The Society of Chief Librarians is, as described on their website, ” a local government association made up of the chief librarian of each library authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland”. As such, they represent the decision makers and prime movers of public libraries in these areas.  It has therefore proved disconcerting to some (as seen by a comment today in the librarian bulletin board, lis-pub-libs) that their new policy on volunteering in libraries does not appear to oppose direct substitution of library staff with volunteers. This goes directly against the recent policy change by CILIP, the professional association for library staff, that is now explicitly against substitution.

The summary of the new policy is very short which means we can analyse it line by line:

“The Society of Chief Librarians strongly supports volunteering in libraries. The Society firmly believes that volunteers add value to the public library service, as long as all volunteering activity is contained within a professionally managed and delivered framework.”

No-one can have any argument with this. Volunteering does indeed add value to a library service. It should also of course be managed professionally. It may be that it is here to reassure the reader that, despite volunteers being increasingly essential to many library services, those paid and skilled staff still within the council are there to guide them. Of course, the policy does not say if paid staff should be within the same building as the volunteers.

Volunteering is encouraged because it not only benefits volunteers, but also directly increases community engagement, adds value to the services available to customers and contributes to libraries being positioned at the heart of their local communities.

Quite right.  Volunteering does all of these things.

Volunteers do become positive advocates for the service and many young volunteers do progress into full time paid employment within either the Library service itself or the wider local authority.

It is here that some may start weeping bitter tears. To suggest that volunteering is a way into full time paid employment is, in a narrow sense, factually accurate.  Anything in this dire job climate helps. However, within the current situation of so many libraries being taken away from paid staff and now run by volunteers, it is highly misleading. The SCL should and must know that the most striking thing about volunteering in public libraries today is that moving to “full time paid employment” plays very little part in the process.

The Society is clear that training and support for volunteers is crucial to a successful volunteering programme.

Indeed it is.

Please download the full SCL Policy on Volunteering: SCL policy on volunteering.

The key thing about the full policy is that it says “The Society fully endorses the National Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice“.  Now, this is really important because the Compact Code includes the line (page 4) that the Government and the voluntary and community sector undertake to:

“Recognise that voluntary activity should not be seen as a substitute for paid work”

Did the SCL not read this bit? Because this means that the SCL policy actually does fully endorse the position that volunteering should not be a subsitute for paid work. But a large number of Chief Librarians – and more so with each passing month – are enacting policies that do substitute volunteers for paid workers. Faced with huge cuts to resources and the need to somehow keep libraries open they perhaps feel they have little choice in the matter. The choice between a closed library and an open library staffed with volunteers is not an easy one. But that line in the Code of Good Practice places the organization in a bind. They can hardly say they’re not in line with Good Practice.  However, they have no choice to break the same Code in order to keep libraries open. One wonders if the SCL will quietly lobby for that annoying line within it to be removed. More likely, the Society knew about it and decided to soldier on regardless, content in the knowledge that the policy has little practical meaning in reality.

The SCL Wales policy on volunteering differs from this policy. The full SCL Wales policy on volunteering is being updated and will be posted in September 2012.”

This last bit is the real smoking gun. The current Welsh SCL policy is clearly against job substitution by volunteers, although it is worth noting that it too is being revised. That the Welsh differ is perhaps due to the different political reality in that nation. They have a strongly supportive national government, better funding (even investment) and a somewhat less, shall we say, Big Society view. There is not the all-pervading fear there that so characterizes English library staff.  When I was in Cardiff recently, most of the librarians I met felt sorry for their English counterparts and trusted the Welsh Assembly to protect them. So, the Welsh SLA have the luxury of standing by their long-held beliefs in a fully paid workforce. Something that in England is increasingly hard to do. At least for Chief Librarians.


