Budget cuts brought on by ongoing fiscal woes are just one of the many factors that have caused more libraries to be forced to rely more on volunteers than ever before. It’s a trend that’s being seen not only in the US, but also in the UK and other countries.
While we can lament the reasons for such drastic measures to be taken, we can certainly understand the reasons, even when we don’t agree with the underlying causes. As readers, libraries are at the very core of ideas and independent thought. Hopefully, you’re still among the readers who’ve grown up with a library card always near-at-hand, and those trips have always been a favorite destination. Perhaps you even have fond memories of the library books you read (and loved) over the years.
There may be nothing we can do to stop the trend, but we can certainly discuss why it’s a good thing, and a bad thing — for us, for our kids, and also for future generations.
- Limited Access: Moving to a volunteer model is often paired with reduced hours for the library, which further limits the possibility of patrons to borrow books and support the local library. The limited access also further devalues the important resource of the local library. (Standing closed and empty, the perception may be that nobody uses it, needs it, or wants it.)
- Experienced Assistance: In some cases, the volunteers may be extremely experienced and knowledgeable; but that’s not guaranteed. While the volunteers do their best, one of the greatest benefits of having a trained librarian on-staff is that an expert is always available when students and other readers need help.
- Censorship: While banned books are an issue in school and public libraries across the US (and around the world) — with and without volunteer solutions, the reduction in oversight may contribute to heightened censorship. In some cases, librarians and teachers are the biggest advocates for books, working to prevent censorship.
- Budgetary Solution: It’s clear that the implementation of more volunteer-based libraries does have benefits to the bottom line. With budgetary shortfalls, the question becomes not if these important resources will see cuts, but how deeply. Volunteer solutions and organizations who take on the work of library maintenance and oversight help everyone.
- Save the Libraries: The argument could also be made that with out the move to the use of volunteer librarians, the libraries would be completely closed. So, it’s better “something” than “nothing” (we could imagine a locked and empty building that once was filled with books.
On the one hand, we could (and should) say that we should SAVE LIBRARIES — no matter what, at any cost. At the same time, it’s clear that the solutions are further undermining the role of the libraries in society.