Tag Archives: Library volunteers

Who’s in the house?

Although not able to attend I’m looking forward to the Cilip debate this Saturday (27th September) to discuss the proposition: ‘This House believes Local Authorities are still the best way to deliver the public library service‘, with a panel contesting an issue that might have been inconceivable only a few short years ago. After all who else would deliver public library services! But the days of such surety are long gone thanks to the austerity measures of the past four years.

I have always been open in my own views around this issue, which is that local authorities are best placed to fund or commission library services but strategic development should be left to librarians and not councillors. The continuing long list of reductions and closures hardly inspires either the profession or public to put their trust in local authorities and only strengthens my belief that decisions are driven by misplaced ideology rather than sound business practices. In many ways it is the poor decision making by councils that has given rise to the myth that librarians lack business acumen when actually the reverse is true. Many librarians would relish the opportunity to have greater control and freedom over services rather than having to implement inadequately conceived ideas driven by local political expediency.

Library services should be in the hands of the staff themselves; to shape, develop, and deliver. Librarians have the depth of knowledge, expertise and experience to run an efficient service, and one that reflects a genuine partnership of community focused, rather than community led, libraries. The best way to achieve this in the current climate is, in my opinion, through a not-for-profit trust model. I would also hazard a guess that trusts will feature in William Sieghart’s report given that he has praised the Suffolk Libraries model on several occasions recently.

In the keynote speech to Cilip members at the recent AGM Sieghart also stated that urgent action was needed over libraries and likened the situation to Beeching’s closure of railway lines. However, despite the aspirational tone of the speech the unavoidable reality is that libraries, however delivered, need sustainable funding, not only to survive but also to develop. Therefore, it will be interesting to note what funding streams are identified as part of his report and how genuinely maintainable these will be. Equally, it would be a great pity for the report to concentrate solely on measures to keep libraries open without also addressing the issue of paid staff and professional librarians as being integral to service delivery.

One of the panelists, Ian Anstice of Public Library News fame, a strong proponent of public libraries, knows better than most how under pressure services are since he is the main source of news regarding changes to libraries nationally. The fact that this is achieved in his spare time is testament to Ian’s dedication and faith in the importance of libraries.

Another panelist, Biddy Fisher, should bring an interesting perspective as trustee of the Denby Dale Library.The friends group were instrumental in ensuring that the library continued to be run in conjunction with Kirklees Libraries and retain the services of a paid member of staff (albeit for a limited number of hours per week and with funding only agreed until September 2015). The approach of using a mix of staff and volunteers is becoming more common and an explanation by Biddy of how it came about can be seen here. I am sure that the group will be hoping for the council to continue with paid staff at the library but given the current news coming from Kirklees the future is looking rather uncertain.

Obviously, any debate around the subject needs to consider the dwindling settlement each year from national government to local authorities. Added to this are the soaring costs of both adult care and children’s services, which along with the austerity programme, is forcing massive cuts and radical change within the public sector. Until the matter of funding for social care and health services is addressed at a national level, expenditure locally will continue to increase to the detriment of nearly all other services. Whoever forms the next government will have to face the politically unpalatable issue of deciding whether or not to protect health budgets while so many other services suffer. This is the real context in which reductions to local services, including libraries, is set.

Brian Ashley, Director – Libraries, Arts Council England is also on the panel, and will no doubt be representing ACE’s view. I have never disguised the fact that I think libraries have been misplaced with the Arts Council, who fail to appreciate the full scope of what libraries do and try to shoehorn them into a mismatched arts agenda. I wonder if ACE readily funded library schemes not connected to the arts how many more Library Change Lives projects could be delivered.

I am also cautious about their links with Locality in that they commission a body whose core purpose is to support and enable community organisations to research issues around public libraries. It’s difficult to accept that a predetermined bias towards community led projects does not influence the outcomes of the reports, which calls into the question the credibility of its research. Given the resources available to ACE there appears little justification for not commissioning such work from an independent research organisation. Continually resourcing studies in support of community led libraries hardly inspires trust from librarians or campaigners who believe in the statutory principle of libraries and that paid staff are an essential element of the service.

Hopefully, another panelist, Andrew Coburn, former Secretary of the Library Campaign and UNISON activist, will be bringing the opinions of both campaigners and library staff to the table.

