Say no to the replacement of professional library staff by volunteers

Ward Committees across the city are now in the process of submitting bids to the Council’s Local Innovation Fund. [1]  They reveal the creeping replacement of qualified library staff by local volunteers. The Selly Oak ward plan contains the proposal to “Maintain service delivery (library services) utilising VCSE sector assets” (p56).

Bartley Green, which has three Conservative councillors, goes further. The Bartley Green LIF bid includes

“To develop a proposal for the transfer of the Tier three Bartley Green Library over to a Community Association” (p126).

What this means for the library service is spelled out in a Bartley Green document in April this year. It states that:

“This will include volunteers undertaking library duties in order to achieve enhanced opening hours. As part of the partnership the council will offer 15 hours of professional staff support per week”.

There will be training and support through a parent Tier 1 library (presumably Weoley Castle). Since the library service will be available all day for 6 days a week, it is clear that volunteers will be undertaking duties previously undertaken solely by library staff, and the bid spells this out:

“This will give community organisations the opportunity to lead, manage and deliver their library service.”

This is clearly in breach of the current BCC policy (Birmingham Library & Archive Services, January 2009):

Volunteer Policy

  • Our Mission Statement is “to provide, promote and encourage access to reading, information, lifelong learning, leisure and cultural activities for everyone.”

  •  Our policy is to offer opportunities for people to volunteer their time and skills. The policy is based on the principles of choice, diversity, mutual benefit and recognition.

  • We will only offer volunteer roles that lie outside of those duties undertaken by paid employees. It is important that the work should not be a substitution for paid jobs but will add value to the library service.

But what wards are now proposing is to use volunteers to replace staff. Of course we welcome volunteer support, but not at the expense of paid professional jobs. Unless the Council gives a firm commitment to the staff unions we are likely to see qualified staff who leave being replaced by volunteers, leading to the erosion of the library service as a professionally-run quality service. [2]

[1] The LIF bids are on the Cabinet Committee – Local Leadership agenda for 23 November.  The document pack link is here:

[2] Support Friends of The Libraries of Birmingham:



Twitter:  @folob_



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