Evelyn Weiser: form a view on volunteer work in libraries

My task for the tour will be to form a view on volunteer work in libraries against the background of closing libraries and job cuts.

In the past a lot of libraries in Germany have been closed and libraries in rural areas and branch libraries in bigger towns and cities are still threatened with being closed. To get an impression of the situation you may visit http://bibliothekssterben.de (only in German). In many other libraries there have been job cuts.

To fill the gaps thus produced there are many volunteers working in libraries, sometimes they are the only staff and there is no trained librarian anymore.

Now there is the dilemma:

  • On the one hand we as librarians want library services everywhere and for everyone. And we want it to be of high quality. So that would mean that we must help and support those volunteers to enable them to offer good library services.
  • On the other hand, if libraries are managed mainly or completely by people without any professional training, the responsible bodies might think: “Well, libraries are working just fine with less money. We cut down even more jobs, we also could close some more branches. Etc.” Do we sell out our profession if we support volunteer work in core areas of the library? What can we do to make it clear that we are not only just lending books anymore and that library service cannot be offered by just anybody? How can we do both, support volunteers in their work and make sure there are trained staff who guarantee up-to-date library services?

I wonder whether this is an issue in other countries as well and how libraries and librarians and their associations deal with it.

I want to find out what others think about that matter and which arguments could be brought forward in a discussion with colleagues or responsible bodies.

Evelyn Weiser
Max-Planck-Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences

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