Reply to “Amateurisation” resolution: what’s next in October’s CILIP Update

Tonight (Monday 19th October 2015), I will attending the Bromley Council Meeting, where a member of the public is petitioning against the Council proposal to hand 6 branch libraries to volunteer groups.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday 20th October 2015) there is a demonstration outside of Hendon Town Hall to oppose proposals to cut 52 full time equivalent library posts and hand four libraries over to the voluntary sector.

Hampshire and Norfolk are the latest counties that are proposing drastic staffing cuts and offering out libraries to be run by volunteers.

When I stood up at the CILIP AGM this year with my proposal, backed by Anna Brynolf, I was asking my professional body to actively oppose any future proposals by any public authority that gives away professionally run library services to the voluntary sector. As Nick Poole, in his feature in October 2015 CILIP UPDATE (p34), quite rightly points out I did express terms of “opposition” within the resolution.

In fact I see that resolution as a line in the sand against the offering of any current public library being staffed by paid professional librarians and library workers. If this line is crossed by public authorities then they must be vigorously challenged. They are charged under the 1964 Public Library & Museum Act to

“Provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons in the area that want to make use of it.”

As public libraries are often the Cinderella service of any public authority (Bromley spends 2% of it’s annual council budget in providing their library service) I would argue that they have had to be efficient for many years. It is still pretty comprehensive….The key word in the above statement is SERVICE. That is provided by professional librarians and library workers who have been trained – principally this professional body – to provide the UK citizen with an excellent Library SERVICE. According to a lot of public authorities now, anyone interested in books and has a few spare hours can now run a library. If this is not a direct challenge to the professional body providing the training and expertise to that sector then what is?

I am not interested in being partnership with people who are intent on demolishing services and people’s livelihoods. That is why I asked CILIP oppose all future proposals for offering out libraries to volunteers. Our standpoint should be that it is the council’s responsibility to provide these services – not the community.

What next? It’s no good coming up with a statement in six month’s time – more publicly provided library service points will be manned by volunteers by then. An estimate of library service points run by volunteers is now around 400. This death of professionally provided service will soon be by a thousand cuts. Six months is too late…

On Saturday (17th October 2015), a different type of professional body, the British Medical Association organised a rally in central London and other parts of the UK against government proposals that affect their PROFESSIONAL members future working rights.

  • A similar organised show of support by this professional body might draw some media attention to the decimation of the public library service – and the staff who have developed and provided it – by public authorities.
  • Publicly published letters to council leaders pointing out that taking the professional out of the service is not a service.
  • I would even suggest looking at joining up with unions and institutions that support our public library service to legally challenge councils abdicating their role in providing a library SERVICE to its citizens.

That’s the sort of thing I was hoping for from my resolution carried by a 130 to 7 majority.

Andy Richardson

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