Number of library volunteers surges in the year to March, figures show

The number increased by more than 44 per cent to 33,808, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

The number of people volunteering in libraries increased by more than 44 per cent last year, new figures show.

Data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy shows that the number of people volunteering in libraries increased from 23,397 in the year to the end of March 2012 to 33,808 the following year.

In contrast, the number of full-time equivalent staff employed at libraries fell by 6.8 per cent during the same period.

Rob Whiteman, chief executive of Cipfa, said: "Local authorities across the UK have worked hard over the past few years to identify savings and reduce their spending but now also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public.

"Although the number of libraries and staff has fallen again, this fall has slowed. However, the surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new and innovative ways to engage and serve their communities." 

Rob Jackson, a volunteering consultant, said he would be interested in finding out what libraries had been doing to grow their volunteering numbers so quickly.  

"It’s great to see a success story of an organisation recruiting volunteers when so many struggle to get new people to give time," he said.

But he also said that it was concerning to see the increase in volunteers being set alongside budget cuts.

"Volunteering is given freely but not cost-free, and problems tend to arise when managers see volunteers as a free or low-cost alternative to employing paid staff," said Jackson. "It also has to be noted that although the decrease in paid staff is mentioned alongside the rise in volunteers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the two are related."

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