Heads in the Cloud

It’s obvious that in a society driven by neoliberalism (to a lesser or greater degree) one of the problems with Cilip is that it has no competition  and as we all know it’s competition that drives up standards (well at least according to customary government dogma).

Ever since taking over…sorry, merging with the IIS Cilip has lacked any comparator body to challenge its dominance of the library &  information field. Consequently, no competition equals plenty of naval gazing.

Aslib, which styles itself the Association for Information Management could have been a contender (On The Waterfront anybody!) and given Cilip’s claim to represent the library, information, and knowledge sectors (Uncle Tom Cobley and all!) there should have been serious rivalry to attract the same professional segments. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened and Aslib seems content for its brand to be known for little more than training courses.

That leaves us with no alternative professional body to turn to. Obviously, for some librarians, joining organisations like the ILM or CMI (management) or the BCS (IT) or even for academic colleagues a teaching body is a useful complement but not replacement for Cilip. That said, we know that Cilip’s membership has fallen dramatically over the years so it appears many colleagues are quite happy not to belong at all.

Nowadays, when so much can be accomplished online and membership engagement is so low one question is why do we need the trappings of a professional body at all, including an expensive London based office?

Campaigning sites such as We Own It and 38 Degrees demonstrate how effective online networking can be. In the future (at least for public libraries) less emphasis will be placed on technical skills and formal qualifications and more on the ability to work comfortably within continuously changing landscapes, both physical and virtual, and engaging and collaborating across all sectors and organisations. A professional body will be one that facilitates networking opportunities and development rather than one based on a membership level/qualification hierarchy.

Although we already have some admirable campaigning sites; The Library Campaign, Speak up for Libraries, and the excellent Public Library News, none of these are specifically set up to engage librarians about professional issues. That said they are still more relevant, informative and a better advocate for public libraries than Cilip!

So perhaps what is needed is a genuine online community, a loose, informal network of professionals, library staff, and associated parties coming together to deal with issues of interest.

To be even more heretical, in a time of social media, web based networks, unconferences, and single issue campaigns (library closures a case in point) do we need a traditional professional organisation at all or would it be better replaced with an ever evolving online library community?


4 thoughts on “Heads in the Cloud”


    Why is there only one Monopolies Commission, wits used to write on lavatory walls. In a similar vein, Leon Bolton, in a thoughtful blog post, suggests that the lack of competition may be a cause of CILIP’s difficulties. I’m not sure I agree. There is competition. To take my own case, I am a member of CILIP, but also of EAHIL and the Medical Library Association; I have in the past been a member of the Special Library Association too. I’ve worked with, and been part of many networks of information professionals, some of which have had links with CILIP and its predecessor organisations, and some of which have not. For the young library and information professional, there’s no shortage of choice of organisations and platforms to join in order to learn and develop.

    What then is special, or could be special, about CILIP? I’d suggest the following:

    CILIP members are bound by the organisation’s Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice. Someone who uses my services knows that I am bound to act at all times in accordance with these. if I fall short, my fitness to practice may be called into question and I may face disciplinary sanctions every profession has members who practice in a variety of fields or specialisms.

    A professional organisation unites us around a common, shared body of knowledge that we develop and pass on to new generations.
    ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ as Santayana observed. We have a history, the Library Association having been founded in 1877 (put 2027 in your diary now for the 150th anniversary). It’s remarkable how people in the past have had to tackle the same issues as we now face.

    When I look at the professional organisations of the doctors, nurses and others I work with, I don’t see anyone propose that the medical royal colleges, for example, should be replaced by an unconference. I wonder why we are so prone to self-doubt? Is it another manifestation of that traditional curse of our profession, a lack of belief in ourselves?

    I can think of nothing that would gladden Ed Vaizey more than if CILIP were to dissolve itself into a loose, informal network. I know very well that CILIP has its faults, but better to bring a sense of purpose back to the organisation back than to abandon it. If we tackle the decline in membership and if we assert our professional values against their enemies in government and elsewhere, we have a future.


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