I’ve been thinking about this Arts Council England / Local Government Association / Locality report (Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities) published earlier this week.
It isn’t really a comment on whether community/volunteer run libraries are a good or bad thing. It’s a guide for creating community/volunteer run libraries within the remit of the Public Libraries Act, statutory duties, and other legal requirements. It gives 10 case studies out of 170 community/volunteer run libraries currently in operation in England. I’m not sure if they’ve been cherry-picked or not, but I suppose if it’s a how-to guide it’s not going to pick those libraries regarded as unsuccessful.
I’ve just pulled out a few statements from the report for comment…
“Our research indicates that community libraries are established out of the determination and passion of local communities and those working in library services to retain what they regard as essential services.”
Could we suggest this passion and determination is caused by the threat of losing the service if volunteers aren’t found?
“Whilst these are difficult times and some libraries have been closing, it is a mistake to characterise community libraries simply as knee jerk reactions to closure…”
Having followed the news about library budget cuts and closures closely for the past few years I still think many libraries handed over to communities were done as a knee jerk reaction. Some library services would have happily closed them and this is the get-out clause.
“Every library service in England has trained and skilled professional library staff working at its heart. This is essential. There continues to be a need for paid professional library staff working in every library authority area, and of course professional staff and their representatives need to be fully consulted on any proposed changes to services.”
It’s good to read an acknowledgement about the importance of librarians and skilled library staff within the context of this report, but how about a bit more support for those staff.
“Not every library in a library service needs to look the same, provide exactly the same service as all the others nor have the same kinds of staff on site every day.”
I wonder how this fits in with the calls for a national library service and initiatives led by Arts Council England and Society of Chief Librarians that are aiming to unify library service provision across England?
In conclusion, the report does highlight that it takes effort and money and a wide-range of skills to set up and sustain community/volunteer run libraries, with low-income communities more likely to need more support.
I can’t help reading this report as a green light “Yeah! Go for it” instruction book for local authorities who might not have considered the community/volunteer run library option otherwise.