CILIP and “job substitution” : library staff and service users are left standing alone

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:

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.

Update :

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.

UPDATE 19/06/12

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.

Update 02/07/2012

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.


17 responses to this post.

  1. The clue is in the name – or is it? CILIP was meant to be the Chartered Institute of Library and Information PROFESSIONALS – not volunteers. I am not aware that their members would ever have given them a mandate to advocate libraries as some kind of volunteer-staffed community centres…

    I left CILIP years ago because I felt their advocacy for both libraries and library professionals was, at best, lukewarm. On the other hand, we will only be strong if we act together. Has the time come for a new professional (and I mean: professional!) body? Or is there a chance for us professionals to re-conquer CILIP?


  2. Great post Johanna, I have dedicated a large part of my life in the past 18 months trying to save the (mainly rural) libraries in Oxfordshire by pulling their stupid ideas apart and lobbying the councillors trying to get them to see sense. Reading the BS coming out of the SCL’s twitter account recently and now this from CILIP I honestly feel like I have been kicked in the teeth. I wasn’t going to write a post on this because I felt I would be handing a weapon to the enemy in Oxfordshire but they’ll find out anyway so I probably will do something when my anger subsides a bit more. They have betrayed all the friends groups up and down the country and have sold out their own members by giving the politicians extra cover when cutting professional library staff. Librarians against libraries, you couldn’t make it up.


  3. Posted by James Christie on May 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    CILIP isn’t worth a damn. I was a librarian for fifteen years before finally rebelling against a “profession” which seemed both full of itself and in terminal decline. It’s perfectly simple:

    What was the point of endless crap about professionalism, standards, qualifications, Charterships and so on if an unqualified volunteer could do the job instead?

    What was the point of all the government bodies, reports, jargon, meetings and committees if we never needed any of it in the first place?

    Was it no more than a bunch of egotistical creeps in high places who wanted to feather their nests and feel important?


    I’d already rebelled against revalidation, refused to do an ECDL and thrashed the “profession” fortnightly for five years on Tim Coates’ blog when I got the usual demand from CILIP for money and decided I just didn’t want to pay them one brass farthing more. Apart from boring me rigid with the LA Record and Update for fifteen years, what had they ever done for me and what did they really stand for?

    Well, their pathetic lukewarm stance on voluntary jobs is the final proof. They’re just a bunch of paper men and feeble-minded ditherers. If volunteers can take their place, they were never worth anything in the first place.

    For the record, also, and to stop those who’ll try and say “what does he know” in their tracks, I was a law librarian, tax librarian, rare books librarian in a stately home, catalogued one of Britain’s first subscription libraries and am now a published author (Dear Miss Landau, Chaplin Books) despite suffering from Asperger Syndrome.

    Perhaps the kind of guy who’d proved himself beyond a doubt and still got nothing but condescension and lectures about “professionalism.”

    Well, I proved myself despite you, and God knows why I ever bothered trying to prove myself to you…


    • Thanks for leaving this comment but please refrain from name calling. I do not think it is particularly constructive. Nor do I think that you and Coates “thrashing the “profession” fortnightly” on his blog is particularly constructive. I hope my blog post, and any response from the profession, which on the whole I greatly admire, prompts and raises some constructive dialogue and encourages a stronger stance from CILIP. We have enough “thrashers” at the moment. We do not need any more.


  4. “[The] traditional trade union view … fail[s] to reflect present … reality” is a fairly contentious statement. Is Guy Daines personally the author of the report or is this something which has been put together and agreed by others? Either you have principles or you don’t, but you can’t change them with every wind that blows and remain credible, and the political scene is fickle and could change again. (In any case, here in Wales we have a government which does not accept this so-called “present reality” at all, and is on the record as disagreeing with it). We don’t have to change our minds about how things should be just whenever we are – perhaps temporarily – on the losing side of an ideological argument.


  5. Posted by Ali on May 18, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I came across this post on Twitter and I would like to thank you for bringing this to wider attention.
    I am a CILIP member but find the ideas promoted by CILIP often confusing. I listen to a lot of fellow CILIP members parroting ‘save public libraries’ yet when I ask them when they last visited their own public library I am met with blank faces and often aversion. I am confused as to why they are so passionate as being seen to be saving libraries when they are not themselves using the facilities? I feel like there is a huge gap in communication between people making the decisions, those working in libraries and those using libraries. I currently volunteer in a museum library, as well as working as a manager in a public library. I have found through volunteering that other volunteers are unreliable and non-committal, and that there is a definite lack of customer service skills. I would not like to this happen in the public library I work in, as a high level of customer service is something which keeps public libraries running; a lot of our customers come to us for the friendly service and I wouldn’t want this to be ruined by volunteers who either don’t want to turn up or who aren’t interested in delivering a professional service. I recognize that there are good volunteers out there and volunteers can really help run services, but only if they are placed in non-professional roles, otherwise the service provided to customers suffers.
    I have also recently completed a CILIP accredited MA that cost a huge amount of money as I was told time and time again, often by publications from CILIP, that qualifications will help you forward your career in libraries and now I find myself wondering what was the point and why are they promoting these extortionate degrees if they’re happy to have non-trained staff manning the libraries? I feel disappointed, betrayed and a bit stupid for following their advice when they have turned against the profession in this manner.
    Sorry for the rant!


