Monday, 14 January 2013

Library Workers unite (and tweet)!

Saturday Assistants, Library Assistants, Cataloguers, Acquisitions and Finance Staff, Library Attendants and Van Drivers, Admin/Clerical Staff, IT Support Staff, Homework Club Co-ordinators and Librarians (sorry if I’ve missed any out but each Library Authority has its own set up and its own job titles!) We all have one thing in common and that is pulling together to deliver an important public service when faced with round after round of catastrophic cuts!
So why is it then that some feel left out of the conversation on the cuts, the fight back and future of Public Library Services?
Is it because that there is a perception that up until now the conversation has been monopolised by ‘professional’ qualified librarians, is it that Library Assistants etc. feel unable to speak out due to the fear of reprisals and losing their jobs, is it due to the hierarchical nature of library work where some staff still feel undermined and undervalued, is it down to the extremely low levels of morale and motivation in the sector, is it due to life and work pressures eating up people’s time and energy, is it just down to apathy and a feeling of hopelessness or just not knowing where to start? Well I’m sure it’s a mixture of all of these.
Library Assistants etc. must now surely make up 70-80% of the national public library workforce, in some areas Librarians are few and far between, so it is crucial that they have a voice, obviously many do through being union members but from some feedback that I’ve had many feel left out of the general discussion.
What can be done? Well maybe when we say ‘Librarians’ in a general discussion we could use ‘Library staff’ instead, maybe we could have an honest and open discussion about what ‘professional’ means, does it always have to mean having a library qualification, I don’t and I’m a Librarian, whether I’m ‘professional’ or not is open to debate!
It’s crucially important that we try to involve everyone in the debate so I wanted to make sure everyone knows that the forthcoming VFTL ‘twitter takeover’ is for all library workers.
After all we really are all in this together!


  1. Believe me, those of us who are library users also wonder why library staff voices are not heard in the debate about cuts & closures. Of course there are limits to what you can say to the media when you're employed, but your voice needs to be heard all the time, proclaiming the benefits of your library, arguing the case for greater investment, telling the world (especially councillors and MPs and civil servants and council officers) what a wonderful service you provide!

  2. Thanks for your comment 'anonymous' As i said many Library workers will be involved in fighting the cuts and arguing for improvements in the service through their involvement with UNISON but as i have pointed out people are scared in the present climate to stick their heads up, this was just my attempt to make the discussion more inclusive.

  3. I agree we need to hear the voices of all library staff but I still worry about the stripping of the key role that "professional" staff have to play in a library service. A librarian trains, studies and gains qualifications, as in other professions, to earn that title. Some librarians 'earn' the title by working in the area, showing a clear understanding of the role, meeting goals, and by doing a great job. I have no issue with this. These 'shambrarians' know their stuff and have earnt the title fairly.

    My concern is that the lines are being blurred. We have the clearly ridiculous situation now where long standing unqualified but highly experienced members of library staff are given demeaning titles, such as Customer Services Assistant, belying their immense knowledge and expertise, and back office staff or junior inexperienced staff with little or no knowledge of the role, are then given kudos by being awarded the tile of "reading and learning librarians" alongside their colleagues who are not only qualified librarians but experienced to boot. This, to my mind, is nothing more than an attempt by the council to de-professionalise the status of librarian, laying the ground for the 'anyone can do it' argument when experienced staff are replaced by those less qualified or where communities are pushed to 'save' a library by volunteering rather than see it shut.

    Should all staff have a say? Absolutely! Everyone, no matter who, has a valuable contribution to make - the maintenance team who see clear ways of improving efficiency of work allocated/prioritised/organised to the library staff who really understand the needs of the community and can act on that and push through change or highlight shortcomings. Are all staff equal though? Not at all, and their status should reflect that.


    P.S. looking forward to following the VftL Twitter takeover!

  4. Thanks for your comment Elizabeth, I too am concerned about the deprofessionalisation of the service but as a unqualified Librarian who was basically found myself in the role after a number of nasty restructurings I can see things from both sides. Yes we don't want to give fuel to those that argue that the job can be done by anyone but at the same time we need to recognise that the majority of the people working in the service are lower scale unqualified staff who need to be given a voice.

  5. Many years ago, but when the Conservatives were in power in the LA I worked in, my professional work (I am a chartered librarian) was privatised, i.e. it was sold off to the lowest bidder. The chief librarian who "acquiesced" in this policy was later adjudged by the Library Association, following my complaint to them, to have done nothing wrong. At least, I have to assume that, because although I have that decision in writing from the Library Association/Cliip, I don't have any proof that a hearing was ever held, or if held, that it was quorate. I was not allowed to attend the hearing, if it took place, nor was I able to see any documents that it might have generated, like defence statements.

    When you talk about fighting privatisation, you are also talking about fighting the professional body, whether you know it or not. There may be a debate to be had about whether the issue of privatisation of public services is a party political issue, or a professional issue (I realise that non-professionals in libraries are also affected). It seems less clear cut than it used to appear. The effects of it though, are quite devastating, whether you choose to fight it or not.

    I have to sign this as "anonymous" because if I did not do so I could be sued by my own professional body for talking about something that as far as I can see very probably never happened.

  6. Good to see a member of VFTL - and one who works in a public library - making this point. One of the reasons I reluctantly quit VFTL (being its only non-librarian member) was because I felt it had become less concerned about saving libraries and more interested in defending the professional status of librarians. That has clearly changed over the last year or so and this post gives me even more hope for its future.

    I always believed that VFTL should be primarily about establishing the value of the service in the public mind. Strategically there seemed to me to be little point in getting too exercised about who should run the service (although I DO believe librarianship is a profession and that libraries need librarians) - if no-one valued it in the first place. As I think Ian Anstice said recently people are only becoming concerned about losing their library when its THEIR library. The challenge, as I saw (and still see) it, is to establish libraries as being of equivalent value as the NHS in the eyes of the public. Sadly I still don't think that's happened. Most of what I read is still librarian speaking unto librarian - but mobilising everyone who works in a library is definitely a step in the right direction.