I am dismayed at the comments around volunteers in libraries. If
professional librarians see the recruitment of volunteers as a threat to
their role I suggest they must feel very insecure indeed. We have a
massive amount of support for libraries at the moment - it would be
foolhardy to ignore offers of help and not to work with our keen
supporters. Librarians should be at the forefront of this initiative -
designing volunteer policy, agreeing roles, planning training for
themselves, staff and volunteers and supporting the development of
Library Friends Groups.
We have many volunteers in Cambridgeshire Libraries in a variety of
roles - they volunteer because they value and appreciate their library
service - and that includes the paid staff. Volunteers in Cambridgeshire
understand their roles, they are clear that they are there to add value
to the service in a clearly defined role.
For some of our volunteer roles (such as the 250 volunteers for the
Housebound Library Service) the service they deliver to (400+)people
unable to visit the library is much better than we could ever deliver
ourselves as it includes that very valuable element of time for a chat,
as well as the delivery of books and information.
Our Friends of Libraries groups (all volunteers) have recently done an
amazing job campaigning for libraries in Cambridgeshire - they have
reversed the Council proposal to move 13 libraries to community run
libraries - and we now have a new political emphasis on recognising
libraries as community hubs at the heart of their communities. Our
Friends Groups are not only strong and influential advocates for the
library service, they also raise substantial funds to improve and
enhance the fabric and fittings in libraries, they support library
events, they hold their own social events and they provide valuable
insight into community need and priorities when developing the service.
We need to respond effectively to the needs of young people who are
eager to volunteer to develop skills for career progression and
employment opportunities. I think we should devise an accredited library
volunteer course for young people - there are many valuable and
transferable skills to be acquired volunteering in libraries - to help
young people at risk of becoming NEET - and to possibly inspire a new
generation of library staff for the future.
We have had some exceptional volunteers - some with disabilities - who
are keen to give something back to the community and to help others -
this has helped to make our libraries more accessible, it has influenced
design and has enriched our appreciation and understanding of inclusion
Volunteering in IT roles in Cambridgeshire Libraries contributes in a
major way towards digital inclusion with our computer buddies, Community
Access Point volunteers and family history volunteers. Many of these
volunteers are older people helping their peers to engage with
technology in libraries and the advantages of shopping on line, email,
Volunteering in libraries also has a major role in contributing to
health and well being in a community,to safer and stronger communities,
it delivers economic, learning and employment benefits and
opportunities, it can provide cultural and creative opportunities and
enrichment, it is a key element in successful community engagement. If
we don't embrace this opportunity we risk becoming irrelevant and
unresponsive to our communities, our partners and politicians.
Partnership and Development Manager
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