Wednesday, 29 August 2012

SCL on volunteers replacing staff

After lots of emails, tweets, filling in of the contact us form the SCL have provided a response to my question on volunteers replacing paid staff in public libraries and how they are funded. I paste the response in full:

“Dear Trevor, I am sorry about the delays in replying to your e-mails….all due to various annual leave commitments. I’m also sorry that our website system hasn’t resulted in a reply for you….we’ll check that out.

Janene Cox, SCL’s President (who is on leave at present) has asked me to reply on her behalf.

As you rightly point out, SCL's latest policy document on the use of volunteers doesn't make a specific point about volunteers replacing staff in libraries.

The key points in the policy in this respect  are the paragraph beginning “ Each local authority will clearly have a locally determined approach to volunteering”, and the statement in the first paragraph  “as long as all volunteering activity is contained within a professionally managed and delivered framework”.

SCL members are part of the local authority framework, and work to ensure that public libraries are in the best possible place in local government – locally and nationally. All SCL members aim to influence local authority policy, but they also work  as part of the local team to implement their individual authority’s requirements.  Local authorities really are facing unprecedented financial challenges, and are having to consider new ways to protect services. The volunteering agenda is just one example of that. 

As the policy states, SCL supports volunteering. In some cases local policy will mean that this can result in job substitution.  As I have pointed out, SCL’s view is that volunteering must be contained within that professionally managed and delivered framework, and the Society will work with colleagues and partners to try and ensure this is the case.

SCL is funded through local authority subscriptions, and operates through its Executive (to which individual Chief Librarians are appointed on either a regional or elected basis) and through its regional branches. The Society is the local government network to support the development of public libraries. It has strong links with the LGA and other local and central government bodies and agencies.

I hope this helps to answer your questions, but I appreciate that you would have preferred us to make a blunt ’no job substitution’ statement.

Best wishes, Tony Durcan”

Which I appreciate the response I'm still disappointed, the crucial line for me is:

 “In some cases local policy will mean that this can result in job substitution”

Which means if the local authority say they are replacing professional staff with volunteers then the society of chief librarians are not against it. A professionally managed and delivered framework could mean anything, it could be a man on a motor bike dressed as Carmen Miranda shouting at the volunteers to stack the shelves properly for all the clarity it provides.

I have had further emails with Tony which he puts his personal views which I hope he will allow me to put up too. I have told him the SCL needs to get its own policy on what is and isn’t acceptable for volunteers to do and also to have this debate in public rather than behind closed doors in meetings with the minister for lazy/Vaizey.

I hope that once the next election comes up and the Conservatives are either defeated or still without a majority the "Big Society" and "volunteering agenda" dies a death, it doesn't save money, doesn't provide a sustainable library service and I belief marks the beginning of the end of the public library service unless the SCL and others actually step up and start fighting for libraries.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Society of chief barbarians

The SCL has today published their revised position on volunteers in public libraries. I had high hopes after these tweets:

But sadly they have produced a load of old waffle full of jargon:

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. 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. 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. The Society is clear that training and support for volunteers is crucial to a successful volunteering programme. Each local authority will clearly have a locally determined approach to volunteering. The Society believes that it is important to proactively promote volunteering in a positive way, so that Library Services are able to maximise the benefits that flow from the use of volunteers. The Society would also recommend that each local authority has a volunteering policy.

Just to help you, I have highlighted the parts that are meaningless waffle or jargon in grey.  The only constraint they have put on the use of volunteers is:

“as long as all volunteering activity is contained within a professionally managed and delivered framework”

This is basically a load of old tosh.  Oxfordshire country council are ignoring large parts of their own volunteering guidance (paying expenses to volunteers, not having volunteers as key holders etc.) And the volunteer requirements runs to more pages than the volunteer coordinator they are hiring at great expense to train the friends groups who in turn are responsible for training and managing the volunteers.

They do end their guidance with this line however:

“The Society fully endorses the National Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice:”

Which is another 22 page jargon filled document, which I presume to endorse something you agree with it completely? I don’t know.
It does in one section under the heading:

“Government and the voluntary and community sector undertake to:”

Have the following line:

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

And it goes on to repeat this "undertaking" in a slightly different way:

 “Government and the voluntary and community sector recognise that voluntary activity should never be a substitute for paid work;”

An undertaking isn’t the same as being against something, it a political word that is used to give wriggle room, like using aspiration to do something rather than promise.  The other massive problem is that it was first created in 2001, that is four years after Tony Blair and New Libor came to power. I doubt it is something that the current government support and I’m sure with a bit of googling I could easily find some government document that supersedes it.

As far as I’m concerned the SCL are still in my enemies of libraries venn diagram, they are saving their own skins by signing up to the ideological cuts to the library service. Up and down the land councils are making cuts to libraries and on the official council documents the officers are “recommending” using volunteers to replace staff so they don’t have to cut among their own ranks.

Link to the most jargon filled suicide note in history:

Which in turn has a links to a document created over eleven years ago has "undertakings" by the last government: