Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

Barnet UNISON Press Release: 31 March 2016 

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

 Barnet Council has used the examples of Denmark, Leeds and Peterborough to support their plan to replace Library workers with unstaffed libraries (Open+). Barnet UNISON exposed how the Danish use of unstaffed library opening differed from the Barnet plan.

·        https://www.barnetunison.me.uk/wp/2016/02/22/open-plusstaff-less-libraries-danish-union-response/

·        https://www.barnetunison.me.uk/wp/2016/02/22/open-unstaffed-libraries-but-it-is-very-different-in-denmark/

The UK precedents also do not support the Council. In Leeds, Farsley Library uses Open+ technology to enable unstaffed opening hours. Unlike Barnet no cuts were made to staffed hours.  Farsley is in a quiet and leafy part of Leeds. Under 18s as well as adults with a record of anti-social behaviour in libraries could not in theory enter the building during unstaffed hours.  Less than 10% of local users availed themselves of the unstaffed opening hours and there were problems with the technology which prevented access to the site. After running the experiment for over a year no decision has been made. This is hardly an endorsement of unstaffed libraries.

In Peterborough the introduction of Open+ was used to cut staff hours.  But Peterborough seems to have paid more attention to public safety as

“A decision was made to recruit four open+ assistants to maintain a presence in four library sites where it was felt that extra safeguarding measures were needed during open+ hours”


The job description for the post states

“The primary role of this post is to oversee the use of the library during unstaffed hours”


This raises the following questions: When is an unstaffed library not an unstaffed library?  And why not have kept existing staff on site who could have provided in depth and wider service?

Barnet Council’s response to concerns over safety in unstaffed libraries is for a

 “CCTV operator able to mobilise roving security to respond to any incident with the aim of a response time of 30 minutes”

 (Barnet’s Future Library Service – Appendix A: Future of Barnet Libraries p35)

 This is an inadequate measure, unable to provide swift and sufficient reaction to situations such as:

·        Medical emergencies

·        Electrical failures

·        Burst water pipes

·        Verbal and physical assault

·        Emergency evacuations

It is hoped that the Council’s continuing desire to press on with unstaffed opening is due to a lack of information rather than disregard for the safety of library users. Barnet UNISON calls on the Council to reconsider this plan and to engage in meaningful discussion on the issues with all stakeholders in our Library Service.