The Big Society of slave labour in Britain is in full swing

Is the Big Society finally here? Big surge in volunteers helping out at libraries

The number of people volunteering at their local libraries is soaring, new figures show
Culture minister Ed Vaizey

Christopher Hope By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent6:00AM GMT 04 Jan 2014CommentsComments

The number of people volunteering at their local libraries is soaring, new figures show.

Official figures from show that the number of volunteers staffing libraries jumped by 44 per cent last year, from 23,400 to 33,800 people.

The figures could suggest that the volunteering boom forecast by some Conservatives as part of the “Big Society” is starting to materialise.

The rise in volunteering came as the number of library closures slowed in 2012/13, with 73 shutting compared with 201 in 2011/12.

The number of full time staff employed at the libraries fell by 7 per cent, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Rob Whiteman, Cipfa’s chief executive, added: “The surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new and innovative ways to engage and serve their communities.”

Ed Vaizey, the Culture minister, hailed the “very impressive” increase and said he wanted other communities to open libraries.

He said: “All the volunteers I come across say they are running their libraries far more cheaply than the local authority was doing it.”

Mr Vaizey acknowledged that it was prohibitively expensive for councils to set up libraries, and urged communities to take matters into their own hands and set up their own libraries,

“It is incredibly expensive for a council to set up a council run library. But enlightened council would say ‘why can’t we provide a support service for people who want to set up a community library’.

“We can potentially provide them with access to equipment that they can potentially pay for. We would at least do the work for them in terms of sourcing the equipment, we can provide them potentially with access to our book stock.

“We can provide them with training and a lot of these community groups would happily pay for them if they were raising money.”

Flick Rea, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Councils know people treasure their libraries and are working extremely hard to preserve services in the face of significant cuts to their funding from central government.

“There is a long history of volunteering in libraries and there is a fantastic amount of creativity and ambition among library staff, councils and their communities to make the most of our diminished resources.

“What’s emerging is a picture of innovation and diversity as local libraries evolve to suit the needs of different communities.”

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