CILIP, the professional organization for library workers, has announced today that it has beefed up its policy on volunteers to come out explicitly against the use of volunteers as direct substitutes for paid staff.  The new policy (I have put the key statement in bold) states:

“CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.
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. This applies to all library and information services in every sector.
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.
CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers.
We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.”

So why the change?

John Dolan, leader of the Council explains the change by saying:

“CILIP believes that a fair and economically prosperous society is underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. In order to thrive communities, individuals, families, businesses and society need the support of library and information services, and a trained and skilled workforce. I recognise that members were concerned that the previous policy did not clearly enough state CILIP’s position on the crucial importance of library staff to develop, manage and deliver services – and our belief  that volunteers should not undertake core service delivery nor be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries. So I invited active campaigner and CILIP member Gary Green to speak to Council members in June about his concerns and I appreciate the time taken and effort made to do so. In all our advocacy work we are clear – society benefits from trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers. We make this point in meetings with politicians; at our evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport inquiry into library closures; through our support for the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group; when talking to the media and responding to government consultations. We will continue to make this point and provide strong advocacy for the value of library staff.””

History behind the change

The old CILIP policy, agreed in October 2010, withdrew direct opposition to substitution.  It stated:

“CILIP acknowledges the contribution that volunteers make to libraries, enriching the services they provide and helping to sustain their viability. In order to optimise the value of that contribution it should form part of a professionally managed public library service that has at its core sufficient paid staff to ensure the direction, development and quality of the service provided. Volunteers are not ‘free’ and need proper management, training and development. In many cases a volunteers’ co-ordinator should be appointed to ensure appropriate management and recognition of the value of volunteers.”

Such a policy was seen as acceptable by the organisation in late 2010.  With, even then, many councils having already had volunteers in their branches, there was a fear that a policy outright condemning the practice would be impractical. However, as the extent of the move towards volunteers by local authorities became clear, the substitution of volunteers for paid staff became less and less acceptable to significant numbers of CILIP members and other supporters of libraries. So, when this was noticed on the website in March 2012, there was uproar:

“Council had a lively debate on various aspects of using volunteers in public libraries, ranging from the need for proper management to the risks in using volunteers to replace core parts of the service.  The focus was on the issue of job substitution and failure of authorities to value the skills of their workforce and the benefits of librarians.  Council voted to keep the current policy and to look into the possibility of incorporating question(s) on the use of volunteers in a further survey of public libraries. It also asked for a further paper to be submitted to Council exploring how CILIP might best raise awareness of the current policy and the critical need for professional staff as well.”

Sadly for the organisation, times had changed radically in the intervening period between 2010 and 2012.  Cuts were starting to bite, people were losing their jobs and volunteers were being seen as the solution by many authorities up and down the country.  There had even been court cases raised by library supporters specifically on this issue, notably in Surrey.  Responses were thus strongly negative:

 “CILIP must, surely, have foreseen that removing the policy in 2010 would open the floodgates. With one’s enemy a short distance from the gates it was wrong to have deliberately left them ajar — making it well nigh impossible to close them against the forces pressing up upon their feebly-constructed barricades in 2012. The introduction of a two-tier, postcode lottery library service is now well under way. This would seem to have been materially assisted by CILIP and the SCL going down the route of, at best, pragmatism and, at worst, compromise and appeasement.” Shirley Burnham

“Personally I am totally against “job substitution”. If you need a volunteer to do a job then the post is not redundant, if it is not redundant, do not sack someone then get someone to do it for nothing….only to then spend money training a volunteer when you have placed a trained member of staff on the dole queue. I disagree with the conclusion made by Public Libraries News.  It is not “understandable” for CILIP to be anything other than opposed to ”job substitution”.  For a professional body to take a weak position regarding the  replacement of its members by untrained volunteers is totally unacceptable.”  Johanna Anderson

“Glad I didn’t bother joining in the end RT @UKpling: CILIP policy on volunteers no against direct substitution of staff” Scrufflibrarian.

