Library staff issue volunteer concerns

7:58am Thursday 29th May 2014

STAFF at under threat Vale libraries have taken issue with the Council leader’s position that using volunteers to run services has a track record of success.

Vale Council leader, Cllr Neil Moore maintained using volunteers in the Vale’s libraries was already an established practise, but staff assert that volunteers depend on the qualified, paid staff in order to function.

Cllr Neil Moore said: “The use of volunteers in the Vale’s library service is already well established. There has been a successful home library service run by volunteers for many years. While more recently volunteers have helped with digitising old photographs.

“The model of community library we would seek to develop is one in which support would be provided by the Council to enable community groups to deliver a first rate service. The use of volunteers is well established in other parts of the UK, particularly in England, and we are confident that by studying successful examples and entering into a process of consultation with local community groups we can develop an approach that works for the Vale.

“All of the members of the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Cabinet appreciate the value of libraries. The review of library services in the Vale demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that a high quality service is available to Vale residents.”

A library source said: “The home library service is a success. This scheme was extended because the pre-existing, and also successful, mobile library service was withdrawn. It is run by library staff with the assistance of about 14 hard-to-come-by volunteers who visit around 40 householders.

“These volunteers do not have to deal with members of the general public and also have to use the library staff in a more demanding way than the public as a member of staff has issue the books over the desk as opposed to using the self service kiosks.

“We have no problem working alongside volunteers, especially on programmes like the digitisation project which only needs a handful of people working minimal hours. This project is run by library staff and volunteers were trained and supervised by full time members of staff.

“Volunteers can enrich an already flourishing library service, but they are exactly that – volunteers - that should not be used instead of paid, fully trained staff.

“Not only is this an insult to the staff who will be replaced by volunteers it is taking advantage of the volunteers themselves.

“Popping to your local library to help is different entirely to being responsible for opening and closing a library, dealing with monetary issues and problems with the public often alone through rain or shine, if you are not feeling well or have other commitments.

“If it is necessary for a volunteer to get to a place on time and be responsible for opening up on time then at what point does it stop being a voluntary position?”

The Vale Council did not answer a Barry & District News question as to whether all its cabinet members were library members or whether a paid member of staff would need to be employed to manage the volunteers.

The source added: “At what point will the council decide if this is a success or failure? When they have what percentage of the required volunteers to run the library professionally?”

A resident, who did not want to be named, said: “If the council are worried about saving money perhaps they should stop wasting our money on ridiculously luxurious seating for their chamber and paying themselves the likes of £28,000 per year often on top of a salary and a few of them with spouses being paid by council as well? This can be £56,000 of taxpayers’ money going into one household just because they are both councillors."

Staff also claimed the pop up libraries were nothing to do with the reorganisation, had already been agreed and should not be used to glamorise the closures.

They said the new wifi was not so new, but due to budgetary cuts the repairs required had not been carried out since last year and the renovation of Llantwit library was also not a part of this reorganisation and had already been approved.

A staff member said: “Vale of Glamorgan libraries are at the forefront of offering digital services - ebooks, audiobooks and ezines have been available since last year but we cannot fully promote them or help people to download them to their devices as we do not have our own wifi available due to the inadequacies of the council rather than the library service.

“Cllr Neil Moore will state how popular volunteering was when it was asked as a question in the recent survey of library users. I believe the response was something in the order of 40 percent of people said that they would happily volunteer.

“This is not to be taken lightly and the council are misusing this figure. The question actually asked if you would be happy to volunteer at the library alongside staff. To the extent that when people were asking us if it meant volunteers replacing staff, we categorically replied “no”.

They also said the job centre was sending an increasing number of people, on a daily basis, who required staff member help to use the computers and universal jobmatch.

They added: “Would the Council please explain to us how these members of the public will be able to sign in and therefore not have their benefits cut if at the same time as their numbers are increasing our opening hours are reducing?”

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