professional, none of my staff had library qualifications, but they were dedicated, professional, and all of them had been working in libraries for longer than I have been. We all know library work requires a massive amount of training as well as experience. It’s a real difficulty now. Post restructure, we don’t have enough staff left to run training sessions as well as cover frontline services so the volunteer committee are intending to take over some of the more structured training. Any training materials we give the committee, they insist on re-writing so they are more suited for volunteer’s style of learning. That’s just rude frankly, given that we’ve already purposely written them for volunteers and the committee aren’t familiar with library work.

We’re nearly 6 months in and it’s not really getting any easier. I don’t think this is sustainable indefinitely. The number of volunteers we need, the time it takes to train, the extra hours staff are putting in (unpaid, we don’t get overtime) just so we can keep on top of our admin and line management responsibilities is exhausting. I get to work early and stay late just to fit everything in. I’m needed on the library floor almost all the time helping the volunteers, as it’s usually too busy for my colleague to manage on their own, and the volunteers just don’t yet have the experience or confidence for enquiry work.
I was working as library supervisor in this branch before the restructure. I had to reapply and be interviewed to prove my suitability to supervise volunteers instead of staff.

Many of my colleagues took voluntary redundancy rather than go through the interview process. I never even contemplated voluntary redundancy because I wanted to carry on with the job I was already doing, but I’m not getting very much satisfaction out of it. I’m learning new skills – mainly relating to crisis management, short term planning, and how to triage my to-do list. I’ve limited career prospects here now. The council need me to help them keep the library doors open, but they aren’t offering anything inspiring in return. We’re repeatedly instructed to attend resilience training, change management, team building, persuasion and influencing training… all acknowledgement that things aren’t so great, but shifting of the fault onto staff. Some of my colleagues are having real trouble coping with the stress and the workload and being treated as an inconvenience by their committees who want to do things their way.

Were I to hand in my notice the branch would have to close for part of the week because I know there’s no-one they could spare from another branch to cover for me. I cannot change what the council have done in restructuring the service (and I’ve had a hard time dealing with the feeling of being complicit in ‘making it work’), but I will hold things together here as best I can. Perhaps I’m overestimating my abilities, but if I can keep my little branch afloat and steer it through the wreckage then that’s what I’m going to do. I do still like working in libraries, there’s so much to learn, there’s so much I still need to learn and I do not want to give that up just yet.

 

Dodgy Dudley?

As a library campaigner and commentator I am particularly interested when libraries spin out of local authority control. It’s an issue I have written about many times and therefore tend to keep an eye on those proposing such a route.

Dudley is one such service. In October 2015 Public Library News highlighted the aim of Dudley Council to create an employee-led mutual with a planned launch date of April 2016. Given that such decisions require planning well in advance (or at least should do) I have no doubt that library staff, corporate officers, and councillors had been in discussions for a long time.

In the news story a spokesperson for the council made clear that the mutual would be “where council employees set up a new organisation separate to the local authority to continue to deliver public services.” A three-month public consultation was planned and for talks with staff, unions and other stakeholders.

Rachel Harris, the cabinet member responsible for libraries said:

“As a community council we are committed to delivering high quality services to our existing customers and at the same time providing opportunities to widen access to community services. An employee-led mutual creates opportunities to deliver professionally led services supported by the community in a way that local people can be proud of.”

In April 2016 it was announced that the library service would be run as a ‘not-for-profit mutual’. Councillor Harris is quoted as saying that this was a new era for the borough and described it as a ‘absolutely historic occasion for this council’.

It was reported that the new organisation would be run by staff but have community, employee and council involvement at board level.

So far, so good. Despite the cutbacks and financial challenges Dudley Council had made the decision to place the future of the library service firmly in the hands of the people who knew it best, the library staff themselves. This was certainly the position the council promoted to the public during the consultation exercise.

