Library volunteers are, in many cases, being left without sufficient support to deliver services previously supplied by professional staff, according to a report conducted by the National Federation of Women's Institutes.
NFWI chair Ruth Bond has said "all too often" volunteers are running libraries "in the absence of effective support mechanisms", calling with the plan to use volunteers to fill the gaps in library staff "shortsighted at best".
WI members volunteering in, and involved in the set-up of, community managed libraries took part in the research as part of the Love Your Libraries campaign. According to the WI, one of the key concerns arising from the research is the emerging risk of the proliferation of a two-tier system of library provision, with concerns also around the huge demands placed on volunteers' time, "confusion about legal obligations and training, and an unfair and unrealistic weight of responsibility as they take on the running of a valued community service".
Bond said: "This research has confirmed our fears that all too often volunteers are stepping in to pick up the pieces without adequate support. Community managed library volunteers-WI members and non-members alike-are working as hard as they possibly can to try to do the right thing by their communities and protect and preserve their local services across the UK, but all too often they're doing this in the absence of effective support mechanisms."
She added: "Simply assuming community-minded individuals will fill in the gaps is shortsighted at best. Volunteers play a vital role across the statutory and wider community managed service, yet there's a real danger that without a systematic approach and more comprehensive and widely available support and guidance, community managed libraries will be unsustainable. This inevitably has long-term implications and could well contribute to the gradual erosion of the public library service by default."
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