This is a important issue and the principle of local authorities as the best way to deliver library services has very real and practical implications for how services could be run in the future, so this is more than an academic exercise and should be treated as such. Perhaps this could be used as a prelude to a policy making exercise in which the outcome helps inform the formulation of a position statement for Cilip to take forward.

Because while discussion is essential in defining ideas ultimately what good is debate without action?

The Axeman Cometh!

Closures and professional library posts

There was a Guardian article recently bemoaning the destruction of the national library system and highlighting job losses and library closures. With both actual and threatened closures so widespread campaign groups have also become ubiquitous and to my knowledge most, if not all, support the retention of paid staff. However, we also need to recognise that while many local campaigns would prefer to keep library staff the majority will also step forward to run their local library if they believe there is no other choice to closure. Understandably, the primary focus of the campaigner is the library not the librarian. It’s also a sad fact that many professional staff are lost not through branch closures but through ‘efficiencies’, cuts to ‘backroom functions’, ‘management delayering’, and other innocuous sounding mislabeling.

Given the scale of proposed reductions in places like Cornwall, Havering, Staffordshire, and Kirklees (the list goes on!) the rate of attrition of professional posts is likely to increase.

The loss of professional staff contributes to the hollowing out effect and represents a lessening of the quality of service. There are many good sites explaining what library staff do and extolling the virtues of a professionally run service so I won’t go into all the advantages of having both a professionally led and delivered service here except to refer to the Why Public Libraries? section of the Voices for the Library website for a fuller explanation.

My own observation regarding the loss of so many posts is one of limited career advancement and less mobility as professional staff struggle to hang onto the posts they already have.Now I could go into ‘spin’ mode and say that despite this staff still manage to deliver an excellent service to the public, which is absolutely true. But the problem with such counter-balancing is it that does a disservice to those who struggle with managing services on a day-to-day basis and deal with year-on-year reductions, an uncertain future, low morale, job insecurity, and an ideology that regards the replacement of highly qualified and experienced staff with unqualified and inexperienced volunteers as acceptable.

In a recent interview, Librarian of the Year 2014, Jacqueline Cooper, made the following telling point:

“With fantastically bad timing,I met the common place service cuts of recent years coming in the opposite direction. Five years ago we had 6 full time equivalent librarians in West Berks; now we have 3 and none of us works full time. As a result, in recent years I’ve often had paid work outside libraries as well and perhaps this has given me a different perspective.”

While Jacqueline seems to take a positive approach to the opportunities this has presented, her comments highlight very clearly the issue of ‘underemployment’ for librarians in a rapidly dwindling job market.

Given the limited opportunities I wonder how many graduates leaving library school actually avoid public libraries as they no longer consider the sector to be a viable career option?

Number crunching

The loss of professional posts is not always easy to assess even relying on Cipfa figures. Recently, along with Jo Richards, I undertook a snapshot of how many professional posts had been lost within county council library services over the past five years (table below).

Now, obviously such figures should always be approached with caution. One of the difficulties is defining what is meant by a ‘professional’ post as not all authorities require staff to hold library qualifications. For example, Norfolk stated that only 15 of its 26 community librarians held library qualifications, although those without a library qualification are encouraged to undertake certification (ACLIP) through Cilip.

In Surrey only 6 posts are required to have professional library qualifications as a condition of employment and a further post requires an information management degree. However, the remaining 43 posts are not required to hold library qualifications at all although some will. Equally, North Yorkshire shows quite a high number of professional level posts but according to the information provided none are actually required to hold a library qualification as a condition of employment, although again, some obviously will.

Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing how consistently each authority interpreted the FOI request so perhaps a safe assumption is to take the figures to mean those employed at a professional level but not necessarily professionally qualified. There will always be debate about how a ‘professional’ post is defined and therefore the exact level of losses or reductions within the profession will be open to interpretation.

Equally, some authorities stated that the figures represented FTE while others did not. Only Worcestershire indicated that numbers were based on a headcount. I have made the assumption therefore that with the exception of Worcestershire all other figures represent FTE although this would require further clarification to be absolutely certain. Only one service showed an increase in numbers, ironically enough Lincolnshire, from 6.8 to 9 FTE.

Obviously, an analysis of Cipfa returns would give a more in-depth indication of the loss of professional posts throughout the country whereas the table below is based on a limited number of councils but I suspect is generally indicative of losses within all authorities. Unfortunately, it paints a rather depressing picture of the continuing de-professionalisation of the public library sector.

