Thursday, 1 October 2015

WHY WE DON'T AGREE THAT VOLUNTEERS SHOULD RUN OUR LIBRARIES

Unison, is campaigning to save our libraries. The Council is considering handing the running of libraries over to volunteers.
We believe that its important that libraries remain staffed by trained, professional staff.

What's wrong with volunteers?
Unison has no problem with people volunteering. We do have a problem when local authorities replace paid, professional staff with volunteers.
Unison does not believe that volunteers can satisfactorily run a library.

* Volunteers can be unreliable. If enough volunteers can’t be found, then libraries will reduce their opening hours or close.
*  Volunteers lack training and specialist skills, Unison believes they can’t adequately:
  -   Protect the library and it’s users from abusive or disruptive customers.
  -   Keep user information confidential
  -   Understand safeguarding issues around children and the elderly
  -   Direct people who need urgent help to other agencies
  -   Manage and maintain the building
* There are clear safeguarding issues. Volunteers have access to sensitive information and areas where young and vulnerable users may be unsupervised by parents.
*  The council has transferred many services online. Library staff are called on to help access these services. This requires confidential information being shared with staff. 
Will people feel confident giving this information to volunteers?
*  Volunteers are not able to take payments, meaning users will have to travel long distances in order to pay monies owed to the library. 

What are the risks?
*  Any library run by volunteers will close if enough volunteers can’t be found:
Sydenham, Crofton Park and Grove Park library nearly closed earlier this year, as the holder of the tenders wished to return it.
New Cross Learning is currently displaying posters, threatening closure if more volunteers can’t be found.
Pepys Resource Centre regularly closes when enough volunteers can’t be found.
*  Once libraries are transferred to volunteers, they will never return to Council control.
*  The community libraries are already struggling to pay their bills. Sydenham was not able to provide heating over last winter as funding was not available.
*  5 of 6 existing community libraries have at least one member of paid staff, relying on donations and grant funding.
*  Use of the existing community libraries has dropped by over 50% since they have been run by volunteers, a clear indication of public dissatisfaction.

What can I do?
The Council is due to vote on the 9th December 2015. Before then you should:
*  Contact your local councillor
*  Fill in the library consultation 
*  Join us in protesting the proposed cuts

Can we change anything?
In Staffordshire, the mass opposition means that the Council will not now be handing all 24 sites to volunteers.

The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign successfully overturned the decision to close the A&E department.

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Restore Our Library Service

Lewisham's libraries are a well loved and much used service, especially depended on by children.

It is upsetting then, that our libraries have been put through the wringer, and to show for it, issue numbers have fallen more than almost anywhere else in the country in the last five years. Lewisham Council has executed on its misbeggoten decision to cut £1 million from the budget, making most staff redundant whilst outsourcing operations to social enterprises and charities on decades long leases and contracts. And disgustingly, council advances this as an innovative 'opportunity'. It has also been pushing the money under the rug, as outsourced groups who run into cash flow problems are given large council grants, and this is now par for the course.

The Council removed staff from 4 of our libraries in 2016:

Catford, Forest Hill, Manor House and Torridon Road.

Despite the massive public opposition and the first council staff strikes here in decades, they pushed the changes through. This is not forgotten or over. This must be rectified.

Unison was right to believe that the implementation of the scheme would mean:

  • Professional staff will not be available in these libraries
  • Opening times will be reduced
  • If there are not enough volunteers, then libraries will close
  • Library usage and services to the community will be reduced
  • Vulnerable users won’t be able to access library services

They can no longer rightly be called libraries but pale imitations, community centres, thinly veiled property development operations that make a show of meeting a few basic library service functions and relying on volunteers. They stretch the remaining council staff dangerously thin, perhaps popping in to Pepys library once a week to mourn the chaos. Having made these idiotic redundancies so drastically management have had to take on agency staff. They've even trained up at cost new staff, who have handed in their resignation finding the conditions intolerable.

It has left us left three "hub" libraries still very basically council staffed, Lewisham, Deptford Lounge and Downham. Catford often has nobody but the security guards that work in the building, you can't print and can never expect to be able to print, and it is unsafe and unreliable.

In a borough this size it no longer meets our statutory right to a local, accessible, convenient library service.

These hub libraries are under threat of more unsubtle restructures by Bullock and head of the service Anthonio 'they changed my title so I'd have no chance of being sued' Rizzo. We campaign by all our legitimate means, from our right to public assembly, to arguing in surgeries and consultations, to looking into the published books of tender candidates to see what the council turns a blind eye to.

We have perhaps decreased the damange and slowed it down, but council generally has its head in the sand, and the tory government that goes without saying.

In this misinformation, privatisation age libraries are for their users desperately important.

Save Lewisham Libraries urges you to FIGHT FOR LIBRARIES!

Please sign our petition, come to our meetings and developing protests and get involved.