A volunteer run library is no library at all

We noticed an excellent comment on the concept of volunteer libraries in Plymouth from librarian and internet consultant Phil Bradley. With Phil’s permission we reproduce this text here as it is also very relevant to the situation in Lincolnshire. 

This is of course utterly ridiculous. Volunteers, however well meaning, are entirely unable to do the work of a professionally qualified librarian. A library is more – much more than giving out books. It’s about providing information to an entire community – helping people back into work, finding information about legal issues, sometimes quite complex and personal information on medical conditions. Professionally qualified librarians have a moral and ethical code that they work to; are people going to be happy to give personal information to a volunteer who could be just about anyone? I doubt it. Volunteers would need to get a CRB check – I doubt parents would be happy with the idea of leaving their children to look at books in the company of almost literally anyone. Volunteers would need to be trained – which comes at a price. Volunteers cannot be relied upon – no more should they, which means that a library could be closed at just about any time.

Visitors to a library often have complex queries regarding all sorts of different things – from which social media resources to use, to what eReader to purchase and so on. And contrary to what a lot of people say, it’s NOT all on Google. Any competent librarian will have the knowledge and access of hundreds of databases and search engines in order to answer a query, let alone the knowledge of which reference books are best to answer a question.

I have no issue with libraries working closely with a community – that’s what they’re there for after all, but once you see a library being reduced to a glorified post office, it ceases to be a library. And besides, if a library is going to start doing work such as dealing with complaints and taking payments – are volunteers really the right people to be doing this? I think not.

Let’s be clear on this – people are ALREADY paying for their library service from their taxes. However, it seems that they are going to be made to pay twice, and the blame put on them if as volunteers they are unable to keep the library running. The local government has a legal responsibility and obligation to run a comprehensive library service, and this is just an attempt to weasel out of this requirement.

People often say that why should a library remain open when hospitals etc are put under pressure. Well I’ll tell you. This country is losing billions of pounds a year through illiteracy. Libraries help not only children but adults to learn to read more effectively. The government is decreasing access to printed materials, and putting much of it online, and for many people who do not have access to the internet, a library is the only place to get that information. A library is a safe place for people to research, to educate themselves. No wonder politicians don’t like them! Libraries are increasingly used by the medical profession to get people to take out books so that they can learn about their condition or illness. A library is in fact one of the ways in which a community remains healthy.

A library is not a book swap. It’s far, far more than that – it’s a key element in a community. It is a valuable safe place for a community to come together – to share, to learn, to better themselves. This cannot be achieved by downgrading it to be run by volunteers – and indeed other volunteer run libraries often report that they are simply not capable of doing this effectively.

A volunteer run library is no library at all. It is a sad shadow of a proper, vibrant service for a community. An attack on a library is an attack on everyone, and is a dangerous sign that a local council really doesn’t care about its community. Do not accept a voluntary ‘book swap’. You have paid for a professional library service, you are entitled to a professional library service and your community needs a professional library service!”

Click here to find out how you can help the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign, nationally and locally

Original article this comment is from is here Plan for YOU to run Plymouth’s libraries

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3 thoughts on “A volunteer run library is no library at all

  1. Pingback: Round up | Alan Gibbons' Diary

  2. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 14th November 2013 | The Library Campaign

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