Monday, 18 June 2012

Public Libraries, Community Libraries and Volunteers

My response to the Linkedin discussion on "Public Libraries, Community Libraries and Volunteers" hasn't gone live. Maybe it's in a queue, or maybe it's been deleted. is finally live on there.

The response to the discussion is below, as I don't like wasting time typing things that don't see the light of day.

The discussion is here:

You have to join Linkedin to participate. Advise using a unique password and changing it regularly, if you do so.

I'll start with the positive. Singular, as there's only one.

It's good that the new building is called the 'Discovery Centre' and not 'Great Ayton library', as it isn't a library. Places staffed by misguided volunteers that call themselves 'community libraries' are not libraries. The label is misleading and fake, putting them on the same level as genuine libraries where skilled staff can answer a wide range of information issues and queries.

The 'Discovery Centre' is really a building with some books in it, room hire opportunities, a few bolted-on services and a pile of donated jigsaws in the corner.

What isn't mentioned, and I'm betting isn't provided, are most of the things on this list which a genuine library would offer:

Ideology-wise, this 'Discovery Centre' is Fifty Shades of Stupid. All of the residents - not just the happy 90% in the unreferenced "survey" - are effectively paying twice, for a service which pretends to be a library but is not. This fails in two further ways.

First, by making it more acceptable for skilled librarians to be sacked, made redundant, unemployed, and replaced by Mrs Bun the bakers wife, who has her own (un)professional views on patrons, stock choice, enquiry privacy and the like, and isn't bound by any formal contract to change them.

Second, by contributing to a wider ideology that skilled professionals in general can be replaced by volunteers, interns, people forced to do placements to claim benefits and others who do not have the suitable, or basic, skills or experience. There are many recent UK examples in the health, education, policing and other sectors.

If Mrs Bun went into hospital to find she was being treated, nursed, or given a body bath by her young unemployed unskilled and indiscreet next door neighbour, she may be less impressed. But if the same Mrs Bun volunteered for the 'Discovery Centre' then, well, she'd be a hypocrite to complain.

I sincerely hope the 'Discovery Centre' struggles, there are incidents (though not wishing harm on the children who will be forced to use your library-lite 'Centre'), and the place has to eventually close its doors. In some ways it already has failed, due to the very limited range of services it offers. But permanently failing, even under the limbo dancingly-low bar set by the 'Centre' and 'community libraries', would be excellent as it would show that this negative and anti-skills and education ideology cannot, and should not, function in a society or community.

Better no (fake) library than a service which tries to demonstrate that skills, experience and knowledge are worthless and replaceable by anyone.

On a side point; the pseudo-endorsement of things such as the 'Discovery Centre', and their unethical internal communication manner, is why I won't join CILIP (nearly did twice last year). It's not so much turkeys voting for Christmas, but also paying for the privilege of having their (professional) necks chopped off at the first opportunity.

And my commiserations to the sacked professional librarians in your area. As per usual, they get a brief mention or no mention at all; in your case, you call it a 'compromise'(!) Their contribution, years in dedicated education and employment, fulfilling the remit of a genuine library service, are forgotten and swept under the carpet. Out of your sight, and out of your mind, unless you pass the Job Centre and see them entering while on your way to opening up the Discovery Centre to play at being 'pretend librarian'.

You should not be proud of the 'Discovery Centre'. If you have a sense of professionalism, and a conscience, you should be ashamed.

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