It was also the preferred option of the Council as the Cabinet Report made abundantly clear:

  • “Consultation with user groups about the Mutual model has been done by local staff in each setting.” (point4)
  • “There has been a specific comment about the mutual model from one of the Friends of Libraries groups who wanted to know more about the business case and how the Friends would work with the library if it was run from within a staff led mutual.” (point 5)
  • “There have been helpful and encouraging comments from one partner organisation where the library is co-located in their building about the Mutual model and how this could improve further joint working.” (point 6)
  • “Frequently Asked Questions continue to be compiled and a regular staff mutual newsletter began in January.  Staff are taking part in workstreams, including a workshop on branding for the Mutual.” (point 8)
  • ” A Mutual is an umbrella term for an organisation run for the benefit of its members, who have active and direct involvement whether as employees, suppliers or the community.  Meta-Value recommends an Employee-led Mutual with charitable status as the model for LAAL, which would enable greater income growth.  Membership would be open to employees and members of the community with a Board which includes a nominated Council representative.  York Explore has spun-out using this model.” (point 14)
  • “On 28th October 2015, Cabinet approved the following:  in principle, the setting up an employee-led Mutual for   LAAL, with a 5 year Business Plan, subject to consultation with staff and the public and the decision of full Council in February” (point 15)

In fact the whole report is in favour of the proposal to set-up a ‘staff led mutual’, so you would be forgiven for thinking that’s exactly what would happen. Certainly both the public and staff were led to believe this. So positive was the proposal to establish a staff led mutual that Dudley Council even prepared a candidate’s pack for a Treasurer of the newly created model.

Dudley was also awarded £42,000 as part of the Mutuals Support Programme for support around ‘legal governance, business planning and financial modelling, stakeholder engagement support and transition.’

Therefore, it came as a great shock when it was announced that GLL was instead to step in and take on the running of Dudley’s Libraries.

Now there several puzzling areas here:

  • How can GLL take on the running of Dudley libraries, including TUPEing staff over, and yet the Council still claim that a staff-led working arrangement has been created? A ‘staff-led’ mutual is precisely that: a service owned and run by the staff, for the benefit of the community in which each member of staff has a vote to elect trustees and local residents are able to become members. This is a long way from how GLL operates.
  • Where, when, how and whom made the decision to appoint GLL? Like many Councils decision-making takes place in a labyrinth of different committees. However, such decisions should be clear via Cabinet or Scrutiny minutes etc. I’ve made a request to DMBC for details but have not yet received an answer.
  • Did the funding given to Dudley via the Mutuals Support Programme allow for the awarding of the contract to a different provider?

I am actively following through on these questions and will publish a further post when (if!) I get answers.

One thing that is clear though is that both staff and the public have been misled and misinformed over the proposals. Neither group have been consulted or engaged with over the process and the decision to award the contract appears shrouded in council bureaucratic fog.

I hope that residents and campaigners challenge this bit of rather dodgy decision making. That Dudley Council quickly comes to its sense and reverses the agreement with GLL and awards it to where it properly belongs; to the staff and residents of Dudley.

 

 

Stronger Together

I make no apologies for this post being unashamedly a recruiting drive for Cilip after seeing on Twitter that membership is still falling by 3%. However, as with everything, the context needs to be understood to see this fall as a positive and not necessarily a negative.

For years I was a harsh critic of Cilip, not because it had lost its way, but because it didn’t have a way forward at all. It was floundering under the pressure of austerity and the resulting widespread hollowing out of public libraries with the loss of jobs and thus membership. Worse of all, this was happening without Cilip speaking up for the profession or advocating the advantages of retaining a professional workforce.

It also faced the challenge of arresting the decline in membership. My own opinion was that members where leaving because they could no longer see the relevance of belonging to a professional body, and paying expensive subscriptions, that was too far removed from their everyday experience of year-on-year budget and job cuts.

