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Monday, 15 February 2016

Volunteer Libraries in Sheffield

I see that volunteer libraries in Sheffield are seeing a huge fall in book loans.  I don't think this should surprise anyone.  With the best will in the world the volunteers won't have the expertise or the systems in promoting the libraries that paid staff do.  It is interesting to see how the same arguments get rehearsed.

Hard figures on volunteer libraries are hard to find, but as far as I can see transfer to some form of volunteer status is more or less always a reduction in the emphasis on books.  The local media tend to gloss over this.  I guess they don't want to sound harsh on people who after all are doing their best.  Another possibility which you can sometimes find is a denial of the validity of the figures.  Books are claimed as being taken out without being counted. 

Another common option is that volunteer libraries do "more" than traditional libraries, although whenever I see what activities are claimed they always seem to be the kind of thing Brent Libraries do all the time.

The Sheffield Star piece above is the first I have seen where one of the volunteers is arguing that libraries are in decline because of social factors like the rise of the Internet.  It sounds like a dangerous argument for a library advocate to peddle, and I don't believe it anyway.  It may well make the IT side of libraries more important, but that may well enhance the wider importance of libraries.  Of course, there is a national decline in usage in the UK, but I would say that is down to the financial crisis facing local government and the way that most Councils are choosing to hollow out their library services as that is politically easier than the option Brent followed with its Libraries Transformation Project.  Concentrating resources on a smaller number of very good libraries is politically harder, but it leads to greater usage and higher satisfaction levels.

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