With friends like these…

Last week, the latest official (CIPFA) statistics on public libraries were published.

Most striking was the finding that “staff numbers continued their fall, down 6.8% year on year, but in contrast there was a marked increase in the number of volunteers, with numbers increasing 44% in 2012-13″.

We all know what that means. Volunteers are not just supplementing a proper professional service, but are increasingly being forced to run branches all by themselves.

Nobody wants that. And we’d expect librarians to make this point loud and clear.

Yet the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) did the exact opposite. The Library Campaign is appalled to see the SCL express nothing beyond bland acceptance.

So we wrote them a letter…

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Dear all,

We were shocked and disappointed to see SCL’s comment on the new CIPFA figures. It is wrong in so many ways.

When branch closures, and the creation of volunteer libraries, are accelerating with no control and no sensible assessment, few would agree that ‘libraries are working to achieve the right balance between maintaining and building upon the service that communities depend on and the necessity to reduce  costs’.

Library users all over the country will be appalled to see the SCL thinks current developments are ‘always in tune with local community need’. The reality is widespread mass protests and complaints of sham consultation.

Again, you record the rise in volunteers in a bland and uncritical fashion. While some volunteers have always been welcome as a complement to paid staff, the new wave forced to take on core tasks is better characterised as bitter, desperate – and often poorly supported.

We know of none who would not prefer a proper service run by professional staff. (A particular weakness is likely to be in what the SCL calls ‘completely new ways in which people access information’ – where local authority library websites record an impressive 25% rise in one year. And will volunteers run the Summer Reading Challenge?)

We appreciate that SCL members are among those setting up volunteer libraries. But we know none who argue that they provide as good a service as professionals.

It is a great pity when a major professional body fails to articulate the importance of its skills.

It is even more of a pity to do so at a time of unprecedented damage, when library services need all the help they can get to protect standards.

The bland language used implies uncritical support of the entire current race to destruction.

Sometimes – often – we feel that it is only library users and campaigners that stand up for librarians.

Yours sincerely

Laura Swaffield

Chair, The Library Campaign

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2 comments for “With friends like these…

  1. Elizabeth Ash
    December 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    “In the face of not only a changing library landscape but completely new ways in which people access information, public libraries have innovated and expanded the services they offer, always in tune with local community need.”

    Oh dear!

    I was delighted that the SCL embarked on a series of meetings, engaging with library campaigners, so I’m bitterly disappointed with their statement. It shows a complete lack of awareness, or clear denial, of the real situation facing libraries, library users and the staff who run them.

    No-one is against innovation, or volunteers for that matter….BUT,

    when “innovation” amounts to shoe-horning library services into multi-use facilities, resulting in a lesser service; when innovation means hollowing out of services resulting in less being on offer and further pressures on staff who are often already depleted in number; when “innovation” means focus on a shiny central library but the closure or downgrading of branch libraries that communities value and can reach; when “innovation” means replacing much valued librarians and experienced library staff with that of volunteer labour – often with little training and understanding, then we someone has to take a stand and shout NO! Has all the protest about this passed the SCL by?

    I’m saddened that the SCL wave through the cuts under the guise of innovation and accept job substitution as the way forward. If the SCL ARE willing to stand by and watch the hollowing out and destruction of library services I know that library users and library campaigners ARE NOT!

    We need proper engagement on all the issues facing libraries before it is too late. And if the SCL are so blinkered to state that library services are altering for the better, to expand services and always in tune with local community need, then I’m at the front of the queue to say this is SO not the case!

  2. February 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Sorry to be late responding to this – it came out when, among other things, we were in the middle of encouraging people to respond to the second “consultation” of the year about local authority cuts and their impact on Herefordshire libraries. We in the Ross Library Development Group are with you at the Library Campaign all the way on this issue. We watch our fabulous library staff keep busy and cheerful and courteous whilst their jobs are under constant threat – and the one thing our group has resolved is that we are there to support them but NEVER to replace them.

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