There is an in-depth look at volunteer-run libraries on the Third Sector website (Analysis: the libraries that have been taken over by volunteers).  The article acknowledges  their successes but also the opposition against them. It’s also very interesting to note that the Third Sector Research Centre itself thinks that core council services (by implication including libraries) may well be unsuitable for volunteers.  The article looks at three examples:

1) New Cross (Lewisham) Library (now renamed New Cross Learning) where usage has  increased and the move has brought unexpected benefits to the community. For example, one volunteer spotted a regular visitor during the winter whose feet were blue with cold. She befriended him, found out that he had been living in a shed for 12 years and helped him to get rehoused. “Things like that would not have happened if it was run by the council,.” However, volunteers there still think that libraries should ideally be run by paid staff.

“But despite the library’s success, she is not keen on handing public services to volunteers. “It is not right for all libraries because they will not necessarily have volunteers or support from the community,” she says. “If you get rid of libraries, they will never come back. I know we have to make cuts, but there are certain things that should not be got rid of.”

2) Little Chalfont (Buckinghamshire) has been run by volunteers since 2007 but warns that such branches need a “strong pool of local people with time to give”. “”It would be easy to open a library, then 18 months later run out of volunteers and have to close again,” the interviewee says, noting that “Both his library and New Cross Learning are staffed mainly by a mix of retired professionals and unemployed people”.  Having said that, something is going right there as usage has increased by 30% since volunteers took over but one does wonder if its success is not down to the soil it is growing in rather than the species of the tree.

“Our library is in many ways better than the county library, but that’s because of enthusiastic volunteers,” he says. “Our argument is it’s better to continue as a county library: if this is impossible, we can help with plan B.”

3) Warmsworth (Doncaster).  This is the most gung ho of the interviews, possibly down to the political allegiances of the interviewee, who is a councillor but it is unclear for which party.  Clearly, there’s a lot of mucking in going on: “Local people have helped the library by making curtains, baking cakes and donating tea to the new cafe, and local businesses gave discounts or donated equipment” and “the council covers almost all the library’s costs and adds that having strong local groups, like the parish council, to bring the community together has helped the library to succeed”. In a statement that is making many a library campaigners’ eyes pop, the volunteer then says:

“Libraries used to be starched and it was all ‘shhh’, but it is not like that now,” she says. She spends about six hours a week in the library doing “what a librarian would do”, including receiving and sending books from and to other local libraries in response to readers’ requests.”

It’s worth noting that two out of the three libraries interviewed say that council -run libraries are preferable.  It is also perhaps instructive that these are the two more established branches, especially in the case of Little Chalfont.  However, that such libraries are seen to be successful and that volunteers can be seriously considered as an alternative is setting alarm bells ringing amongst campaigners.  I will leave the last word to Desmond Clarke who emailed me tonight on the issue:

“Are CILIP and the SCL putting across compelling arguments that convince national and local politicians, and the public, about the need for professional and paid librarians?  Is there not a very serious risk that more and more people think they can be a librarian and even make their local community library more successful? Do not the professional bodies need to ask themselves some very hard questions about their advocacy and, especially in the case of the SCL in England, their volunteer policies.”

Other News

Read: the MovieWake County Libraries (USA)