“@cilipinfo you’re dangerous, politicians who live in a bubble of simplicity will jump on this.You’ve betrayed libraries #savelibraries” Ruby Malvolio.

“As someone who has always been very proud to call myself a librarian, and who continually emphasises the importance of librarians to society as a whole, it comes as something of a surprise to be told that I’m an ‘enemy’ of libraries. By implication, and since CILIP as a whole is being referred to here, it’s likely that you’re an enemy of libraries as well. A slightly topsy turvy world you’ll agree. This strange situation has arisen out of the current CILIP position on the use of volunteers in libraries.”  Phil Bradley, CILIP president.

This, in May, was my viewpoint:

“Two things explain the furore now.  The first is that the policy is on the CILIP website but few would have read it.  This is not surprising as policies are hardly given prominence on any website.   Furthermore, it would occur to few that a professional association would not directly oppose the replacement of its subscribers with the unpaid.  As one campaigner points out today, even Volunteering England is against such practices. Secondly, two years ago the subject was not the hotbed of controversy that it is now.  Back then, direct substitution was more theoretical than real.  It’s only been in the last year that the cuts have started to hit home. Now, as this article today shows, it scares a lot of library workers.  Hardly surprising when one-tenth of paid library workers are losing their jobs.”

While this was going on, other things showed how strong feelings were running.  The situation had got the point where the One Show had done a second story on volunteer-run libraries.  A lady who had asked on LinkedIn about tips on running a volunteer-run library got all but ripped apart.

The post on the issue made by Gary Green gained special notice.  He (as did this Public Libraries News) noted that the actual beliefs of the organisation were actually more strongly against subsitution of paid staff by volunteers than the policy appeared to state.  Gary stressed that, in these difficult times, CILIP needed a clear black and white statement that was explicitly against substitution.  Mr Green was invited to speak to a CILIP Council meeting on June 18th where it became clear that the policy was under strong review.  It is now clear that from this the policy has been changed.


CILIP have possibly made the only possible move that they could in the circumstances.  They were losing a great deal of support over this.  By trying to be pragmatic, the body was being seen as complicit in the removal of its members from paid employment.  This is an awful situation for any professional body. The grass roots, the membership which makes or breaks an organisation, were understandably unimpressed. This was made all the more obvious by the use of Twitter and blogs.  Information and viewpoints are now spread instantly so something that may have rumbled for months before, slowly increasing in intensity, now explodes instantly.  It’s lightning now, not thunder.

This is not to say that the decision to change the policy back to one directly against subsitution was an easy one.  The previous policy fudged the issue for a reason.  Many authorities are facing dramatic cuts in service and volunteers are an obvious solution.  It also strongly chimes with the ideological Big Society aims of the Coalition, members of whom are the political masters of many library chiefs.  It is thus more impressive that the decision was changed as this was not done by officers like Annie Mauger or Phil Bradley – that’s not how CILIP works – but by the Council which is made up of often serving senior library staff.  Those staff are going to be placed in a difficult situation if their organisations consider volunteering.

This change shows the power of the membership over the organization.  A decision was made at a senior level that was then effectively over-ruled by the rank and file.  That CILIP changed its view in just three months (not a long time for such a body) is a tribute to it.  Make no mistake, it should have done so before, but at least it has done so now.  There’s more hope for the organization than there was.

By such a policy change, things are made that much harder for councils to impose volunteering  on communities (always a strange concept) and also it makes it that much harder for Ed Vaizey. For that, and for so much else, those people who raised such a stink and got the policy changed should be applauded.  Now, reinforced and better armed, everyone can go back into the fray against the deepest cuts to UK public libraries in recorded history.  Onwards.


I am not a member of CILIP and do not know the inner workings, or many of the key members, of that organisation.   I may well have made one or two factual errors that, doubtless, people will tell me about. The above is therefore largely an outsider’s view, albeit based on a fair bit of background reading over the last two years.