The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) has criticised Arts Council England’s research into community libraries, calling the report "too polarised in favour of community managed models", and failing to address the problems that volunteers and library users face. But libraries minister Ed Vaizey praised the report as a "very welcome analysis".
ACE's report, carried out alongside the Local Government Association, confirmed that 5% of all libraries (254) have some level of volunteer support, with that figure set to rise to 12% "in the near future".
Ruth Bond, chair of the NFWI, said: "The Arts Councils research claims to paint a picture of what is happening in community managed libraries at the moment. Whilst the statistics and details of the different models available provide a very useful depiction of the library service today, many of the practical examples provided in the research paint a much rosier picture than the reality. It is true that many community managed libraries are doing excellent work, in partnership with local authorities, but there are also an awful lot of community managed libraries who are simply not receiving this support, which raises important questions about the overall viability and sustainability of many of these libraries."
She added: "The WI does not believe that volunteers are an acceptable alternative to paid library staff, and the reality is that they are being used to provide library services in increasing numbers. There now needs to be a far greater acknowledgment and appreciation of the challenges that volunteers are facing, so that local authorities can learn from this, and the overall sustainability of the library service is not jeopardised."
Meanwhile libraries minister Ed Vaizey has praised the report for sharing best practice in a changing environment. He said: "The library service is changing to fit in with the different ways in which we experience the written word and our changing expectations for public services. So this report provides a very welcome analysis of the different ways in which local communities are playing an active role in their local library services. This research helps show how practical experience and best practice can be shared to the advantage of all."