But all this has thankfully changed. Cilip now has, and continues to develop, a strong voice in defence of its membership and championing library services in different sectors; public, schools, health. It challenges Government policy and intervenes, as much as it can, in local decisions to reduce services. Cilip is becoming the professional body its members need it to be.

I contacted Nick Poole for further information about the fall in membership and he sent this reply:

“The current rate of attrition is just over 3%. That’s actually around half what it was 3 years ago, but it’s still a declining number. We follow up with people who don’t renew, and the underlying reasons are informative. A significant proportion are due to retirement, which is why we’re working to improve the offer the retired members. Similarly, we see a significant drop-off in the transition from free student membership to full membership. We have seen a decline in the number of people leaving because of dissatisfaction with CILIP.

 Of course, over the past 10 years, the most significant decline in sector terms is membership among public library staff. This is one reason why we launched the new Careers Hub on the CILIP VLE – to provide support for public librarians who find themselves having to make a transition to other parts of the library sector. We know that public libraries are changing, but we see it as essential that public library staff are encouraged to engage with their professional body, develop their skills and maintain the connection to the wider library and information profession. This is why we are pleased to be working with SCL on the new Public Library Skills Strategy, which will help address some of these issues.

 We know from the workforce mapping project that there are around 69,000 people in the library & information workforce in the UK. With around 12,500 members, we currently represent around 18% of that workforce. The average for professional association membership in other sectors is around 20-22%, so there is scope to grow our membership base. It is important for us to do this because the more of the sector we can represent, the more credible we are when advocating for librarians and information professionals.

 When we went out to the wider profession, we found that a lot of people want to be part of CILIP as their professional body but don’t currently regard membership as affordable. The new membership model on which members are currently voting is designed to help us retain and support our existing members, and reach more of those people. We also found that there are a lot of people who want to be part of the profession but aren’t yet ready to commit to Professional Registration. Welcoming these people to the CILIP community and encouraging them to take up Chartership has been a major factor in the design of the new model.

Ultimately, the sector needs a strong independent voice – I’d argue now more than ever. We understand that people expect value for money from their membership, and we are working hard to deliver that. This is a model for growth and we are really hoping that members will support it and empower us to reach out to those people who could and should be members, but currently aren’t.“

All I ever wanted from my professional body, what I had the right to expect, is that it speaks up in defence of its members and profession. Cilip is absolutely doing this, which is why I have changed from critic to proponent for the body.

I absolutely understand why library workers have drifted away from Cilip in the past but I genuinely believe it has changed and would encourage all library and information workers, especially public library staff, to stay connected to the profession.

Here’s some very simple reasons I think you should stay with, join, or rejoin Cilip:

  1. Advocacy: a strong voice for the profession
  2. Lower subscriptions and better value for money
  3. Advice & support including access to employment law advice
  4. Professional development and networking

Ultimately, we are stronger together, and I look forward to Cilip expanding towards the 69,000 target.

Please do forward your question and indeed criticisms via the comments area and I shall ensure they are passed on to Cilip to answer.

Further information:

Cilip subscription fees

At the Cilip AGM this weekend members will be asked once again to vote for an increase in subscription fees. The current fee for anyone earning more than £17,501 is £200 with the proposed increase to £204 from 2015. On the face of it this seems a reasonable rise. However, since 2010 (incidentally the start of the government’s austerity programme) subscription fees will have increased from £184  to £204 (if agreed) representing an increase of 10.8% and the third time subscriptions will have been raised in a relatively short time.

Now set this against a background of pay freezes and below inflation pay caps for public sector workers, including library staff, during the same period. Many librarians have felt the full impact of the austerity measures not only in terms of job losses but also in the increase of living costs. According to the TUC the average public sector worker is £2,245 worse off in real terms since 2010, and there are indications from ministers that pay caps are likely to extend to 2018.

With this in mind Cilip should be looking at ways of freezing or reducing fees rather than putting an additional burden on members.

Needless to say I will not be supporting the subscription increase and hope that others also question the need to do so during difficult financial times for members.