To volunteer or not to volunteer?

Last week I was asked if I knew of anyway to put a potential library volunteer in touch with other like-minded people who had also expressed an interest. This comes as a result of Derby City Council proposing that 10 of the city’s 15 libraries become Community Managed Libraries rather than being kept under the statutory offer of council services as the other 5 will be. I felt that, if I was a lone person in this position, I would want to be able to talk things through with others so I said I would see what I could find out.

The only way I could see was to spread the question as far around Oakwood as possible via social media. This prompted a number of people to comment to express their dissatisfaction at the Council’s plans to replace paid library staff with volunteers – a view I share completely. Replacing skilled staff with volunteers would set a precedent across all council services and devalues people.

I proceeded to do a bit of digging around to find out exactly what the council’s proposals are and what is expected of volunteers. Here is a summary as I understand it –

  • the council held a number of information events for people interested in volunteering as part of a community managed library during September 2017.
  • the deadline for registering interest for volunteers was set at October 9th – however this has now become a soft deadline and the council are still accepting registrations. This suggests that not enough people have come forward to make the proposal successful.
  • Interested parties have until December 4th to put forward an application detailing how they are going to run the library. This should be from a constituted group which will have a number of officers responsible for the management side of things and will need volunteers who will help with the day-to-day running.The application will need to form a viable business plan.
  • The council will then assess the applications to see whether they are viable.
  • The timescale for the transition to these new library structure is about 6 months, which is a ridiculously short amount of time for such a huge project of change.

More detail about this process can be found here.

Information about Springwood Library – costs, usage etc can be found here.

It is looking highly unlikely that the Community Managed Library proposal will be successful, at which point the council will be looking at a rather embarrassing problem with a local election looming. Are they going to close libraries in a labour controlled ward and risk losing a seat in a finely balanced council chamber? I suspect not. In addition, at no point in the process has the council said it is going to close the libraries if no-one volunteers. In fact, it is one of the 50 pledges set out by the council to make Derby into a ‘Safe, Strong and Ambitious’ city. Quote: ” The Council will protect Derby’s libraries from closure.” Page 17, see full document here.

Returning to the subject of the library staff, it is they who are suffering the most in this process. Currently they are in limbo. They do not know what is going to happen to the libraries, they have no timescale for when or if they will be made redundant. This is understandably placing stress and uncertainty on them. We can only hope that the council see the error of their ways pretty soon and find an alternative solution to this problem that can secure library staff jobs and help to run the libraries in a new and more innovative way that maximises their potential as community hubs.

In the meantime, in order to prevent the loss of jobs and keep the libraries operating as they are, the best course of action is to DO NOTHING until a clearer more practical way forwards is presented.

Thanks go to Russell at Derby News for helping me navigate through some of the details. If you want more detailed information on this subject please visit his website here.

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