Some Random Thoughts about Libraries

How many libraries that remain in local authority hands still have actual librarians running or working in them?

Public Libraries in the UK are a service arm of Local Authorities although one that has traditionally been left alone to do what they do until cuts are required then librarians are usually the first to go (most expensive staff) and more recently entire buildings and the staff that run them are cut loose.

When I worked in public libraries the majority of libraries that I worked in had a library manager (the rationale being to free librarians to do development, & outreach work & handle reference requests). I can remember one library where, after a restructuring, the Library Manager became the Customer Services Manager (CSM) and Library Assistants became Customer Services Officers (CSO) – I have not heard or seen this mentioned in library discussions (but I may be wrong), this ties in to a neoliberal view of turning library users into ‘customers’ rather than borrowers/patrons.

Going back to the perennial discussion/argument that “not everyone who works in a library is a librarian” I have recently begun to wonder when is a librarian not a librarian? If a qualified Librarian is hired as say a CSM or CSO are they still a Librarian? On the inside maybe, but the badge that they wear says differently and although they are working in a Library the nature of the job they do may be substantially different to the work a Librarian would do – at least this is what I have witnessed while working in public libraries.

It is a similar thought for schools – with so many School Libraries having become Learning Resource Centres and being run by LRC Managers doing Librarian work but with a different hat on.

Librarians have been under threat in the UK for a long time; during discussions with colleagues over the past few years several have brought up the cuts in the 1980’s and ‘90’s and how the numbers of specialist public librarians dropped precipitously. Over the last five years specialisms have been eroded further with a number of local authorities doing away with children’s librarians and having only general purpose library staff covering everything from children’s activities to senior book groups.

Lastly I am currently wondering if a library run by a local authority with no actual Librarians is still a library; the argument against volunteer run libraries is that without professional staff can they still be called libraries? I think a discussion needs to be had with regard to libraries run entirely by CSMs and staffed by CSOs, in the past there were a number of whom that I worked alongside that were proud not to be Librarians and were able to, in their own words “work anywhere within the council if required”.

It is a worry of mine that in time public libraries will become generic council services that have a few books and computers with for profit organisations plugging what they offer into so-called community services.

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