My very limited experience here in Canada is that volunteers have an important (actually, essential) role in small libraries. There is a core of paid staff, but a lot of desk-duty, book-shelving and labelling is undertaken by volunteers. When I started reading British librarians' objections to the use of volunteers, my first reaction was to think 'well it seems to work quite well here', and wonder what the fuss was about. The work done by volunteers in just one library I'm involved with here is worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.
But then I reflected a bit further and realised that 'here' and 'there' aren't very similar in this respect. My sense is that volunteering is much more common here and there is much more community spirit. Of course, part of this is the difference between living in a rural area here and (most recently) living in a city, there, but I also lived in an Oxfordshire village for a while and I still don't think there was the same extent of voluntary work there. There was a central hard-core set of retired people who had time to spare for community work, but I would say that was it. Just here in the County there are so many different organisations which do charitable works in the community - Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, Legion, Elks, Odd Fellows, Masons, Women's Institutes, to name but a few (and that's not even looking at the activities of the various churches). And all for a population of only 25,000.
In Ontario, children have to do 40 hours of community service once they get to high school, which helps to get them into the volunteering mindset, I suppose. The Canadian Citizenship Study Guide we've got to learn for our test emphasises that one of the responsibilities of citizenship is 'Helping others in the community'. I somehow doubt that the same point is made in the British equivalent, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong about that.
Philip Pullman's wonderful, passionate speech in defence of Oxfordshire's threatened libraries makes good points about the scarcity of volunteers in the UK. I wonder why the two countries are so different in this respect, and whether it has always the case, or if something changed at some point in the UK to make people less likely to volunteer their time for others.