On the 24th July Surrey County Council Cabinet is due to reconsider plans to remove staff from ten libraries across Surrey and replace them with volunteers.
In reconsidering the decision SCC must, by Court Order, abide by the judgment handed down on 3rd April 2012. The Council must this time show due regard to its public sector equalities duty (PSED) and it must this time make a reasonable decision*.
Whether SCC will have done enough to abide by the court order by the 24th July remains to be seen. This is a battle that could run and run…and run.
But we don’t think it is in anyone’s interest for us still to be arguing over the libraries policy in another year’s time. We have, therefore, written a letter to council leader, David Hodge, proposing a compromise that will enable all parties to move forward.
We have proposed that paid staff and the library management system remain in place for stability, sustainability and to meet the needs of vulnerable groups, but that volunteers could assist in the delivery of services and be able to have a greater say in what additional services are offered.
We have further suggested that a community consultative group (CCG) is set up at each library – a forum in which volunteers can contribute to a shared vision of how their library can provide better and new services for the local community.
Our proposal costs no more, and probably less, than SCC’s current proposals and it is a solution around which the whole community can unite.
We hope that SCC gives the compromise serious consideration.
*(in failing on Wednesbury principles – para 109 of judgment – Mr Justice Wilkie judged that SCC had made a decision that was “so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it”)
CILIP’s policy on volunteers in public libraries
CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) reformulated its policy on library volunteers in June 2012 (http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/policy/statements%20and%20briefings/pages/use-of-volunteers.aspx). We reproduce the policy below:
CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. 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.
Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management.
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.
If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.
CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers.
We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.