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…
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.
Chair, The Library Campaign