Number of professional library posts by county council for the financial years 2009/10 to 2013/14

County Council  2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 Loss as %
1.Buckinghamshire 16 11 11 11 10 37.5
2. Cambridgeshire 33.38 37.82 37.10 20.70 19.61 41.2
3. Cumbria 33 30 28 28 28 15.1
4. Derbyshire 55 47.6 38.5 38.9 35.1 36.1
5. Devon 39 39 39 29 29 25.6
6. Dorset 18.3 19.3 17.3 14.3 No information 21.8
7. East Sussex 27.3 27 25.2 24.7 22.3 18.3
8. Essex (1) No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided
9. Gloucestershire No information No information 23 23 17 26
10. Hampshire 15 15 13 7 7 53.3
11. Hertfordshire 67.7 67.3 49.7 52.5 54 20.2
12. Kent 69.31 61.89 54.96 49.93 44.61 35.6
13. Lancashire 22 22 19 16 12 45.4
14.Leicestershire(2) 25 20.5 20.5 (25) see notes (24.3) see notes (2.7) See notes
15. Lincolnshire 6.8 6 10 9 9 + 32.3 (increase)
16. Norfolk (3) 48.6 42.7 36.8 36.2 36.2 25.5
17.North Yorkshire (4) 55 55 55 43 43 21.8
18.Northamptonshire 31 30.5 26.5 26.5 18.5 40
19.Nottinghamshire 55 57 32.5 32.5 32.5 40.9
20. Oxfordshire 47 43 47 36 34 27.6
21. Somerset 25.4 23.3 21.9 20.2 17.0 33
22. Staffordshire 43.3 40.8 33.3 29.5 No information 31.8
23. Suffolk 25 24 20 18 12 52
24. Surrey (5) 51.7 51.3 48.8 52.2 50.4 2.5
25. Warwickshire 29.4 24.1 No information No information 15.5 47.2
26. West Sussex 62.8 44.8 41.3 41.3 41.2 34.3
27. Worcestershire (6)Numbers based on headcount and not FTE 36 29 32 29 28 22.2

(1) Essex: only provided one set of figures and do not stipulate what year they covered. Despite follow-up requests for clarification I have received no further information

(2) Leicestershire: provided the following information to supplement the figures provided. Details can also be seen here.

The information below details the posts where the post of Librarian was explicit in the job title and required the holder to hold a professional qualification as an essential requirement.

2009 = 25.0
2010 = 20.5
2011 = 20.5
2012 = 8.0
2013 = 7.3

In 2011 the library service was significantly restructured and a new post of Library Development Worker, and Area Manager were created which is not detailed in this data, but where professional librarian status was desirable, and required many of the skills of the librarian to undertake. The number also includes a Head of Service. Numbers associated with these posts are set out below and are in addition to the first numbers.

2012 13
2013 13

In 2012 the library service became part of the Communities and Wellbeing service, an integrated libraries, museums and arts service. The following numbers incorporate management and support functions , although not needing a library qualification, are graded at a professional level and will require work at a related level, and again are in addition to the data above.

2012 4
2013 4

(Comment: what I think this means is that the total for 2012 = 25 and 2013 = 24.3. However, I am happy to be corrected if I’ve misunderstood the information)

(3) Norfolk: stated that there are 26 Community Librarians, 15 of which have library qualifications. People employed as Community Librarians and without a library qualification are encouraged to complete the Affiliate of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, (ACLIP).

(Comment: a later email stated that they didn’t keep records of professional qualifications, which possibly indicates that community librarians are not required to hold a degree level library qualification or chartered status)

(4). North Yorkshire: stated that no staff are required to hold a library qualifications as a condition of employment.

(5) Surrey: 6 posts require library qualification, 1 posts required an information management degree, 43.4 not required to hold library qualification.

(6) Worcestershire: figures based on headcount and not supplied as FTE

Time to share?

Catch 22

In the drive towards savings in libraries the greatest losers have been paid staff and in many circumstances the axe has fallen heaviest on professionally qualified staff as, from a local authority’s point of view, these are the most expensive asset of the library service.

Equally, library assistants (or equivalent) have also suffered in the drive towards volunteers taking over smaller, local libraries, either outright or by replacing staff. Now this is not a criticism of volunteers per se, many communities are put in an unenviable position and step forward in order to prevent the withdrawal of a valuable and valued service.

