Further Discussions About CILIP’s Volunteer Policy

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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.

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8 thoughts on “Further Discussions About CILIP’s Volunteer Policy

  1. Brilliant news Gary! This is exactly what library campaigners want too. It is reassuring to hear that CILIP is aiming for far more robust wording of their policy on the role of volunteers in libraries. I fear if this is not in place local authorities will see it as a green light to replace qualified and experienced staff with volunteers.

    Not one library has closed in Croydon, only serving to masking the real cuts; the hollowing out of library services for Croydon.The loss of so many experienced library staff and qualified librarians in Croydon, since April 2011, has had a devastating effect on the service on offer.

    As a campaigner in Croydon I hear, time and time again, of residents’ concerns for the remaining library staff who work ever harder to provide what they can of a service for residents, despite the cuts in staff, reduced bookstock and lack of support for the service shown by our council. Temporary staff taken on are ill-equipped to carry out the job, often lacking basic training in procedures such as how to access information and how loans, reservations and returns are correctly processed. If so little guidance and training is available to employees what hope is there that lay volunteers will be provided with adequate training?

    It seems no one debates that volunteers are welcomed, and, with training and management, can add real value to the service on offer, but they can NEVER replace that which experienced staff and qualified librarians are best placed to provide. Croydon is a prime example of this. When will politicians listen?

    I’m delighted that CILIP is rethinking the wording of their policy, to better represent their stance, and leave less wriggle-room for local authorities.

    • Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth. I really hope this review of policy helps all who are fighting for libraries, no matter whether they are a user/campaigner or library staff. Good luck with the Croydon campaign – I know you are putting so much effort into it.

  2. Thanks Gary. This really helps. I do hope that the policy will change before 24th July. This is when SCC is due to retake its volunteer-run library decision for Surrey. Would be nice to have a strong CILIP policy to go along to the meeting with.
    Lee Godfrey

  3. Katy Wrathall

    Thanks Gary, at last there is a chance they may listen and amend the policy to reflect so many campaigners and members concerns. I hope they can now move speedily to strengthen their policy in line with your suggestions.

    • Thanks Alan, Katy & S.L.A.M. Hopefully we won’t have much longer to wait. (Apologies for not replying sooner. I hadn’t been notified your comments were there).

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