Libraries - at what cost?

Kathy Faulks, Small Groups Development Worker at VAL, highlights concerns about the future of public libraries.

library book

What follows is an article first published in 'CILIP Update', January 2014, page 5.
CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. 

Vaizey Interview Slammed

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has been roundly criticised by library campaigners following an interview in which he praised volunteer-run libraries for being cheaper than professionally-run ones.

Mr Vaizey was speaking to The Telegraph about the rise in the number of volunteers in public libraries, as revealed by CIPFA’s (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) annual library survey. Mr Vaizey told the newspaper that the figures indicated the government’s Big Society idea was taking off, adding:

All the volunteers I come across say they are running their libraries far more cheaply than the local authority was doing it”.

His comments have been seized upon by campaigners who say that volunteers are obviously cheaper than professionals, but point out that the services they provide will not compare.

Laura Swaffield, Chair of the Library campaign, said:

This is an early entry for 'Dumb Statement of the Year'. Of course it’s far cheaper to run a library if all the staff work for nothing! But will it be any good as a library? Will it last? And do we really want essential services to be run on this basis?"

She goes on to say that many of those running libraries are not volunteers in the true sense of the word - instead they have been pressured into taking over threatened libraries rather than see them close. She said:

Real-life volunteers are people who take over their precious local library in desperation, having tried every democratic means to save it. They have been given no other choice.

"Their thousands-strong campaigns have been given no support by the man whose legal duty is to supervise libraries - Ed Vaizey. And, indeed, councils are given no guidance by the man whose legal duty is also to improve the library service - Ed Vaizey.”

Author and public campaigner Alan Gibbons agrees that the unpaid staff running many libraries are not true volunteers, saying :

Far from being a spontaneous popular adoption of the Big Society , this is a grudging acceptance from many people that the public library service we once had is being steadily deconstructed.

Vaizey’s comments on what is happening are instructive. They are not about service to the public but about cost.”   

What do you think?

Kathy has worked as a librarian in the past and is very concerned about the fate of public libraries. What do people in Leeds think about the changes to public libraries and volunteer-led libraries?


Comments (2)

  1. Barbara Kirk:
    Feb 11, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    It makes me angry that libraries in general should have funding cut. I have applied for work in libraries previously and if I was ever asked to volunteer in one, would I need the appropriate training?

  2. Natasha Mort:
    Feb 12, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Dear Barbara
    Thank you for your comment. Currently the Volunteer Centre Leeds advertises some library opportunities but these are not within public libraries so I can not comment on those. The opportunities that are advertised do offer training and this will differ with each organisation. All volunteering opportunities should offer adequate training for a person to be able to do the role.

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