WHAT WE ARE THINKING: Funding, not volunteers, required

Article published on September 11, 2015.

In nb85 as part of our blogspot, we included a post from Phil Ramage about how he volunteered to help out at his local library rather than see it close as he felt if that happened it would never come back.

nb reviewer, Clare Donaldson, took a slightly different view and sent in this – a rant she says she has severely tempered before letting it loose. We wondered how others were faring in their localities.

Public libraries were introduced to allow everyone access to books, knowledge and information. So I start to see red when I hear of people volunteering to take over the running of their local libraries. Despite the fact that we might share the goal of avoiding library closures, I don’t see volunteers as the answer but rather part of the problem.

It sounds harsh but although I believe that volunteers are motivated by the best of intentions, the end result is a continuing diminishing of a service that deserves to be properly funded. In my opinion it would preferable if volunteers spent their time campaigning to keep libraries open. They could demonstrate to local authorities the value of libraries to their communities rather than colluding in their downfall. The more libraries that are lost to volunteers, the harder it is for the rest of us to fight to keep our libraries open.

The use of volunteers has not prevented library closures. But just MAYBE, if enough people made their voices heard, councils would have to listen? People have power but we have been led in recent years just to accept cut after cut in the same way as we have accepted the provision of food banks instead of questioning why we should need them. The more that volunteer-run libraries are allowed to become the norm, the more this absolves the government of responsibility for provision of services. And invariably the most vulnerable in our society are hit disproportionately by the demise in public provision of library services.

We have fallen hook, line and sinker for the notion that there is no money for public services but that is nonsense. What is missing is the political will to fund those services. A rise in income tax accompanied by a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion would provide more than enough income to fund services. If we genuinely believe, as I do, that income should be no barrier to the attainment of literacy and knowledge, then we should be speaking out for properly run, and funded, libraries.

Volunteer libraries amount to little more than book-exchange schemes. There is more to the running of a library than issuing and returning books. Libraries need trained staff. They need stock replenishment. They need accountability. They need to be maintained. Local councils should be campaigning for more funds from Central Government rather than closing services.

Many of those who protest against library closures admit to not using the service before it was under threat – that needs to change. We ALL need to use the service if we don’t want to lose it. Too many people, including those sitting on local authorities making the decisions to close libraries, have never set foot inside a library for years. They are unaware of how they have changed. Many are community hubs housing not just books and computers but also hosting reading and writing groups, children’s rhyme and story sessions, author visits etc – they are vibrant places of learning and fun.

Volunteers, look at the bigger picture and ask yourselves if you are comfortable to walk into the post of someone who has been made redundant? Libraries need librarians and library staff and the role of any volunteer should be to SUPPLEMENT the work of these staff, not to replace them. If you want to defend your local library then please fight for it rather than colluding with those who want to close it.

Call me idealistic but I think we should all be fighting to save our libraries because once they are gone they are never going to be replaced.

Clare Donaldson, Peebles


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