It is unfortunately a catch-22 situation: by taking over the running of the library or by replacing paid staff volunteers enable authorities to claim the success of such ventures and thus risk the domino effect as more and more libraries are given over to the unpaid. Volunteer libraries beget volunteer libraries. But what would happen if communities refused to step forward and volunteer? Would the council still enact such widespread closures or would they fear the political backlash? It would be a very brave community that put this to the test and many are not prepared to play such brinkmanship for fear of losing the service.

So an unpalatable aspect of volunteer libraries is the exploitation of reluctant communities to take on resources they would prefer to be professionally run and staff being deprived of often cherished livelihoods within that same community. Not a situation that is acknowledged in the official spin surrounding so called ‘community libraries’.

Better than closure?

This leads me to a second observation regarding attitudes towards library closures. There have been a number of comments recently to the effect that a volunteer run library is better than a closed library. However, this is too simplistic a conclusion. For instance, closures can have a devastating impact in rural areas but the same cannot always be said for urban areas.

I realise this is a contentious point but large rural counties such as Lincolnshire and Devon with libraries in small rural communities with challenging transport links for example require a different strategy to that of a large urban area with relatively good transport. Strategic based closures can have a part to play in order to protect the integrity and quality of the overall service but this is dependent on many local factors. Therefore, a blanket generalisation that a volunteer library must automatically be better than closure is a logical fallacy.

Equally, the automatic acceptance of volunteer libraries over closures also discourages investigating and challenging councils to consider other alternatives, such as charitable trusts and shared services. A point raised by the judge in the recent judicial review for Lincolnshire libraries. A more contentious alternative is challenging senior officer and chief executive pay, increased allowances for councillors, or the reduction of services in the face of massive underspends and reserves.

Shared services

One alternative that appears to receive almost brick-wall indifference or outright opposition is that of councils sharing library services. Although some very limited moves have been made in this area such schemes are few and far between.
I have referred to shared library services in past posts and also highlighted that many within the profession would like to see a merging of library authorities. Recently the New Local Government Network (NLGN) stated that “Councils should find alternative ways to sustain local arts and culture… (and) should now look to share services such as libraries and theatres as funding cuts are handed down to local cultural sites.”

While not underestimating the difficulties involved there is definitely potential in the shared services approach for libraries (for further information see PLN – Efficiencies: Sharing services). For instance, integrating operational arrangements e.g. stock units and management systems, or merging libraries that are geographically close to each but in  in different authorities. Larger authorities could increasingly deliver services for a smaller services such as Essex and Slough, or staffing structures between neighbouring services could be shared.

Equally, regional library trusts could potentially deliver economies of scale, have access to different funding streams (including direct fund raising), and provide non-traditional services to fund the core offer. Locality have just produced a report outlining possible areas of income generation for public libraries, with some excellent examples and intriguing suggestions.

However, sharing library services seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Equally, it also looks like the idea of library mergers will be missing from Sieghart’s final report if recent comments are anything to go by, which seems to me both a great pity and missed opportunity.

The insidious phrase!

One size does not fit all

Along with ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA), one other phrases that has gained in popularity when discussing changes to libraries is that one size does not fit all, usually followed by a reduction in the level of service! In the debate over library provision it has become one of the main declarations by both politicians and councillors to justify libraries leaving local authority control.

The phrase was used recently by William Sieghart when commenting on his report into the future of libraries. Whether the comments indicate a pragmatic approach towards libraries or one of political expediency – that is, taking us down the path the DCMS and ACE wish us to follow anyway – remains to be seen. Sieghart is still consulting so perhaps the final report will deliver more than his comments indicate.

As a profession, librarians have known for a long time that one size does not fit all, and in practice there has always been different levels of service and provision depending on library size, usage, and locality. What was common however was the effort to uphold standards and ensure all communities received a basic level of service regardless of location. In this sense one size did fit all. It was a concerted effort to provide and uphold the quality of service, particularly around the now defunct national standards

Unfortunately, the phrase has come to mean something more insidious: as an excuse to undermine professionally run and managed services and to justify off-loading libraries to community groups. It seems rather ironic that despite being told one size does not fit all there appears a fairly standard, uniform response by local authorities, which is to hand over libraries to volunteers. In classic doublethink terms community groups are apparently the one size that fits all!

