Concerns that library volunteers may be asked to take on cleaning and maintenance
A five-year plan for Staffordshire’s library service has sparked fears that volunteers may be asked to clean toilets or maintain grounds – and could quit as a result.
In recent years 27 of the county’s 43 libraries have moved from council-managed to community-led facilities, including branches in Stafford, Eccleshall, Gnosall and Penkridge.
However several libraries, including Stafford’s town centre facility, have remained as council-run services.
When the proposals for some libraries to become community-managed facilities were first consulted on in 2014 they sparked concern about the future of the facilities, including loss of library staff and whether sufficient volunteers could be recruited and retained.
But six years on the community-run library scheme has been hailed as a success and plans for the running of Staffordshire Library Service from 2020 to 2025 have been unveiled.
Councillor Gill Heath, cabinet member for communities, said: “The evolution in recent years of Staffordshire’s library service has been remarkable.
"While maintaining 43 libraries across the county, as well as two mobile services, hundreds of people have made a difference by volunteering at either our county council managed libraries, or the community managed ones.
“Not only do our libraries provide the traditional service for all, but increasingly they are becoming community hubs; home to a variety of services helping people in many different ways. These proposals will help us continue this success story into the next decade.”
But concerns have been raised by some councillors that the library volunteers may be asked to take on cleaning and grounds maintenance roles alongside lending books and helping visitors.
As part of the future proposals for community-led libraries cleaners would not be replaced when they leave and grounds maintenance will be reviewed on an individual basis.
'They will walk away'
Speaking at a corporate review committee meeting, Councillor Charlotte Atkins said: “I think we could kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
“These volunteers who have previously been involved with communities and users of the library are now having to do all the cleaning and gardening. The only way we grow and maintain our volunteers is by valuing them.
“If we say to them ‘by the way we’re ending the contracts on cleaning and grounds maintenance and it’s down to you’ guess what happens – they will go. It seems to me we are taking the mick here.
“I don’t think they are going to get much satisfaction in cleaning the loos or digging the grounds. Some libraries have substantial premises. If we do that to them they will walk away – and they will be walking away with my support because they’re doing too much.”
Councillor John Francis, highlighting the success of his local community-managed library in Baswich, said: “It has been extended – it has coffee mornings and events it didn’t have before. We have got good volunteers in there – they’re all brilliant.
“If we start telling them to do stuff they don’t want to do we’re going to be in trouble. We can’t dictate to them.”
The proposals were previously considered at last week’s Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee meeting and are set to be discussed at February’s cabinet meeting.
A draft cabinet report “To ensure the ongoing sustainability of the 27 CMLs (community-managed libraries), the Library Service have been in discussion with Strategic Property and Staffordshire ICT
“Reviewing the property support will save £36,117 per annum in business rates and there is potential to make additional reductions to the £10,611 grounds maintenance and £137,577 cleaning budgets.
“If 80 per cent of the business rates are recovered by CMLs – where appropriate – and Strategic Property cease to cover the cost of cleaning or grounds maintenance when contracts are renewed this would save £184,305, which would contribute towards the wider Strategic Property Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) 2019-24 savings target (of) £3.7m.
“The Library Service seeks permission from Cabinet to consult with Community Managed Organisations from April 2020 upon a reviewed offer of support when their contracts are due for renewal.
“There may be a risk of challenge from communities and Community Managed Organisations if the level of support is reduced, which could trigger a DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport ) enquiry.”
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.