12th August 2015 | News

A review commissioned by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has concluded that volunteer-run libraries without professional and local authority input are not a preferred option for library services in Scotland.

The literature review was conducted on behalf of SLIC, to explore and learn more about the impact of volunteer-run libraries amid moves towards devolving more power to local communities through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill and the ongoing pressure on public service spending.

The report, Evidence on the use of volunteers in libraries and on volunteer-run libraries explores the useful role of volunteers in extending and supplementing library services and highlights the types of roles that volunteers fulfil, including assisting with shelving books, supporting a reading group, acting as a computer buddy and assisting with Bookbug sessions.

However, it concludes that volunteer-run libraries without paid professional staff and local authority support are not the preferred option.

Drawing on evidence from across the UK, the report highlights a number of concerns about solely volunteer-run libraries, including sustainability, financial viability, turnover of volunteers, maintenance of buildings, equality and access, although there is some recognition that a volunteer-run library may be preferable in communities that face losing their library due to local authority budget cuts.

The report’s conclusion echoes Scotland’s first national strategy for public libraries, which was published in June this year, and recommends a strategic approach to volunteers in libraries to ensure they are welcomed as complementary to paid staff.

Amina Shah, SLIC Chief Executive, added:

“In the current economic climate, library services are exploring alternative and innovative ways of delivering library services, including the use of volunteers, which has led to 44.5%* more volunteers in libraries across the UK.  Scotland has a wonderful volunteer spirit and it’s vital that we embrace their role in libraries. We fully endorse the added value that volunteers can bring to a library service and we want to ensure recognition of their contribution. However, we need to ensure we are providing a public library service that meets the needs of everyone in society and that requires the input of professional, skilled librarians and the leadership and resources of local authorities.  This report, along with the national strategy for public libraries, will act as an advocacy tool for library services considering changes to their models of delivery and will help them make informed decisions about delivering a sustainable library service that meets the needs of local communities in an ever-changing environment.”

In Scotland, there are over 1,800 volunteers in libraries, with some interesting examples of their role, including Glasgow Libraries, which has established a partnership with cancer charity Macmillan to establish a volunteer-based service for people affected by cancer. In Scotland, the one community-run library in Moray, ceased operation earlier this year.

* Statistic taken from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) statistics 2012/13



View all articles