Rather than involving the community to genuinely tailor and improve services – which is easily done through focus groups, friends groups, and volunteers in added value roles for instance – the phrase is now used to cloak cuts and pressure communities into taking on libraries regardless of local opinion or capacity. This was highlighted tellingly in a comment by Liz Waterland Chairwoman of The Friends of Deeping Library in April this year:

‘May I correct an impression that readers may have gained, following your news item about Nick Worth’s opinions on library closures. The word ‘volunteers’ is only correct in so far as we are unpaid and are preparing to run a Community Library should we have to. We haven’t volunteered to run a library; we are being forced to do so because Lincolnshire County Council have threatened us with the closure of our popular and well used facility if we don’t. We will do our very best to step in if we have to but we would much rather that our library stayed open as the professionally run, properly staffed and funded community asset that it is at present. Neither alternative, of closure or community take over, is of our choice; we are being forced into this position because we are not willing to see the end of our library in The Deepings. The Friends of Deeping Library have been told we must ‘do it or die’ – the choice between them is NOT voluntary!’

Localism

The idea that one size does not fit all has in part been driven by the principle of localism. The rationale being that councils and communities have a greater say in how funding is allocated and spent locally. However, as the comment above highlights local opinion is often over-ridden in the drive to deliver savings.

While many aspects of localism are praiseworthy, in practice it has been used to justify deep cuts to relatively small areas of council spending. A point noted by the chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association recently:

‘The cuts are falling disproportionately on leisure, libraries, culture, art, transport…and environmental health. The smaller services…Some of those smaller services will no longer be viable. You cannot continuously improve a service that you’ve cut by 40%. It’s just a logical fallacy. We need to think very carefully about the future of some of these smaller services.’

Such cuts are set to continue and the LGA warned yet again that:

‘In spite of cuts, local authorities will continue to try and protect spending on adult social care next year as much as possible, which could be at the expense of popular services like buses, libraries and leisure centres.’

So given that large parts of council budgets include social services or protected priority areas the actual pot that local communities can influence is relatively small.

Professionalism

The attitude underlying the phrase, and indeed the localism agenda itself, appears to be a rejection of professionalism in the mistaken belief that it is more important for services to be community rather than expertly run. This certainly seems to be the case for libraries (many would also argue that the same view applies to free schools).

One point in favour is that it allegedly gives local communities more influence in local service delivery. But having a say in library services and running them are completely different. The first is a genuine impulse to involve and thus improve services, the second to cut costs and operate with unpaid labour, with the lessening of expertise and quality this entails.

Despite the spin about engaging communities and given them a greater say ultimately it is about savings and as such it is disingenuous to claim that services can be improved in the face of severe budget cuts and reduced professional input.

Equality

The one size does not fit all approach also undermines the progressive impulse of libraries towards alleviating inequality in terms of learning, health, social wellbeing, and digital inclusion, amongst others. The continuing drive towards community managed libraries risks the creation of a two-tier service that exacerbates rather than alleviates inequality.

There is also a misguided belief that communities possess either individuals or groups with the capacity and resilience to deliver local services. Recently, a group of volunteers in Lincolnshire resigned en masse in response to the increasing and unrealistic demands made upon them by the local council.

Unfortunately, the slogan has now become a superficial excuse to impose inferior levels of provision on communities. It is an approach that also favours higher level socio-economic groups and disadvantages socially deprived areas.

Localism vs regionalism?

Localism is also counterproductive to wider approaches such as the universal offers, the desire to reintroduce national standards, and a more strategic approach to libraries that we see in Northern Ireland and Wales. Greater interoperability between local authorities was one of the main points made by both campaigners and organisations in submissions to Seighart. For instance, Cilip argued that:

In England 151 authorities still run their own library services with a tiny number of exceptions. Some of these are very small, and the fact that there are so many authorities must lead us to question whether the service overall is efficient…there are lessons that could be learnt from the rest of the UK.

In Northern Ireland, five former Education and Library Boards have become one new authority, the Northern Ireland Library Authority (NILA) operating outside Government. The economies of scale achieved have helped NILA deal more effectively with the reductions in funding it has faced recently.

In Wales there are now also serious proposals to reduce the current twenty two local authorities by about half to improve the cost efficiency of service delivery.”

