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.

1 comment:

  1. In the collective consciousness of public library users, the frontline staff they see are their 'Librarians'.

    And, please note, the livelihoods of these magnificent individuals were no safer under the former Labour government. I spoke in defence of Library Assistants at a UNISON conference in London - in February 2010. They had been hung out to dry already.

    By remaining silent for years on the matter, the professional bodies have let the relentless erosion of the service seep through from the front line to the back office. Now that degree-qualified Librarians are under threat as well, there is, rightly, shock and horror.

    Yes, the public must insist that qualified Librarians must run the library service - but SCL's reply to you and statements made by others from the sector mean the way is left *wide open* for the frontline staff to be replaced.

    We call on the whole profession to start defending frontline library staff with all the vigour that is employed in defence of their own.

    We, the people who USE and rely on public libraries, want it said loud and clear. "We DO NOT want experienced frontline staff to be replaced by volunteers."