Monday, 16 June 2014

The SCL and volunteer-led libraries.

Today the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) published a speech given by their incoming President Ciara Eastell on her/their future priorities.

In the pre-release they say;

"She emphasised the enormous role that libraries play as enablers for local people and communities, laid plans to create a Learning Offer to expand on SCL’s current 4 Universal Offers, reaffirmed SCL’s commitment to strengthen libraries’ digital capacity and vowed to help libraries boost advocacy efforts locally and nationally in the run up to the 2015 elections. SCL will also develop more learning resources for library staff, especially in the areas of digital leadership."

and in the speech itself she talks more about the Universal Offers, developing a digital strategy, boosting advocacy efforts leading up to the 2015 elections, supporting staff & workforce development and about libraries and library staff being "key enablers for local people and local communities".

all of this is to be applauded, welcomed and supported but on page 3 of the speech she/they drop the following bombshell;

"I would like us to explore how we might develop resources and a framework to
support community-led libraries, recognising that there is a real practical need in
many of our organisations to have resources that will help to grow and develop
sustainable services."

Let me just remind you, before I say anything more on this, that the SCL is a membership organisation made up of the Heads of public library services, services that are publicly funded and are a statutory requirement under the 1964 Act. It's also worth pointing out at this point that many or the majority of volunteer-led libraries are now positioned outside that statutory remit. So why you may well ask is an organisation that should be fully supporting statutory library services proposing to use part of it's scarce resources to support what many see as book exchanges/internet cafes/community centres?
Existing volunteer-led libraries and the communities forced to consider this option already have a extremely well funded (£6m+) advice and support network provided by the Communities Knowledge Hub Libraries (CKHL), an offshoot of Locality, and Jim Brooks from Little Chalfont Community Library who receives funding to advise others on this from the DCMS, or so I've been told?

And how do the SCL intend to ensure that the initiatives and crucial roles they've outlined for public libraries are firstly taken up by volunteer-led libraries and secondly delivered in a 'comprehensive and efficient' manner? Sustainability and viability are the crux of the issue here, but it seems that not only have the SCL decided to give up any resemblance of a fight to fully protect the profession and service but have also come to the conclusion that volunteer-led libraries are a viable and sustainable option. What evidence have they based this upon?

It comes across to me as a very contradictory and muddled message but as I'll probably be told by it's supporters "a realistic and pragmatic one"!

But I'm not a great believer in the stance taken by many in my profession and also by some campaigners that "anything is better than nothing' and that's it's better to hand libraries over to volunteers in the hope that some day a Utopian government will be elected which will then fully re-instate the professional service. This is just politically naive. Every party (except for TUSC and the Greens maybe?) has adopted the neo-liberal agenda and every library handed to volunteers and taken out of the statutory service is another notch in the bedpost of Localism and another step towards shrinking the state and dismantling the public sector.

Now more than ever communities need a professionally run and publicly funded and managed service and it's my view that we should be debunking the austerity myth and fighting tooth and nail to keep every library publicly funded and properly resourced and to keep every one of those libraries staffed by paid & trained/qualified library workers. This is not about vilifying volunteers its about vilifying the governments agenda. Not to do this, in my opinion, is a betrayal of our users/members/borrowers/readers, the wider communities we serve and our ethos.



  1. this was on the SCL website, see below, after my rant -
    No offence Elaine but this is obviously a set-up where your personal 'happiness' is used to undermine the wages of employees. No coincidence is it that this gets on the website.
    OK if you live in some middle-class haven of Jane Austen fans but in the real world of drunks and illiterates we have a job to do.

    "Volunteering was one step in a personal learning journey for Elaine Sultana

    I started looking for voluntary work in 2009. I considered lots of options, but when I found a role that involved teaching IT, I knew it was right for me. I’d taught with my mother at Pace’s School of Commerce, a family business set up by my Grandfather and Uncle, which even trained nuns preparing to work at the Vatican! I missed teaching typing and so the Digital Champion’s role sounded interesting.

    That was when I met, Susan Starkie, the Library Officer for learning support. She is very kind and has a great sense of humour, not to mention lots of patience!

    To begin with I helped her run some basic IT skills courses at the branch libraries (Darwen, Livesey and Mill Hill) showing people how to use a mouse and keyboard, word process, surf the internet and post e-mails. Then, having studied a level 2 course at Bolton Community College, called ‘Learning Support’, which included modules such as ‘Applying for jobs via the Gov UK website’ and ‘Supporting job applicants’, I decided to help run the weekly ‘IT Skills for Jobs’ session, which is held at Blackburn Library each Wednesday. I’ve never regretted it because there are so many different ways in which to give support.

    I look forward to Wednesdays. Whatever else is scheduled for the week, this slot is jealously guarded. I’m something of a fixture!!

    And the experience has also inspired me to develop myself. I am preparing to attend a PTLLS (Preparing to Teach Lifelong Skills) course in the autumn and train as a teacher.

    I recommend volunteering at the library to anyone who enjoys helping people. I’ve grown through this work and feel very fulfilled and confident."

  2. Thanks for your comment. Many of us where stunned. but if truthful not entirely surprised, by SCL's publicly stated intention to explore setting up a framework to support volunteer libraries. They will claim that it's a pragmatic position but many including myself see it, it it comes to fruition, as a betrayal.
    In purely practical terms volunteer libraries have their own support network including the CKHL and Jim Brooks from Little Chalfont Community Library. Millions of pounds of government funding has been pumped into supporting and developing such ventures and the SCL really shouldn't be spending money and resources on this.