Views on volunteer-led libraries sought


Speak Up for Libraries would welcome hearing from anyone with a view about volunteer-led ‘libraries’ in the UK (often called ‘Community Libraries’), whether it be that of a volunteer, a library worker or a library user.

What works well and what doesn’t?

What are the challenges and considerations?

What is the impact on the library service and what do you see as the future?

The information you provide will be used to inform SUFL advocacy and that of its coalition partners.

A summary of the evidence will be published. All information received will be anonymised unless specific permission has been given to identify the contributor and the names of library or library service.

Please email queries, comments and information to


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3 thoughts on “Views on volunteer-led libraries sought

  1. As someone who was involved as a volunteer in one of the first English local authority schemes to trial community-run libraries and who volunteered for nearly two years, I feel that for the idea to work well,
    it is important to recruit and train volunteers who would be capable of undertaking the full range of duties that regular, paid librarians undertake. I was part of the first wave of volunteers to work in one of the first libraries to trial being run on a ‘community’ basis. I worked alongside permanent members of staff and I did hear some reservations about they felt or perceived that the volunteer idea was working or had been implemented. They didn’t feel that it always worked very well, because the volunteers made a lot of mistakes and were not trained or not capable of holding down some of the challenging tasks. I was able to operate the cash till and make reservations for library patrons, and give them advice about books they might enjoy, but that was because of my own literary background and I found the tasks relatively easy to pick up. Volunteers can be a nuisance and a hindrance to regular staff if they aren’t trained or supported properly in the initial stages, and sometimes need to be prepared to do a lot of mundane tasks such as stacking and shelving. For volunteer-run libraries to succeed, you need to get them to shadow more and to learn more on the job, and to get volunteers to undertake as many different kinds of task as possible. Going further, you need people with good customer service skills and also an understanding of financial management and budgeting. That said, I fear that introducing more community run libraries would in the long term undermine the professionalism and integrity of the library service, because you need skilled and well trained professionals with a passion for information science, reading and a full awareness of the cultural and social functions of libraries. Turning libraries into the equivalent of charity shops without proper professional input risks devaluing what is an already undervalued cultural and social asset.

    1. Volunteers do not take control. Volunteers support paid staff.
      We must stop agreeing to the assumption that volunteers should replace people who are trained and paid to do a job.
      Everyone is entitled to a job.

  2. I have worked for 32 years in the Library Service. Before self issue machines the work was a lot more labour intensive and so I always felt that I had done a really hard days work. For the first time i can honestly say I have no idea where libraries are going. We are supposed to be ‘hubs’ now - where many ex customers do not venture. One meanly likened it to a drop-out centre. However I have to say standards have really dropped and I wouldn’t frequent the library now if I didn’t work there! My morale is low as speculation rises that I may be replaced with a volunteer along the line. Many of our nicer customers have bought a Kindle anyhow. Why not just have a Community Centre with a few books in it? Library professionalism appears to be a thing of the past or exists only in cash rich private libraries.

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