  • Letters – Independent.  Librarian who used to work for Birmingham Central Library says “one of the first things I realised was that most councillors were more interested in showing off their new building than in the resources which it contained.”.  Suggests that the existing Central Library (soon to be replaced) should be bulldozed as soon as possible as it is ugly.
  • Random House joins Public Library Online – BookSeller. “Digital bookshelves from Jacqueline Wilson, Joanna Trollope, Katie Fforde, Lee Child and P G Wodehouse are Random House’s first offerings through the scheme, which makes books available to library members online via participating libraries’ websites rather than by download.”
  • Seattle libraries are all closed next week – Reddit.  Dire times, dire solutions.
  • Solomon presses Vaizey for answers on PLR – BookSeller.  “Solomon said: “It is clearly unsatisfactory and unfair that all libraries other than public libraries should be exempt from remunerating authors for loans. In my previous letter we called on the government immediately to rectify this by making appropriate regulations… Please confirm that the government will make such regulations or explain how authors will be remunerated for the rental and lending of their works from volunteer libraries.”
  • Why libraries are not creative organisations – 21st Century Library Blog (USA).  (1) Need to local at local libraries for creative solutions as “the profession” are not providing the answers (2) we need to be willing to market test things, not stick to what we know will work (but works less well each passing year), (3) management cannot replace lack of vision, (4) complacency, (5) Short-termism to satisfy funders is doomed in the end.

Why not have a Maker Space in your library? – Westport Public Library (USA).


Local News

  • Croydon – We’re on a road to nowhere: welcome to Croydon libraries Stop the privatisation of public libraries.  A look at three branches (Broad Green, Thornton Heath and Central” finds broken computers and untidy or semi-empty shelves and volunteers running the Summer Reading Challenge at a level apparently worse than previous years.  On the other hand, the library furniture and facades look pretty good.  Worry that the ongoing outsourcing of Croydon and Wandsworth is not widely known about by users in the borough.
  • Gloucestershire – Community Trust formed to save local library – This is Gloucestershire.  “Residents and representatives of Minchinhampton Parish Council are part of a steering group that’s working towards the formation of a charitable company limited by guarantee. That would keep the library in School Road going after Gloucestershire County Council withdraws its support on October 31.”

“Given the amount of volunteer names we have and the other interested parties around Minchinhampton, I think there is sufficient momentum and interest to maintain an independent facility within Minchinhampton,” Mr Stone said.”

  • Halton – Libraries offer digitial jobs hubs – Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News.  “‘community pathfinders’ project with the National Careers Service on a scheme to help Halton job seekers find work, through information services and setting up digital job hubs and informal work clubs. Job hunters can write their CV, find out about funding and courses in the area and receive IT help from Halton Borough Council staff”
  • Kent – Refurbishment of Broadstairs Library unveiled – This is Kent.  “Library turned over a new leaf yesterday when it reopened after a series of refurbishments. The library in The Broadway has new adult education classrooms, toilets, a lift and a café area, as well as modern furniture and decoration.”
  • North Somerset – Council puts library up for saleThis is Bristol.  “North Somerset Council is selling off the central library as part of a £9.7 million office modernisation programme. Included in the deal for the Grade II listed building, which has more than 11,000 sq ft of floor space, is the adjacent public toilets.”  Council hopes to get £350k.
  • Rotherham – Have your say on Rotherham libraries Postcode Gazette. Drop in consultations have now ended, but Rotherham folk can still put their points forward either online or at their local library where consultations will not finish until the end of the month.  The proposals for the future of the service have been published and would see a continuation of the council’s ambitious programme of library service modernisation, which has included the introduction of self-service; investment in mobile libraries and the opening of six new library buildings in six years since 2007. ” However, reading on further in the article it is clear that will be reductions in hours and possibly two closures.
  • Sheffield – Library users reminded to voice their opinions – Postcode Gazette.  “This review is not about closing libraries. We are reshaping our services and the starting point is not closure.” “However, we cannot rule out that, depending on the results of the consultation, services could be delivered differently, some developed, others changed or reduced”
  • Surrey – County council stands by volunteer plans – Get Surrey.
  • Wolverhampton – Councillor Mattu’s offer to meet campaign groups – Save Wolverhampton Libraries.  Councillor says “I’m really keen to find out whether the groups concerned have alternative ideas and suggestions. For that reason, I want to meet as many of them as I can on an individual basis to understand the issues specific to them and the ideas they have – based on their local knowledge – to help us sustain library, youth and community services in the face of massive national public spending cuts.”