After a long and exciting day at Library Camp a few of us went to the pub. A conversation took place that I have been mulling over ever since. We were discussing the threat of “volunteer run libraries” and what it means for the library and information profession. Someone asked, “if you were currently unemployed and there was a community run library being launched near you, would you volunteer to help keep it open whilst job hunting?”
The dilemma :
Volunteers will take the jobs of paid and trained staff – how could you be part of that? Also, WE ARE WORTH IT we deserve pay for the skills and knowledge that we work hard to attain and develop.
The library will close if it is not taken over by volunteers. If you think it important that people have access to a good quality library service then surely this should come first? How can you stand by and let a community lose their library – you obviously do not think them that important? It also might be good to have on your CV.
I am interested to hear
What would you do and why?
What advice should our professional bodies be giving to members?
On Saturday 8th October I went to Birmingham for Library Camp – the “unconference” about libraries. It was ace. I met lots of people I know from Twitter for the first time in the flesh and I made lots of new friends.
One of the sessions I attended during the day was a session about how we can convince politicians that libraries improve literacy. Jennifer Yellin wrote a good report of the session here .
Having spent over a year campaigning to save libraries in Gloucestershire for Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and working with advocacy group Voices for the Library, which was primarily set up to change the dialogue about public libraries as the positive stories and the views of librarians and library users rarely seemed to be given any consideration, I am exhausted. I have tried everything I can to advocate and campaign for libraries but I have felt rather isolated and ignored by the decision makers. I was hoping that this session would provide me with some more ideas, the magic statistics, the message that those in power could not possibly ignore. This did not happen. What did happen was that it seemed to generally be agreed that there are the statistics, the evidence out there, but what there is not is someone with clout to deliver that message. It was down to us, the voters. I left dismayed because this has not been working for me.
I know colleagues who work in public libraries who are not allowed to promote the positive things that public libraries do as this may lead to increased usage, increased demand on resources, and would ultimately make the cutting of libraries a more uncomfortable option for the politicians. More people would notice when services stopped being provided.
The cuts in Gloucestershire have been hugely unpopular. We residents have done all we can to make politicians aware of this and the damaging impact their cuts will have. Just look at the Friends of Gloucestershire website and you can see that there was little else we could have done, yet we have been ignored. Voices for the Library have been working hard to change the national dialogue and have had some success, but as a geographically spread out group of volunteers, mostly with full time jobs and other commitments, there is only so much we can do. We do not have the clout needed.
I came away feeling like I and my fellow campaigners really are alone in this. A realisation that has been dawning on me for the last year but which really hit home in that session.
I had told myself I would not go to any sessions about public libraries as I have been consumed with campaigning and felt the need to go to cross sector sessions to broaden my horizons but I went to this one as I got the impression I would get the answers. I guess this was too much to expect though because if we had the answers we would not be in this situation in the first place.