News

Young library volunteers encouraged by Reading Agency scheme

The Reading Agency and the government have together launched a new initiative working with local authority library services across the UK to create a "Youth Innovation Network" of librarians, which aims to generate thousands of volunteering opportunities in public libraries for 11-25 year olds.

The initiative will be delivered in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), and the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL). It is funded by a £127,000 grant from the Cabinet Office's Social Action Fund.

Civil society minister Nick Hurd unveiled the scheme at Canada Water library in Southwark today, meeting young volunteers. More than 70 town halls have already signed up to the library youth network.

The Reading Agency will co-ordinate the network and provide new training and resources for librarians on how to engage young volunteers and run volunteering programmes. The volunteering opportunities are likely to include designing new library services, organising author events, reading with children, and using library space and computers to tell stories about their community via social media.

Miranda McKearney, director of The Reading Agency, said: "Young people are having a really tough time, so we’re delighted to be able to give libraries extra support to create important new volunteering opportunities to support reading in the community. The Network builds on libraries’ long standing experience of involving volunteers, extending this to build year round volunteering opportunities.  These opportunities will help young people develop their communication, literacy and civic participation skills, and unleash their passion for helping to create a better society."

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That young people should be immersed in books and public libraries by means of this scheme is a very good thing on the face of it.

Alarm bells ring, however, to note that the Reading Agency has teamed up with the SCL for such a venture. The SCL has an agenda which does not chime with the express needs and wishes of the library user, viz: the SCL is in favour of volunteers - but has not nailed its colours to the mast (unlike CILIP) to say that their professional body is against volunteers *replacing" paid staff in libraries. In fact I have seen Tony Durcan (SCL)'s reply to a query in which he writes "In some cases local policy will mean that this can result in job substitution" http://questioneverythingtheytellyou.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/scl-on-volun...

I would highly recommend the following article by Ms Lauren Smith - 'What Do Public Librarians and Library Staff Do?'
http://laurensmith.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-do-public-librarians-an... to show how a quality library service *should* be run. And this does NOT mean that libraries should be robbed of their frontline staff - something that is very popular with councils, but is anathema to the user public.

So, I have mixed feelings. This scheme will be great fun for the young people concerned : a positive. This scheme is very worrying in the current environment of cost-cutting and has the SCL's involvement : a negative.

Each day more and more libraries are being hived off to volunteers and today is no exception : Kent Libraries to be 'taken over by community groups' in money-saving drive http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/september/10/libraries.... No doubt there will be another, similar, story from somewhere else tomorrow and more after that.

So, if asked whether the scheme is a great one for Libraries and the reading public, or not - all I can say is that "The jury is out."

There is a real risk that this scheme as described further undermines the role of librarians by hinting that they can be replaced by volunteers, young or old. Perhaps the professional bodies should consider working with the Government and the Reading Agency to set up a paid library apprenticeship scheme which helps young people to find employment as library assistants in public, academic, school and specialist libraries.

That young people should be immersed in books and public libraries by means of this scheme is a very good thing on the face of it.

Alarm bells ring, however, to note that the Reading Agency has teamed up with the SCL for such a venture. The SCL has an agenda which does not chime with the express needs and wishes of the library user, viz: the SCL is in favour of volunteers - but has not nailed its colours to the mast (unlike CILIP) to say that their professional body is against volunteers *replacing" paid staff in libraries. In fact I have seen Tony Durcan (SCL)'s reply to a query in which he writes "In some cases local policy will mean that this can result in job substitution" http://questioneverythingtheytellyou.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/scl-on-volun...

I would highly recommend the following article by Ms Lauren Smith - 'What Do Public Librarians and Library Staff Do?'
http://laurensmith.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-do-public-librarians-an... to show how a quality library service *should* be run. And this does NOT mean that libraries should be robbed of their frontline staff - something that is very popular with councils, but is anathema to the user public.

So, I have mixed feelings. This scheme will be great fun for the young people concerned : a positive. This scheme is very worrying in the current environment of cost-cutting and has the SCL's involvement : a negative.

Each day more and more libraries are being hived off to volunteers and today is no exception : Kent Libraries to be 'taken over by community groups' in money-saving drive http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/september/10/libraries.... No doubt there will be another, similar, story from somewhere else tomorrow and more after that.

So, if asked whether the scheme is a great one for Libraries and the reading public, or not - all I can say is that "The jury is out."

There is a real risk that this scheme as described further undermines the role of librarians by hinting that they can be replaced by volunteers, young or old. Perhaps the professional bodies should consider working with the Government and the Reading Agency to set up a paid library apprenticeship scheme which helps young people to find employment as library assistants in public, academic, school and specialist libraries.