    • Thanks for your comment Ali. it is not a “rant” at all, You make many valid points. I agree that CILIP is confusing. I think they are confused themselves. I share your frustration with the “save libraries” thing. Although it seems to me that many CILIP members often seem to have their heads firmly in the sand. It is hardly surprising when there is no strong leadership and no clear message from CILIP. I do use public libraries myself but I agree that there is a huge gap in communications. Everyone else seems to think they know best. Library users in Gloucestershire certainly were not listened to and they do not seem to be being listened to elsewhere, especially if their views and needs are inconvenient to the ideology or inane management buzz words of the day. It is not surprising given that the head of the now defunct MLA used to dismiss campaigners as “middle class people wanting to maintain the status quo”, it is easier to be dismissive than address the issues and listen. People use libraries at different times in their life and I don’t think you need to be a current library user to see the value of them and to try to protect them for others who still need them. I also think that as librarians we are in a position to remind people why the skills we have are important, I do think it is crucial to listen to library users though but sadly this just is not happening 😦


    • Posted by Lesley Firth on May 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Ali,
      I agree with your description of SOME volunteers. (None of the issues about volunteer run libraries are against the great work many volunteers do in every sector; public and private) but yes, some volunteers do more harm than good. In my experience volunteers and people who apply to volunteer are either retired and looking for a social activity or are currently unemployed and need some experience to fill a gap they currently have. The former would be the best group to employ as volunteers but only if they were retired librarians! The latter is a waste of time in a volunteer run library because you would be getting rid of people WHO KNOW HOW TO DO THE JOB and asking people who DON’T know how to do the job to replace them! Its a bizarre situation to even posit! The volunteers I have experience with are the former group and although lovely and very helpful (they do a patient library trolley round) they can be anything but professional. Because of the nature of volunteering they often cancel (perfectly reasonable seeing as they don’t HAVE to volunteer for us, but how would that work in a volunteer run library?), they can on occasions act unprofessionally on the wards and they often can’t physically manage the job. I just wonder who David Cameron thinks are all these professional, trained, reliable, willing volunteers waiting in the wings to run public libraries?



  6. Been mulling on this, and asked a few people in/involved with CILIP about their policy (I’m not a member; nearly was, but other communication issues I had ethical problems with meant I haven’t joined).

    Am still not totally clear on it. It *appears* to be a political position (like, what isn’t) to give the impression that CILIP is flexible, open to dialogue, willing to negotiate and not coming across like some militant, 1970s Longbridge Red Booko Robbo extreme union organisation.

    Trouble is, this has IMHO created two problems.

    1. The policy is a bit of a vague fudge, as shown by various people asking for clarification over it.

    2. It doesn’t create an impression of being politically open. Instead, it creates an impression of CILIP being weak. Especially in a funding and economic environment of “library death by a thousand cuts”, with various councils and politicians trying a whole range of techniques with the same aim: to reduce or remove expenditure on public libraries.

    Personally I’d prefer if CILIP came up with, and stuck to this:

    “CILIP is invariably opposed to skilled librarians being made redundant and replaced with volunteers.”

    I daresay some people will semantically quibble, but to me it’s 14 words and states a position which employed, and want-to-be-employed, librarians would be happier with. A clear and unambiguous position to start political negotiations from seems more sensible.

    Sticking with my predictions about libraries and CILIP from 4 months ago:


    • I like your proposed CILIP statement very much. If the next CILIP council elections are contested, should members be asking candidates to state where they stand on this?


      • One of the candidates in the last CILIP hustings took a weird pleasure in saying how many libraries he had closed; and corrected himself with a higher number.

        He got elected.

  7. Well what can i say that hasn’t already been said?
    As a public librarian, campaigner and trade unionist i’m shocked and disgusted but not entirely surprised by CILIP’s stance, it’s only in the last year that CILIP has publicly come out against cuts and closures and even then it’s been a very weak message and now they stab everyone in the back by taking this cowardly stance on volunteers!
    They talk of being realistic about the economy and the cuts, who are they speaking for, what right have they got to lecture people on being realistic, our realism is daily redundancies, the erosion of terms and conditions and the deprofessionalisation of our roles and responsibilities! And anyway why are they adopting this pro-austerity message, did members give them the permission to do or say this?
    Who now are our allies? The SCL and ALCL represent the cutters and couldn’t even whip their members into line to support NLD, ACE are just pushing forward the neo-liberal agenda set by the MLA and the Carnegie Trust have jumped on the same bandwagon!
    I have never been a member of CILIP, although recently i have been thinking about it but not now!


  8. Posted by Lesley Firth on May 19, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Jo,
    I’ve been ruminating on this since you posted (I know you’re frustrated that it looks as if people are ignoring the issue, I was genuinely having a good old think about it and have finally found time to read the CILIP agenda item).

    I’ve read through the CILIP policy and the main issue that struck me as being bizarre is their use of ‘professional’. I think (perhaps naively) that CILIP are using ‘professional’ in the same breath as they would ‘paid’ but the cynical part of me thinks that they are using it to cover both paid staff AND volunteers. After all, you can be a professional librarian volunteering to run a library. They mention the retired members of CILIP happily volunteering to run libraries; these people are both professional and volunteers.

    Are CILIP trying to placate the profession by going “Look, we say that volunteer run libraries HAVE to keep a professional presence and a professional workforce and a professional knowledge base” when in fact they know full well that those ‘professionals’ will also be volunteers. I wouldn’t have nearly as much of a problem with this policy if they used the word ‘paid’ staff in all those places where they use the word ‘professional’.

    And then you get to the main argument of volunteer run libraries in the first place. If you wouldn’t consider volunteer run hospitals, or volunteer run police stations, or volunteer run schools, or volunteer run businesses then why can you justify volunteer run libraries? Not even big charities are volunteer run!



  9. […] job substitutions in public libraries. I heard about this via Twitter and two blog posts: here and here. This was not shouted from the rooftops of CILIP headquarters; in fact it took some professional […]


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