Letter: Volunteers give their time freely at libraries

This letter sent to the Star was written by Steve Webster, Sheffield, S6

Monday, 10th June 2019, 12:40 pm
Updated Monday, 17th June 2019, 8:08 am
Sheffield central library

I'm writing in response to Matthew Smith's letter in The Star, June 5. I recently replied to Martin Vaughan regarding volunteer libraries in The Star and felt I had to respond to Mr Smith. Reading his letter there are so many similarities inaccuracies and an obvious bias that the two letters could have almost been written by the same person.

To correct the inaccuracies.

Sheffield Council did NOT "dump the running of 16 libraries on volunteers". The Council had to make spending cuts, announced that it planned to close 16 libraries and asked if community groups would be prepared to take over the running of those libraries. There was a consultation process, interested community groups had to submit a business plan for approval BEFORE control of the library was passed to them.In every case community groups, who care about libraries, stepped in and now run those libraries. Had they not done so those 16 libraries would have closed!

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Let me ask Mr Smith a question:

It's clear you have a dislike of volunteer libraries and the people who run them. Why do you think that having derogatory swipes at these people will bring about a change of heart at Sheffield Council? There are 16 libraries open in Sheffield today that would have been closed. Mr Smith's idea of utopia is a return to "professional" librarians replacing "amateur" volunteers. Let's think about the logistics of that. If spending cuts were to be reversed where does he think reinstating paid librarians would come on the list. People want improved care for vulnerable people in the community.

Help for the homeless. More Police on the streets. Better public transport, to name a few examples of where spending cuts should be reversed.

We have a government dedicated to 'austerity cuts' and a local government choosing where cuts should be made. He says "Libraries are not a priority" well THEY ARE to those community groups who stepped in to save the 16 libraries from closure! If he doesn't like how thins are I suggest he votes in the next general election for a party more inclined to spend on public services and accept that library spending will be fairly low down on the list given the damage to other essential services austerity measure have done.

In the next local election vote for a party who have a passion for libraries and "professional" librarians!

On the subject of professional versus amateur librarians I decided to put Mr Smith's conclusions to the test and conducted a "secret shopper" experiment visiting Central Library, Burngreave Library and Jordanthorpe Library as a library user wanting help and advice on dealing with debt and making a claim for Universal Credit. I found very little difference in the quality of advice given.

Both Sheffield Library Staff and the Volunteers are doing their best to provide a service in circumstances neither asked for. It would be wonderful to see library staff reinstated but, in my view unlikely in the current climate. Mr Smith is, of course entitled to his opinion but the facts really don't bear out his idea that volunteers are rank "amateurs". These "amateurs" prevented libraries from closing. All the libraries are still open and, despite a reduction in financial support from Sheffield Council", have mat running costs, added a significant number of books to their collections, have engaged with their communities to encourage more people to use the libraries.

Some have replaced the Library IT system which, frankly, should have been upgraded some time ago with more modern system that are faster and more reliable. They also receive tremendous support from the community to help keep libraries open.

I don't know about anyone else but to me that doesn't scream AMATEUR HOUR to me!

Volunteers give their time freely to help others often in areas where funding has been cut. The volunteer spirit is one of the things that makes Sheffield such a great place to live and this is something that should be celebrated and encouraged not put down as worthless in my view!