Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy

I recently visited the SCL (The Society of Chief Librarians) with a few other library campaigners at their first stakeholder forum. Despite my many criticisms of the SCL I see this as a good sign. I won't go into the whole two hours, Public Library News covered it in great detail here. I do however want to go through my main gripe with the SCL which is their policy on volunteers, and more specifically volunteers replacing paid staff. The SCL according to their site exist to:

"The Society of Chief Librarians leads the debate on the future of public libraries and advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people"

They are great supporters of volunteers in libraries, but controversially they support volunteers replacing paid staff in libraries. They don't have any evidence to support this, the position is based on their experience as librarians and they cite a specific hypothetical example of where a volunteer replacing a paid staff member would save a library that would otherwise close:

Volunteers could remove the need to double staff some service points which would reduce costs and this meant libraries were kept open. If there was absolutely no job substitution then libraries will close.

Unfortunately in my opinion, their stance, however well intended has opened the flood gates and councils up and down the land are going straight to the volunteers option without looking to save costs elsewhere in the library service first. We now know that 201 libraries closed last year so they didn't appear to benefit from the stance given by the SCL. I doubt many libraries were actually saved by their position, I think quite a few senior librarians were though as someone senior has to be there to push through the volunteers policy.

The SCL are taxpayer funded, unaccountable to local people (who they say they act on behalf of) and we as taxpayers have no say in their policy. Its one thing for a single chief librarian giving their best professional advice, its entirely another thing a for a taxpayer funded organisation without any sort of evidence or mandate endorsing a policy that affects the library provision of all. 

They have said they will publish guidance on what tasks are suitable, and which are not for volunteers. It is a start but not enough. We are meeting again in the spring I believe and this is something I want to explore with them further, especially the democratic deficit of their organisation. By their own words they are supposed to be debating on the future of libraries and advocating for its continuous improvement. 

I will put a little survey widget on the blog, please vote and ask any library users (explain who the SCL are) you know to vote, also leave comments if there are things you want me to raise with them the next time we meet. 

Previous posts on the SCL and their position on volunteers replacing staff:

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