  • Jarvis attacks government for “ignoring” library campaigners – BookSeller.  “Shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis has spoken out about local library campaigns, criticising the government for “ignoring” their voices for two years. In a statement, the Labour politician raised a number of specific instances where campaign groups trying to save their local library had been forced to wait more than two years for a response from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. One particular case is that of campaigners in Lewisham, who wrote to culture minister Ed Vaizey in August 2010, asking him to order an inquiry into library cuts in the area. Two years later, there has still been no response from the minister.”
  • Letters – Independent.  Two letters against the decision of the Law Society to sell the Mendham Collection from Canterbury Cathedral Library. “The sale of the collection item by item will destroy for ever its integrity. The collection was a gift to the Law Society. If it is no longer of intellectual value to them, one ethical step would be for the Law Society to donate the collection to an institution willing to look after it. If the collection must be sold, they should revoke the decision to sell piecemeal and seek to sell the collection as an undivided whole.”

It Could Happen

  • Nine reasons to save public libraries – IVN (USA).  “Our public libraries are not just threatened this election season. They’re fighting for their lives — and with them, the livelihoods and well-being of hard-hit communities all over the country. Library districts in California, Illinois, Ohio, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and more have measures or proposals to slash budgets in 2012. California alone is looking at 50% budget cuts. Where I live, the library district is facing a 30% budget cut, which will close at least two branches. According to the American Library Association, 23 states are looking to cut library budgets in the most recent fiscal year.”  Reasons are: online access, equality, living history, environmentally friendly, literacy, multiculturalism, safe space, cultural display spaces, children’s tuition.

But more than that, it may just be the last free space that is truly free and there for everyone — homeless, young, old, rich, poor, and any race under the sun. We are all welcome there. We are all equal there. Doesn’t that seem like a space too valuable to lose?

Rescure My Library

Henderson Library (USA) – Doing library campaign posters better than anyone since the Troy “Book Burning” campaign.


Local News

  • Barnsley – Oh no, it’s a Gruffalo – Chronicle series. “Library officer, Helen Campbell, said each week as part of the challenge, youngsters will be able to do different activities linked to stories and the Olympic games.  “It is a brilliant way to promote and encourage reading through the school holidays,” she added.”
  • Brent – Developers move to include old library building in new plans Harrow Observer.  “In a statement released today (Tuesday) the council confirmed that the new sketches consider keeping the Victorian building. “

Save Kensal Rise Library from De Novo Arts on Vimeo.

“Following its world premier last Friday, “Save Kensal Rise Library” by De Novo Arts is now online:It is a perfectly narrated short about the devestating Brent Council library closures that created the precarious situation Kensal Rise Library faces today. Eighteen months reduced into 3:59 min of a tale so simple, yet so absurd, it defies all reason… “Save Kensal Rise Library”, a must see!” Brent – Save Kensal Rise Library

  • Croydon – Bright future for Croydon libraries: Labour’s vision for 2014 – Croydon Labour.  “Over the last 2-years the Conservative-run Council in Croydon has run down our libraries and threatened closure of 6 branches. This on top of closing the Mobile Library Service.  The Conservatives are currently in a needless dispute about Upper Norwood Library; with the possibility of closure still on the table. Today Labour announces that it will pick up the work of the last Labour Council (1994 – 2006) which had a fantastic record of investment in Croydon’s Library service, including new buildings at Broad Green, Selsdon and Ashburton; full refurbishment of Upper Norwood Library (with Government funding) and initiation of Thornton Heath Library refurbishment project.”.  Party against privatisation but in favour of “community library trusts”.
  • Doncaster – A plus and minus for life in Denaby – Doncaster Free Press.  “…with the results of the judicial review into Mayor Davies’ decision to close down Denaby Library ruling in his favour, it seems that there is no chance of it reopening. So many people will see this as another nail in the coffin for an area which needs as many community facilities as it can muster. But there was little groundswell of opinion against the closure when it was first mooted – barely five per cent of people responded to a consultation survey. And there has been very little if anything in the way of volunteers putting themselves forward to run a replacement service.”
  • Hertfordshire – Loyal staff honoured for centuries of service – Hertfordshire County Council (press release).  “Sixty six employees from your local county council’s Health and Community Services and Library Service teams have been presented with long service certificates … Chris Hayward, Cabinet Member for Libraries, added: “Hertfordshire’s Library Service has an important role to play across the county. Much of the popularity of our libraries is down to the service that our staff provide and the dedication they show.”
  • Isle of Man – Library holds “champion” activity session – “Young visitors were aflame with excitement when Olympic torchbearer Victoria Karran was the star guest at a ‘We Are the Champions’ activity session at the Henry Bloom Noble Library. Children were able to get a taste of the London 2012 excitement by holding the torch and asking Victoria about her experience on June 2nd this year when she joined with other Olympic flame carriers in the Island.”
  • Isle of Wight – Library campaigners still awaiting response from DCMS – Ventnor Blog.  “The lack of response from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to library campaigners across the country was raised last week by Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister, Dan Jarvis MP. He expressed concerns that campaigners in Lewisham had been waiting up to two years for a decision from Government Ministers. Adding that campaigners from the Isle of Wight have also been waiting more than a year for a follow-up response from the DCMS.”

