FoGL supporter Martin Bryan is a longstanding Friend of the National Waterways Museum, which is now staffed by volunteers, and has written to Councillor Noble with his serious reservations around GCC’s plans to hand at least 10 of our libraries completely to volunteers, and rely on volunteers to offer anything more than a skeleton service at seven more libraries. Martin’s letter is reproduced (with his permission) below:
I am concerned that you have seriously underestimated the amount of support needed to manage a volunteer force capable of taking on the management of libraries. I have some experience of the problems involved, having been a Friend of the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester Docks for over a decade and having see it go from a properly staffed museum to a poorly staffed volunteer-run organization of the type you are proposing for libraries.
As with the Buckinghamshire volunteer-run libraries you are so keen to promote as an example of good practice, the museum needs a core of 50-60 volunteers to be able to open 30 to 40 hours a week. The time needed to train these volunteers in health and safety, first aid procedures, fire evacuation drills, and building maintenance is substantial. You cannot do such training at a single event, and often not at multiple events, because volunteers are only available for a limited time each week, which differs for each volunteer. Even though our volunteer co-ordinator now goes through the procedures individually with each new volunteer at the time they are welcomed to the museum, this is not sufficient. Each time procedures change each volunteer needs to be made aware individually of how the changes affect them. This is, necessarily, a very resource intensive operation.
You talked glibly last night [at public meeting] of moving volunteers from place to place as they are needed, basing your comments on the fact that you have 170 volunteers county-wide. But this is just pie-in-the-sky and will simply NOT be implementable in practice. For each location a volunteer is sent to work they will need to have the fire and emergency drill explained to them, as well as any site-specific health and safety issues. Who among your staff will have the time to do this as they allocate volunteers to where volunteers are needed?
You will also find that keeping volunteer-run libraries open at times working people and school children can come to the libraries will be difficult. Most of the volunteers will be retired people. They will often need to use public transport to get to the libraries. From next April they will not be able to leave home until 9:30 because of restrictions on bus pass use imposed by the county council. We have found at the museum that it is impossible to organize staff training events before the museum needs to open because of this restriction. You will too. If mothers and fathers of school children are among your volunteers they will not want to start until after the children have been taken to school, and will insist on leaving to pick up their children before 3pm. Many pensioners will not want to be out after it is dark. So who is going to keep the library open after school hours in the winter? Saturday morning will not be a suitable time for volunteers with families either.
I suggest that you need to review as a matter of urgency the provision you are making for support of volunteers in your planning for Gloucestershire libraries, and to take into account the true cost of their adequate support in budgeting of this all too significant change in services provided to communities affected by the proposals to create Link and Community Transfer libraries.
Councillor Noble’s reply said that she had read Martin’s email with great interest and noted his concerns – lets hope so, for our libraries’ sakes.