Arts Council Chief Executive comments on need for skilled library staff

Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England spoke at the Society of Chief Librarians annual seminar focusing on the future of libraries. During his presentation he commented that libraries need skilled, knowledgeable staff and shouldn’t be replaced by volunteers. It’s very reassuring that he made this comment publicly in a room full of senior public library service managers. It would be interesting to know how many people in that seminar were nodding in agreement with Mr Davey? How many of those senior managers were nodding whilst the public library services they are leading are proposing to introduce volunteer run libraries as a replacement for skilled and knowledgeable staff? If they are nodding in agreement with Alan Davey, then shouldn’t they be standing up and fighting for their public library service and fighting for the library profession in the public sector, rather than having councillors dictate the outcome?

The Society of Chief Librarians are in an ideal position to stand up against the deprofessionalisation and downgrading of the UK’s public library service through reliance on a voluntary workforce. At the same seminar Ed Vaizey stated that he will be maintaining close communications with the SCL. They have the opportunity to make use of the power they have as public library service leaders and champions and can set the agenda, rather than having it set for them.

If the SCL do decide that their member organisations are happy to go down the volunteer libraries route, what message does this give their staff about the SCL’s opinion of their worth, of the library professions worth and are they the right people to be leading the profession in this sector?

Library Love (c) Justgrimes/Flickr

Library Love (c) Justgrimes/Flickr

6 thoughts on “Arts Council Chief Executive comments on need for skilled library staff

  1. Alan Wylie

    Yes it is very encouraging that Alan Davey has said that library staff shouldn’t be replaced by volunteers, very welcome support!
    But if you expect the SCL and the ALCL to publicly condemn what’s taking place then i think you’ve got a very long wait, for one thing it’s their members who are cutting and ‘modernising’ and their members who have actively endorsed Team London’s Library Volunteer project aswell as the LLCP and the FLP! And remember how supportive they were over NLD?

  2. Pingback: Do libraries need skilled staff? | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

  3. Mick

    As I understood from tweets at the seminar Ed didn’t actually turn up – he was in Brussels – so a video was shown instead. It’s not clear if it was specially made for the SCL or the usual generic “nothing to do with me” version.

    Apart from Alan Davey, the other library enthusiast present on the day was Dave Coplin from Microsoft who expressed his love for the service – and even had a slide of himself wearing a T shirt proclaiming that message.

    It’s interesting that so many non-librarians – even those pretty heavily committed to technological change like Dave – remain enthusiastic and even optimistic about the role of the public library in the 21st century while those leading the profession – and claiming to be its greatest advocates – seem so unsure themselves. Most of the messages (and there weren’t very many) coming out of the seminar suggested that the SCL agenda may be almost entirely driven by a desire to deliver the LGA agenda.

    The desire to integrate fully with other local government services – whilst clearly a sensible and perhaps even worthy aim in times of austerity – appears to have supplanted any vision of what role the library service itself should play in these rapidly changing times. It has become an end in itself.

    Those upon whom we used to rely for thought leadership in the library profession appear now to be falling over each other in an almost unseemly rush to demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice professional values, staff and assets for the holy grail of integrated services. Rather than promoting the library service – in its own right – as essential to the knowledge economy and to public access to education and literacy – roles it has filled since its inception – and which it continues to fulfil in more successful countries, the SCL appears to choose instead to focus on re-purposing the service as a council ‘help desk’.

    Of course this is all pure speculation on my part. It’s very hard to have a dialogue with the SCL or its officers – unless you’re Ed Vaizey apparently.

    I know, I’ve tried.

  4. Gerhard Bissels

    I’ve been trying to find out what stance the Society of Chief Librarians actually takes – but their website has been down for a while now. Have they gone for good? Or are they waiting for a volunteer to pay their domain name subscription?

  5. matt

    I wonder if chief librarians are now so removed from the deprived communities that need libraries most that they are unsure of their own position. The social valuse of libraries to otherwise socially excluded individuals is enormous, and for the rest of us its a fantastic resource and also comfort to know that its there should we ever join the excluded.

    In their defence though its a bit like being told that in order to save one child you must shoot the other… I’m glad I’m not a senior librarian who has to push through cuts that will harm the most vulnerable most of all!

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