Letter: Scurrilous attacks on members of the community who work hard to maintain library services
This letter sent to the Star was written by S Webster, Sheffield, S6
I am responding to yet another unsubstantiated attack on Volunteer Libraries. In his letter Matthew Smith refers to "Strangers, non-professional and unaccountable people" managing libraries where vulnerable people and children gather. He offers no example of incidents where this has actually happened to support his view. I am unaware of any reports being made of such incidents is the Editor of The Star aware of any I wonder?
He also states that "Safe and trained library staff are essential to every Sheffield Community" Well I've seen beggars hassle people for money outside and in the entrance to Sheffield Central Library on many occasions!
To deal with Mr Smith's remarks:
Strangers: many of the volunteer library staff are well known and respected members of the community in which they volunteer.
Unaccountable: Every community group who stepped in to keep a local library open had to submit a business plan to the Council for approval prior to being assessed as suitable to run their local library. They all received support and training from Sheffield Library Staff and, I believe, remain supported by library staff. I refer Mr Smith to the letter in The Star in reply to Martin Vaughan's letter in May 2019 where the Assistant Chair from Stannington Library said: "We are determined to make sure the library stays open, and we have been running it for nearly five years in that spirit, with full training for volunteers, strict codes of data protection and safeguarding"
Non Professional: The 15 libraries which would have been closed and are now run as Associate Libraries or Co-delivered Libraries who received training to help them run a successful library for six months prior to taking over responsibility for running their local library and continue to receive ongoing training as required according to https://communitylibrariesnetwork.wordpress.com
Against the expectations of some people these "amateur" librarians have made a success of running their local libraries expanding book collections, offering extracurricular activities, (many of which are attended by children and vulnerable adults), to encourage people to use their libraries. The Groups have raised funds to meet shortfalls in funding offered by the Council, some have replaced the IT and internet facilities offered by Sheffield Libraries with a newer, faster and more reliable system, and most importantly they remain open. Which is irrefutable evidence of their commitment, the support they receive from their local communities and that they are not as unprofessional as Mr Smith would have is believe!
If there had been any evidence of harm to vulnerable or young people at ANY library I'm certain this would have been reported widely and action taken to improve safeguarding procedures or libraries closed!
From what I've seen in the news in the last two or three years vulnerable people face a far greater risk from exploitation because of systematic failures by those "professionals" who have or had a statutory duty to safeguard those vulnerable people, rather than from any voluntary group engaging with them ask the victims from Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Newcastle and Nottinghamshire who were abused on an industrial scale whilst in the care of Social Services!
Most people would like to see a return of library services to Sheffield City Council Mr Smith, however the way to achieve this is NOT by making scurrilous attacks on members of the community who work hard to maintain library services in communities that would otherwise have NO library service!