I’ve just come back from a CILIP Council meeting, where I’d been invited to discuss concerns about the current CILIP Use of Volunteers in Public Libraries policy. I’d already been informed prior to this that CILIP Council had agreed to review the existing policy and the plan for today was for me to put a bit of meat onto the bones of my initial concerns (and concerns of others) and provide some member perspective on the situation. Points I raised included:
- The current policy is too brief, vague and too easily open to misinterpretation.
- CILIP should state in the policy that it is against job substitution of any library staff. Job substitution featured so heavily in the recent volunteer policy review document that it warrants a clear statement indicating that CILIP is against this.
- It currently leaves the door open for library service providers to interpret the policy in a way that wasn’t originally intended, go against the spirit of it and avoid fulfilling statutory duties and requirements for a comprehensive and efficient library service.
- The written policy may be the first time people come across CILIP’s Volunteer Policy and, as such, it needs to clearly indicate CILIP’s stance.
- The responses I received and read from CILIP Council representatives (including Mark Taylor, John Dolan and Phil Bradley) emphasised that CILIP does advocate for the profession, but this isn’t emphasised enough in the policy. This was also reflected in the discussion by others surrounding this correspondence. CILIP advocacy role needs to be backed up by the written word in this policy, as much as the policy needs to be back up by action from CILIP.
- The length of discussion surrounding the policy (indicated above) serves to highlight that the written policy is currently ambiguous.
- In highlighting the use of volunteers the policy needs to emphasise the critical need for professional/paid staff even more.
It was a positive discussion and encouraging to hear so many members of CILIP Council agreeing with the points above. It did raise questions about how the policy could be enforced and what would happen if employers or members went against the policy? Would the ethics board be called upon? How would members be expected to respond if they were asked to act against the spirit of the policy? This is obviously important, but in my mind, if you haven’t got a strong policy in the first place you won’t have anything to defend anyway.
I also understand that changing the wording of the policy won’t automatically make local authorities turn around and re-staff libraries. However, what I hope it will do at least is re-inforce the idea that the actions some library service providers are currently taking with regard to volunteers is unacceptable to CILIP and its members, and may in future stop others from going down this route. CILIP is one of the few high profile organisations that has the capability to influence national policy on libraries, and as such, its policies need to be strong.
The discussion also highlighted that concerns over volunteer policy isn’t just limited to public libraries or even in the UK, even though this is the area generating the most discussion. It’s a concern in other sectors and countries too. The strengthening of this policy should also help these sectors.
So, that was the discussion (what I can remember of it, anyway) and the aim now is for CILIP to review the policy over the next few weeks. By the end of July it’s hoped that the revised version will be in place and CILIP will present something that can be used to empower its members.