Response To My Letter Re. CILIP Volunteer Policy


I received the following response from CILIP Council Chair, John Dolan, to my recent letter regarding CILIP’s Volunteer Policy. This was also published in the current (June 2012) edition of CILIP Update.

Dear Gary

I am responding to your letter on behalf of CILIP Council members. The review paper was indeed used at the March CILIP Council meeting to inform discussion, prompt debate and review CILIP’s policy about the use of volunteers in public libraries. The policy was agreed in 2010 and is kept under review, as are all CILIP policies. 

 The policy is:

“Use of volunteers in public libraries

CILIP acknowledges the contribution that volunteers make to libraries, enriching the services they provide and helping to sustain their viability.

In order to optimise the value of that contribution it should form part of a professionally managed public library service that has at its core sufficient paid staff to ensure the direction, development and quality of the service provided.

Volunteers are not ‘free’ and need proper management, training and development. In many cases a volunteers’ co-ordinator should be appointed to ensure appropriate management and recognition of the value of volunteers.”

The policy acknowledges that for many years volunteers have been a part of the work of public libraries and have contributed by extending library services beyond what is achievable with paid staff alone. Examples include home library services taking resources and information to people who are housebound; working with adults with learning disabilities who volunteer their time to deliver added value; and young people volunteering their time to make the Summer Reading Challenge such a massive success while learning and gaining in confidence.

The difficulty for everyone is that now they are being asked to take on more of the delivery of the core service rather than ‘added value’ aspects of it.

You’re correct, the policy does not currently explicitly say no to job substitution, it does state that the contribution volunteers make should be part of a professionally managed public library service. However, members of Council recognise the concerns that members have about this and have committed to reviewing and revising the policy. I understand that you have concerns and as you know I have to invited you to discuss the issues with members of Council.

CILIP has consistently refused to run training courses to volunteers and refused to run job advertisements for volunteers where it is clear they are substituting paid professional roles. In written evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport inquiry into library closures in England CILIP stated that a comprehensive and efficient public library service in the twenty-first century should be a:

“Professionally delivered service: by using the skills, experience and networks of professional library staff to shape services to the needs of local communities, engage  them effectively in service development, and ensure safe and impartial access to  services.”

Giving verbal evidence before the committee, CILIP CEO Annie Mauger, advocated for professionally delivered services. At a subsequent meeting with the Minister Ed Vaizey and public library chiefs Annie again advocated the importance of a professionally managed and delivered service.

At the same time local communities face difficult choices and a harsh reality where in many cases if volunteers do not come forward to support the library services, the libraries will be closed.  Volunteers cannot provide a library service as we all know it, as they lack the unique skills, expertise and values of paid staff.  CILIP has made a clear stand against this and against any local authority that considers this acceptable.

I look forward to discussing this with you.

John Dolan

Chair of CILIP Council


CILIP’s written evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport inquiry:

Obviously, I’m really pleased that CILIP Council have decided to review the policy. The current situation generated a fair amount of discussion amongst the profession, including on Twitter and a number of blogs, listed here:

Johanna Bo Anderson’s blog.

CILIP President, Phil Bradley’s blog.

Question Everything blog.

Information Overload blog.

Public Libraries News.

I’m looking forward to meeting with CILIP Council over the next few weeks to discuss the situation, and hope that the discussion leads on to the formulation of a policy that leaves me reassured.

I’ll report back on the meeting.


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