A Delicate Balancing Act: an investigation of volunteer use and stakeholder perspectives in public libraries

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This research aims to investigate current volunteer use in public libraries in England. Volunteer use is not a new phenomenon, and has been an integral part of public library provision for many years. However recent Government policies, together with greater financial austerity, have resulted in a change in public service delivery. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of volunteers involved within the public library service, and the growth of community run libraries, resulting in much public and professional concern. An interpretivist research approach was used to investigate stakeholder opinions regarding volunteer use, and involved a two phase process. Initially a Delphi survey explored attitudes of 15 English public library service managers, followed by in-depth investigation of two case study library authorities, located in the North-East of England. Surveys, interviews and focus groups, helped to build a rich picture of volunteer use amongst the groups of stakeholders. Findings clearly indicated that volunteer use has moved from additionality to replacement of staff, and is increasingly being used by local authorities as a solution to budget reductions required as a result of economic austerity. A hybrid approach to library service provision has developed, using a combination of paid staff and volunteers, which indicates a fundamental culture shift within public libraries. Research results identified concerns relating to the long term viability of a hybrid approach, and how this impacted on the wider community in terms of service provision. Key concerns were raised concerning advocacy, sensitivity, the fragility of relationships, and the provision of an accountable and high quality service. Formal and informal control mechanisms need to be employed by library service managers to ensure that they reap the benefits of volunteer use, thereby avoiding social exclusion, clarifying stakeholder boundaries, and delivering a high quality accountable service. Training library managers in new volunteer management skills, and adopting a volunteer relationship management approach may help to ensure that this new arrangement is mutually beneficial for all concerned.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Oct 2016


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