Volunteers and Libraries

At two recent events in London in recent days, colleagues have expressed various views about the role of volunteers in libraries. The first was CILIP Council and the changing of the old Library Association statement on volunteers and job substitution to something a little softer. The proposal had been raised at the Branches and Groups Forum and CILIPS representative Sheila Miller made her views about volunteers very clear. Volunteers, as most library managers are aware, are not ‘free’; they have to be checked and this is expensive, they have to be trained and they require support. Speaking to Rory McLeod of the Standards Council recently he expressed it simply ‘3 hours input for 1 hours output’. Volunteering in Scottish libraries is nothing new – we already register over 36,000 volunteer hours per year and they are really helpful delivering housebound services, IT buddying, story-times and other activities like mystery shopping. The vexed question of volunteers is how do organisations like CILIP value the contribution of volunteering and balance that with the mandatory delivery of services?

The second meeting was the Public Library Statistics Working Party of CIPFA which considered whether library managers should start to record all the different types of volunteers – presumably to be able to evidence how many jobs are transferred to volunteers and any change in the customer satisfaction levels. This appeared to be dangerous territory again. Whilst it may be an unpleasant reality that some libraries may be run by volunteers, do we really want to flag this up as a viable service option. Libraries are a trusted brand, as highlighted in Bob Usherwood’s research of 2003, and we need to think about how we protect the value of our brand.

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