January 17, 2022

UK: "Community-run Libraries are Part of the Degradation of the Service"

From a Commentary in The Guardian:

Volunteers can bring much to libraries, but the fact they are replacing paid staff shows how much de-skilling has taken place.

Surrey Libraries Action Movement (Slam) is celebrating after the high court ruled that Surrey county council’s plan to replace trained librarians with a volunteer-only service in 10 of its libraries was unlawful. Following Slam’s legal challenge, Mr Justice Wilkie stated that the council had failed to assess the adverse impact of the decision on vulnerable groups, contravening the Equality Act 2010.


Library professionals are unanimous on this issue – volunteers can add value, but can’t replace trained librarians. On the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday Tony Durcan, head of libraries for Newcastle city council and former president of the Society of Chief Librarians, said that volunteers have a contribution to make to library services, but warned: “If the public are to continue to receive a good service, those volunteers need some help and support. Library work – it’s not brain surgery, but it is a technical and professional job.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Annie Mauger, has emphasised: “If community-managed libraries are to be regarded as part of the statutory service they must have a core paid staff, [and] be part of the professionally led public library service … Volunteers play a valuable role in enhancing the public library service but they are not a replacement for the skills and expertise of staff.'”


A librarian is made by skills and knowledge, not simply by being on the council payroll. In a situation where, whether we like it or not, a volunteer-run model has already stopped some libraries from closing, the success or otherwise of the community partnership libraries that are already up and running should be taken into account if we are to see an improvement of the library service as a whole.

Read the Complete Commentary


About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.