Chairman of the Board

Cilip Governance Review

While issues of governance might not be the most exciting of topics I would urge all Cilip members to pay attention to the recent draft papers.

First let me say I am not against the governance review and there are sensible and sound proposals put forward that I agree with, particularly around the issue of merging the roles of Leader of Council and President. I also support the move to make Cilip a more modern, flexible organisation.

That said, there is one element which, if it goes forward, strikes me as being deeply undemocratic and has the potential to lessen accountability; that is the role of the appointed members of the board.

The proposal is for the Board to consist of 12 members of which 8 will be elected and 4 appointed. In principle I have no objections to having appointed members as they can bring much needed expertise and knowledge that the organisation would otherwise lack. A point that Phil Bradley makes very well in his article.

Equally, I have no strong objections to the Board electing one of its members as President. I accept that disinterest has made filling certain positions difficult and this approach is a pragmatic solution. Despite this however I believe that Cilip should maintain a direct causal link between the membership and the elected role of President.

For me that means only elected members of the Board, with a legitimate mandate from the membership, should elect the head of our professional body.

The byelaws as they stand allow non-elected, appointed members to vote for the President’s post. As a third of the Board they will form a strong voting bloc to influence policy, strategic direction, and the selection of its leader. Now bear in mind that these appointees do not have to be from a library/information background and do not have to be members of Cilip.

More worryingly is the fact that appointed members can also stand for the President’s post. Now it does state that the nominees must be personal members of Cilip but you have to dig around somewhat in the documentation to find this out. It’s not explicitly stated in the byelaws but is mentioned in the President’s job description and the FAQs (point 13).

This raises the possibility of a non-library/information professional being elected to the President’s post. The stipulation that says the President has to be a personal member is ambiguous; it doesn’t state for how long or at what level. As such, an appointed member could join Cilip for a short period in order to qualify for election.

However unlikely, even the possibility of this strikes me as being undemocratic, lacking accountability, and disconnects the leadership even further from ordinary members. As such I would prefer to see the byelaws amended to explicitly prevent an appointed member standing.

I am hoping that as these are draft proposals, and Cilip is seeking feedback, such issues can be ironed out beforehand and we do not get into the same situation as the renaming debacle.

Therefore, I would encourage two very simple amendments to the draft byelaws:

  • Only elected members can stand for the post of President
  • Only elected members can vote for the post of President

My plea to fellow Cilip members is not to let these proposal go through without rigorous scrutiny and debate. Cilip is our professional body so let’s help it modernise but also keep it democratic, accountable, and answerable to its members.

Comments and views regarding the review can be emailed to web@cilip.org.uk

A bold move!

The news that staff at Birmingham’s libraries are proposing a new community library cooperative as an alternative to closures or handing over libraries to volunteers indicates that librarians are increasingly recognising that the only way to protect services is to take on responsibility for them.

As I continuously advocate not for profit trusts are a sensible and pragmatic way forward in the current harsh financial climate so I applaud the staff for taking this approach.

The great pity is that the building and continued funding of the new Birmingham Central Library has exacerbated the situation for the community libraries and drawn funding away from them. A similar situation also appears to be developing in Liverpool. However, it would be unfair to consider these new builds as white elephants. The fact is they are a source of great civic pride for the cities as well as providing wonderful and innovative library facilities.

The future challenge therefore seems to be to separate funding for such projects from normal library budgets so that it doesn’t create a drag on resources elsewhere within the service. Although it would be unusual to run separate funding streams for facilities within the one service – effectively creating a ‘Chinese wall’ between the two – I have no doubt it’s not beyond the creativity or imagination of chief financial offers to find a solution. After all it is not just libraries that are required to show innovation in service delivery.

I certainly admire the resolve of the library staff in making such a bold move to establish a cooperative and the Council’s apparent willingness to listen and engage with them over the scheme. Most of all I wish the staff the very best of luck in making it a reality.