The government are clearly hoping this issue will go away, or indeed be buried by the euphoria of the Olympics. Fortunately, thanks to the persistence of campaigners such as Dave Quigley here and others around the country, many campaigns supported by very influential people, the issue remains at the top of the pile.

  • Lambeth – Residents unite over Streatham Tate library – Guardian series.  “A proposal to move the library from the iconic Streatham Tate building has sparked a campaign to restore the building to its former grandeur. The Friends of Streatham Library Group formed last month with the vision of developing the library so that it becomes the heart of the community. This was a reaction against the Libraries Commission proposing that other locations, such as Gracefield Gardens, should be explored if the library did not improve.”

Lee Alley, chairman of the Streatham Business Board, said the library was the last remaining public facility in the area. Mr Alley said: “It’s all we have got left in Streatham. There are no other public amenities.”

  • Lincolnshire – Have your say on Spilsby Library – Spilsby Online.  “”While we’ve no plans to close any of our libraries, the service will have to evolve, if it’s to remain affordable. In Spilsby, we’re considering relocating the library to either the Co-op Food Store or the Methodist Chapel. We want to know what residents think about this.”

Nerve Centra at Toxteth Library

Liverpool – Nerve Centre at Toxteth Library via Alan Gibbons

  • North Somerset – Changes ready for Weston Super Mare Library’s move to new home – This is Somerset. “Changes are being made to how Weston-super-Mare library operates ahead of it moving to a new base at the town hall. The library service, currently based at The Boulevard, is due to relocate to the refurbished town hall and open on October 1. Services in the current library will be reduced from August 3 and a ‘mini library’ will operate during the week from 10am to 4pm until August 24. The mini library will have a small selection of adult and children’s fiction, large print and talking books to borrow.”
  • Suffolk – Artist Andy Wright exhibits whimsical work at library – EADT 24.  Artist “taking over the town library’s wall space for the next month, exhibiting his eclectic collection of imaginative work.As the title suggests, the S2R (Sublime to Ridiculous) Exhibition showcases everything from marine paintings, intricate machines and saxophonist fish”

““We are an organisation totally dedicated to managing the county’s libraries. That means we can fight the our corner with the county council. We are not part of the county’s bureaucracy and do not have any other issues to worry about. We are in a stronger position to get funding that libraries need from the county.” Ms Bendix said the new organisation had inherited all the libraries in Suffolk from the county – and was confident they would all still be open in three or four years’ time. She said that the libraries had the best of both worlds – individual branches could manage themselves as they wanted, fixing hours and running special events, while still being part of a large organisation so you could borrow a book from Aldeburgh library and return it to Bury St Edmunds. Libraries are ready to fight their corner as they win independence from county council – EADT 24.