Friday 16 October 2015

Open Letter to Councillor Reuben Thompstone regarding volunteering at Barnet Libraries

Dear Councillor Thompstone,

Cllr Rube Thompstone and friends
During Mondays Council meeting, you asked both Ms Jacobson and Ms Musgrove whether they would be prepared to volunteer at Barnets libraries. Sadly you didn’t ask me when I was invited to respond the written answers to my questions. I am a big fan of the concept of volunteering. I regularly volunteer for two projects for homeless people. Both projects would be totally unable to function without the use of volunteers.

As I believe that maintaining a Library service in Barnet is a primary function of a responsible and sensible council I would not only be prepared to volunteer at libraries, I would be prepared to go around the Borough with you, speaking at public meetings to encourage people to volunteer to assist at libraries. There are many people in Barnet who have some time on their hands and who would benefit hugely from the experience of volunteering. I happen to believe that working in a Library as a volunteer would be a great experience for many people.

So the question I have for you is whether you would be prepared to accompany around the Borough, to address meetings of various organisations to speak to the public to encourage them? I am a member of the Federation of Small Business, that holds a regular meeting for local people, which is one such meeting where I am sure you would be made welcome. I note that your good friend Brian Coleman is now involved in Barnet Rotary and I am sure he too would be keen to assist and allow us to address a meeting, if you asked him nicely. I am also a member of the Church of The Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate Parish Council and I am sure we could organise an event there to help get volunteers for Mill Hill Library.

As I am sure that you will think that this is a fine idea, I would like to suggest that the only way in good conscience that you would be able to encourage the people of Barnet to give up their time, would be for you to lead by example. I note that you receive an allowance of £15,000 for chairing the committee responsible for chairing libraries. I would suggest that to avoid charges that you are asking the residents of Barnet to “do as I say, not as I do”, you give up this allowance and put the money into the budget to fund libraries. As you have a full time job, and clearly believe in fiscal responsibility, I am sure you do not need this extra cash and there are areas of the budget of your portfolio where it would come in most useful. Once you have done this, I would have be able to praise you to the hilt for setting this good example. Once you have done this, I will pledge to work for the same hours per month at Mill Hill Library as you spend in the chair at the council of your committee. I am sure that my giving up the time to the value of £15,000 will make a huge difference in Mill Hill and is clearly a very worthwile way for me to spend my time.

Of course, it is worth noting that I am only prepared to volunteer for the council at a Library. I am not prepared to dig holes in the road for the council, mend broken lamp posts or work as an accountant. The reason for this is that I am not qualified to do the job and it could lead to all manner of problems for both me and the council, should I try and undertake such work that I am not qualified for. I also note that the job of being a librarian is one you need a qualification for. Whilst I am more than happy to volunteer at Mill Hill Library, as detailed above, using my services to replace  a trained and qualified member of staff who has studied for a professional qualification, would be as irresponsible as if you asked me to dig holes in the road for the council, mend broken lamp posts or work as an accountant. As far as I am concerned a by definition, a public library has a trained librarian to run the operation. I would be more than happy to do any tasks as directed by a professionally qualified person.

It is clear to all, under your proposal, there will be no Mill Hill Library. There will be a small room full of books with a couple of people hanging around trying their best to help people. A room full of books without a qualified librarian to run and direct it is no more a library, than a vets is  a vetinary practise without a trained vetinary surgeon. Would you take your cat to an unqualified volunteer, if the vet had been sacked to cut costs? Would you get on an airplane without a qualified pilot flying it. There is no question that a librarian is a profession, in the same way that a vet or a pilot is.

I believe that volunteering is a good way to support trained librarians, make the community offering better and ensure that Barnet has the best Library service in the UK. I am more than prepared to volunteer to assist this. I am more than prepared to tour the Borough with you promoting this. I am more than prepared to tell everyone in the Borough that you are a fine, upstanding and honourable chap, who has worked wonders for Barnets Library service. But I am only prepared to say all of these things if they are true. I hope I have laid out above, the ways in which I could say such things in clear conscience. I look forward to a positive response from you so we can make a start on Rog and Rube’s Barnet Volunteer Roadshow.

Yours sincerely

Roger Tichborne


Mrs Angry said...

Well said. The attitude displayed at the meeting towards me and Barbara Jacobson,- two women, of course - and remarks about volunteering, after our reasoned and impassioned comments about the threats to our library service, I personally found utterly unacceptable.

If you want to see the footage, it is over on my blog, Broken Barnet.

I reminded Cllr Thompstone of former Tory councillor Leslie Sussman, a truly admirable example of service to the community - a long serving elected representative who refused to take ANY allowance for what he saw as his civic duty.

We should also remember that not so long ago, Barnet's Tory councillors voted themselves a big, fat payrise ... including a whopping 54% rise in the pay for Chairs of Committees, whilst lecturing us, the taxpayers, about the need for austerity!

Mr Mustard said...

Council tax is paid by the public precisely so that councils can provide services to local people in an organised & economic fashion e.g. the library service. Volunteering is a good thing and should be a bonus resource to make libraries even better, not to take the place of properly trained staff.

Richard Cornelius also wants volunteers to litter pick in parks and weed public flower beds, and this is probably just the start of his aspirations for council services to be provided by the people who have already paid for them in council tax. If the council hoover up large numbers of volunteers they will deprive charities of the same and may create a shortage in that worthwhile area.