England

Libraries minister Ed Vaizey: Volunteers not replacing staff

Libraries minister Ed Vaizey
Image caption Libraries minister Ed Vaizey said the picture was "not all doom and gloom"

Volunteers are not being used as a replacement for paid staff in libraries, the minister overseeing them in England has said.

Ed Vaizey said councils should invest in branches to save money, after a BBC investigation revealed almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have gone.

He said the way people used libraries had changed but was not "doom and gloom".

Author Philip Pullman said libraries should not rely on volunteers.

The BBC found a quarter of library jobs had disappeared since 2010, while the number of volunteers nearly doubled, rising some 15,500. About 350 libraries and mobile libraries have closed across the UK.

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Mr Vaizey said councils should invest in libraries, despite funding cuts, and help them provide a range of "modern services".

"It's always a changing picture," he said. "And what I find frustrating as the libraries minister is that people try and portray the scene in libraries as complete doom and gloom. There's a huge amount of initiative going on and a great story to tell about libraries."

How UK libraries have changed

Volunteer numbers almost doubled

24,044

Paid staff now

31,977

Paid staff in 2010

  • 31,403 unpaid volunteers now

  • 15,861 unpaid volunteers in 2010

Thinkstock

He said people were borrowing fewer books but that libraries were providing people with new services, including free internet access.

"Libraries have a huge range of functions. You can go as a small business, with a laptop. A lot of people go to libraries when they are starting up their business. And I'm emphatically in favour of library buildings staying open but providing a range of modern services."

The minister also denied claims by campaigners that libraries were being "hollowed" out and professional staff replaced by unpaid helpers.

The number of paid staff in libraries fell from 31,977 in 2010 to 24,044 now, a drop of 25% for the 182 library authorities that provided comparable data.

"People need librarians, that goes without saying," Mr Vaizey said. "The use of volunteers is, I think, a win-win, because volunteers live locally so they can really shape the local library in terms of providing services.

"We've never said volunteers are a substitute for paid staff."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Some have raised concerns about paid staff being replaced by volunteers

Library campaigners say volunteers cannot replace professional staff, particularly as more of people's day to day lives are conducted online.

Lauren Smith, of the Voices for the Library campaign, said: "Nobody is using volunteers in libraries by choice. They are saying to people that if you want the library to be open you have to run it yourself.

"Libraries are being seen as a non-essential service."

Philip Pullman, the author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, said library services should not rely on volunteers.

"It is exploiting people's goodness and willingness to work and so on," he said.

"I am in favour of volunteering but relying on volunteers to provide a service that ought to be statutory is not a good policy. What next? Are we going to rely on volunteer teachers because we can't find new teachers because all the staffing levels in schools are going down?"

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