I was recently alerted to the fact that CILIP had stated in the April 2012 edition of UPDATE magazine that “there are around 21,500 volunteers in libraries, each working for an average of just 31 hours per year, doing the equivalent work of 341 full time posts.”
I was keen to get the figures as I think it really demonstrates how a volunteer run or staffed library service is not the most efficient way to go, despite providing unwaged labour. There were no references in the magazine as to where these figures were from, which is surprising considering it was published by the professional body (but that is another matter), so I did a bit of digging and found they originate from this document: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B9r-dNr4kPL0WGJHcUZMeThEQXc
Having spent a lot of my time campaigning against volunteer run libraries, where skilled library staff are being replaced with volunteers (labeled as “job substitution” in CILIPs report), and arguing the value of properly paid and trained library staff, I was rather alarmed by what I read. Gary Green’s letter to CILIP regarding this matter highlights the concerns so I will not repeat them here. Please read Gary’s letter before reading further.
CILIP’s response to concerns raised by members about this document are reproduced on the Public Libraries News website. I think the response did nothing to clarify the situation as it just does not square at all with the changes to CILIP’s volunteer policy.
As Gary’s letter points out, CILIP changed their policy on volunteers in 2010 (although this seems to be news to many) as it was felt to be too rigid. Despite Mark Taylor claiming that “CILIP objects to job substitution” and that they are opposed to volunteer RUN libraries, their policy no longer specifically says they are opposed to “job substitution”. Opposition to volunteer run libraries and opposition to “job substitution” are not one and the same. The fact is that they no longer have a clear stance. Their policy now really does not mean much to me. In my view, it is a woolly keep-every-one-happy-and-possibly-confused policy. It is entirely open to interpretation which is consequently to the detriment of the profession.
Public Library News suggests that CILIP do not want to “dis-communicate” volunteer run libraries (I think he might mean libraries staffed with volunteers as CILIP have said they are against volunteer run libraries), however their weak and vague stance on “job substitution” will dis-communicate their current members who are being made redundant due to the “job substitutions”.
Personally I am totally against “job substitution”. If you need a volunteer to do a job then the post is not redundant, if it is not redundant, do not sack someone then get someone to do it for nothing….only to then spend money training a volunteer when you have placed a trained member of staff on the dole queue. I disagree with the conclusion made by Public Libraries News. It is not “understandable” for CILIP to be anything other than opposed to ”job substitution”. For a professional body to take a weak position regarding the replacement of its members by untrained volunteers is totally unacceptable.
I await the response to Gary’s letter with interest and I sincerely hope CILIP do not reply with fluff and politicking. Now is the time for a confident and clear stance that sends a strong message to both the membership and librarians in general.
It concerns me that I have heard some liken the “job substitution” situation to unpaid interns looking for experience in order to get on to the job ladder. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation. Communities are being told “run your own library or lose it”. Library users who do not want to lose this resource are reluctantly agreeing to do this. This is not a situation where an enthusiastic person wants to get into a career but one in which entire skilled and dedicated workforces are being replaced with volunteers who would rather have a professionally run service with trained staff.
It is also disappointing that CILIP has taken up the mantra “cuts have to be made…great depression.. blah blah blah…so we have to accept volunteer libraries and our members being replaced”. I strongly believe that this is wrong. They should be demonstrating the worth of libraries and librarians not simply rolling over and repeating this rhetoric. CILIP’s current attitude undermines those of us who HAVE been arguing the value of librarians and skilled staff and pointing out that, in times of recession, libraries are needed most. If the professional body does not have enough faith and balls to stand up and shout this then I am starting to wonder if I should have bothered. As one library campaigner put it:
“It would be peculiar if library users value librarians more than CILIP”
This is how it looks to all of us library users who have been campaigning to retain trained library staff. It has been utterly soul destroying to see that the only people standing up for public librarians are us campaigners and service users, and we are being ignored.
I am not a member of CILIP. It concerns me greatly that none of the CILIP members I have spoken to knew about this discussion or the change in policy and were only alerted to it by my rantings. We are currently experiencing the biggest upheaval of the library service the profession has ever seen, an upheaval which will change the nature of CILIP and its current/potential membership, yet only a very few people seem aware of this. Librarians and library staff need a strong voice now more than they ever have. Currently it feels like no one at all is on our side apart from service users, even at the highest levels. If it still has not quite sunk in yet then I strongly suggest you read this.
I have since seen a blog post and a letter from two senior members of CILIP on this issue which repeat the mantra “in times such as these…” and “volunteer libraries are better than nothing”. The letter reads,
“CILIP Council members are honestly facing a dilemma about their professional feelings and those of our members and at the same time, the good of a community who may lose all library provision unless volunteers are part of the equation.”
This is beyond disappointing. This “volunteers are better than nothing” line is dangerous, unwise, shortsighted and simplistic. Where is the evidence that what will be left will indeed be better than nothing? It is an untested experiment. The floodgates are being opened. In times like these you have to stand firm because when the damage has been done there will be no going back. When an inch is given a mile WILL and IS being taken. The attitude that is emerging from CILIP plays straight into the hands of the politicians who are making draconian cuts.
Libraries are an economical and efficient resource. In Gloucestershire, the library service budget used to be (before the massive cuts and libraries were earmarked for volunteers) just 1.4% of the county councils overall budget and had 3 million visits a year (not including online visits!). The draconian cuts will cripple the library service but will save the county council very little. This is an ideological change and not one that is being made due to financial necessity. It is an ideology which, it seems, CILIP is sadly being sucked into.
The letter I refer to above finishes with
“The enemy is ignorance of the value and the importance of library services to a literate, healthy and prosperous society, and that is the enemy that we are trying to combat.”
What I see coming out of CILIP is far from “combating” this ignorance. On the contrary, it is bowing down to, and perpetuating it. Given that our libraries are being downgraded because politicians clearly do not value the library services enough to retain skilled, paid library staff and are replacing them with anyone who wants to have a go….all I can say is “Oh CILIP, with friends like these…..” :(
I had hoped CILIP would come out and show that I had mis-interpreted the situation. Senior members of CILIP were once cheering my campaigning on, allbeit behind the scenes. My campaigning which argued volunteer libraries is not the way to go! I don’t think it is too dramatic to say I feel more than a little, um, betrayed, as I am sure will a lot of the library workforce. One of the reasons I left was because I don’t really identify with the organisation anymore. This confirms I made the right decision.
It would appear that CILIP have realised that the letter and blog post referred to above were far from enough to appease concerns and have agreed to review their policy. I await the outcome with interest. It is a shame it came to this and I am left wondering why they ever changed it in the first place…. now if only they would change their “cuts have to be made and volunteer staffed libraries are inevitable” outlook and would concentrate on advocating libraries and the profession instead.
Thank you to everyone who voiced their concerns on this issue. Having seen the reaction on Twitter and the many comments on this and other blog posts I know that a lot of you did. If we don’t speak up in defense of our profession and the service we provide then we can’t complain when others talk us down and see fit to replace us with unpaid and untrained labour.
In response to the outcry at the watering down their volunteer policy, CILIP have revised their policy.
“We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.”
“CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money. This applies to all library and information services in every sector”
This stronger stance is a very welcome move.
See here for more information about the updated policy.