Thing 22 asks us to ruminate on the idea of working for free. Is it a good idea? Is it ever a bad idea? Can it help get you on the career ladder?
Volunteering and libraries is a hugely sensitive and anger-inducing topic at the moment but no one is suggesting that volunteering is inherently immoral or never to be undertaken by library students and professionals. The issue is its context. If you are volunteering for two hours a week on a cataloguing project for a local archives or leading a reading group every Saturday morning at your public library, in my opinion, no big deal. Carry on. You aren’t taking away the jobs of paid staff. As I see it, helping out on projects such as these helps the paid staff provide a better service without suffering from job overload. In a better world those two hours here and there would have monetary reward and there would be no need for anyone to volunteer. If a job needed doing, someone would be paid to do it. But, as it is, this isn’t the case. So, volunteering as a supplement to a fully staffed service is not the issue here. Volunteers replacing paid staff is.
It came to light recently that CILIP, the professional body for librarians and information professionals (important to note), has reviewed its policy on volunteers and job substitutions in public libraries. I heard about this via Twitter and two blog posts: here and here. This was not shouted from the rooftops of CILIP headquarters; in fact it took some professional librarian skills in order to find the agenda item and policy review: here.
The main issue I have with this review is the constant use of the word ‘professional’. I think (perhaps naively) that CILIP are using ‘professional’ in the same breath as they would ‘paid’ but the cynical part of me thinks that they are using it to cover both paid staff and volunteers. After all, you can be a professional librarian volunteering to run a library. They mention the retired members of CILIP happily volunteering to run libraries; these people are both professional and volunteers.
Are CILIP trying to placate the profession by going “Look, we say that volunteer run libraries HAVE to keep a professional presence, a professional workforce and a professional knowledge base” when in fact they don’t have any issues with those ‘professionals’ also being volunteers. I wouldn’t have nearly as much of a problem with this policy if they used the word ‘paid’ staff in all those places where they use the word ‘professional’.
And lets not forget the main argument against volunteer run libraries in the first place. If you wouldn’t consider volunteer run hospitals, or volunteer run police stations, or volunteer run schools, or volunteer run businesses then how can you justify volunteer run libraries? Not even big charities are volunteer run.