Enter the Volunteers

As less public spending is being devoted to support libraries, more communities are creatively finding ways to keep them open.

Enter the volunteers. Faced with the prospect of seeing their library close, more people are offering to pitch in at their local branch. This trend is most prevalent in the United Kingdom, where 500 of the country’s 3,850 libraries are run by the community.

The main benefit of this community model is that it keeps the library open to serve the community with books, computers and a communal meeting space, but it also creates challenges such as:

  • Sustainability – volunteers must be able to give up their own time to commit fully to providing a community service.
  • Training – not all volunteers are trained librarians possessing the skills required to run a successful library service.
  • Creating a wealth gap – many argue that volunteer-led libraries are only successful in wealthier areas where more people have the luxury of free time to volunteer.

They may divide opinion, but it looks as though community libraries are here to stay. Librarian and Editor of Public Libraries News, Ian Anstice, has been charting cuts to U.K. libraries since 2010, when fewer than a dozen libraries were run by volunteers. He calls the change “staggering.”

“If a community doesn’t volunteer then, the argument goes, they don’t really need a library. So, the U.K. has moved from a handful of such branches in 2010 to over 500 today. That’s made a dramatic difference to the landscape and the trend shows no sign of ending,” said Anstice.

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