From his comments Sieghart seems to have rejected this proposition. While I think it is unlikely that the national approach we see in Northern Ireland would genuinely work in England there is no reason why reducing the number of library authorities and operating on a regional basis would not be effective.

Certainly, greater regional autonomy and power was the basis of Lord Heseltine’s No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth report, and a similar approach advocated recently by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband. However, it is difficult to envisage how such a regional approach could work without first removing responsibility from individual local authorities and amending the 1964 Act.

Words matter

Terminology matters. In the battle of ideology over library services, words and phrases dictate the underlying philosophy and attitudes towards current and future provision. The over-use of trite phrases such as one size does not fit all risks rendering quite complex arguments into meaningless sound-bites and souring genuine dialogue between councils and campaigners over very real budgetary constraints and challenges.

Sometimes one size does indeed not fit all but equally when it comes to quality and standards, sometimes it can. In contrast, localism is creating only fragmentation, inequality, and a hodge-podge of inferior library provision.

Reply from the Liberal Democrats

The following reply was received from John Leech MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport.

Dear Leon,

Thank you for your email about public libraries.

Libraries are on the whole a DCLG responsibility but I will nevertheless do my best to answer your questions from a DCMS perspective.

Firstly, I can assure you that we support the principle of local authorities providing library access. Libraries are a vital resource in any community. Currently there is a worrying trend of local authorities shutting local libraries at the same time as spending money on other things that constituents might think are lower priority (i.e. things which are not front line services). I wish to see this trend reversed.

I do support creation of community volunteer managed libraries as a last resort in the event of the closure of a local authority funded library. This happened recently in Burnage, in my constituency, where the local council chose to close the local library against the wishes of local people, despite the fact that the annual cost was only £43000. I believe that a volunteer run library is better than no library at all, though I would not like to see this to become the norm. The expectation should be that local libraries are funding by local authorities and run by paid staff.

With regard to your question about the quality of volunteer staff, I believe that some volunteers will provide the same quality of service as paid staff while others will not. The level of training that volunteers receive is key to the service that they can offer.

My final thought on this is that local authorities ought to be protecting front line services including libraries if they truly wish to serve the needs of the local community.

Best wishes,

John Leech MP
Member of Parliament for Manchester Withington

Time to speak out

In a recent editorial Ian Anstice makes the telling point that a new narrative around public libraries ‘…can only happen in different political circumstances where national politicians realise the importance of libraries and are willing to invest in public libraries … and that can only realistically happen with a General Election.’  

I wholeheartedly agree. And for this to come about the message needs to be driven home over the coming months time and again.

In a speech the new SCL President, Ciara Eastell, highlighted the need to advocate for libraries in the build-up to the general election. Leaving aside the potentially divisive commitment to support community-led libraries this was an excellent rallying call to be more proactive in promoting the value of libraries to politicians. To which we can add, promoting the value of librarians and library staff.

However, it would be wrong to leave advocacy only to campaigners and professional bodies. As individual librarians we also can make a difference. The general election is only 11 months away so now is the perfect time to start engaging politicians about public libraries. As citizens and constituents we can be a powerful voice in advocating for libraries at both local and national level with potentially thousands of library staff throughout the country standing up and defending an important public service.

Cilip’s  ‘public libraries – get involved’ page is a good place to start, with links to sites for contacting your MP:They Work for You and Write to ThemThere is also some excellent advice for writing to a MP at the Open Rights Group website.

If you have ever felt powerless as a member of the library profession in the face of changes to services over the past four years now is the time to influence political opinion for the future. Remember, your MP is not an expert on libraries but you are and you can use this opportunity to educate them about the value of public libraries. Obviously, some may disagree but others might just be willing to listen. And politicians tend to listen a whole lot more when it’s election time!

There are also many sites for background information including the excellent Public Library News, the Library CampaignVoices for the Library, and Speak Up For Libraries (including the SUFL Manifesto). Local library campaigns can also be good sources of information.

Try to publicise the information you get back (start your own blog!). Equally, I would be more than happy to publish replies on this site and I am sure that other, campaigning sites would likewise be interested in politicians replies.

Our voices can make a difference. But only if we raise them and speak out.

Reply from Helen Goodman

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.

 

LETTER

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.
Yours sincerely

Helen Goodman

Shadow Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Communications
MP for Bishop Auckland