Cilip AGM 2015

Cilipres4I was unable to attend the AGM this year but thanks to the wonder of technology and the excellent work of Cilip staff I was able to follow the proceedings via a live video link.

As usual the Libraries Change Lives Award was inspirational and full of ideas for other services to emulate. Well done to all the shortlisted candidates and particularly well done to the winner, North Ayrshire Libraries, with their ‘Appiness’ digital programme for pre-schoolers and parents.

There were six worthy recipients of the Honorary Fellowship award this year including Ian Anstice of Public Library News fame. Never has an award been so richly deserved and Twitter was alight with people (including myself) offering congratulations. There are not enough superlatives for Ian’s excellent work so I will stick with saying incredibly well done, without his hard work and dedication the library world would be a poorer and less informed place.

Unfortunately, the subscriptions were raised once again on a vote of 105 for, 33 Against & 5 Abstentions. My opposition to the rise is well known and at the meeting there was a lot of criticism of the £17-£42k band. Mike Hoskings, Cilip Treasurer has indicated  that this will be looked at, and despite promises to the same for the past five years, perhaps this will be the year something actually changes. I remain ever hopeful.

Nick Poole highlighted the increased advocacy by Cilip this past year and announced the launch of the Strategic Plan 2016-2020, called Shape the Future:

‘Shape the Future is an open, collaborative project to develop CILIP’s Strategic Plan 2016-2020. We want to ensure that as many people as possible have a chance to contribute to this plan including members and non-members, external parties, staff and partners in all 4 nations of the UK and internationally.’

One of the most urgent areas to be addressed will be the continuing decline in membership. Apparently, there are now only 3000 members from public libraries left in Cilip. It’s difficult to decide if there is one over-riding factor for the decline but I would hazard a guess that weak advocacy from Cilip over the past 5 years has played a major part. Equally, the loss of 37% professionally qualified staff in public libraries since 2009/10 won’t have helped either.

That said, I do see some change in Cilip’s approach and certainly since becoming CEO Nick Poole has been more overt in advocating for the profession as evidenced by the string of TV and radio interviews recently. Equally, the Board backed resolution 4 last night opposing the amateurisation of public libraries. Again, well done to Andy Richardson & Anna Brynolf for submitting the motion and presenting it so eloquently.

Most people were in favour of the motion. Some minor amendments were made with the replacement of the word ‘manned’ by ‘staffed’, and the resolution was easily passed.

Sue Williamson, Head of Library Services at St Helens, felt is was unfair to apportion blame to senior library managers as they often had little choice in making such changes. No one, certainly not Heads of Service want the amateurisation of the profession. I quite agree with Sue’s comments and have often written how difficult it is for managers to resist such changes since decisions are made by councillors.

This is where the Society of Chief Librarians have a vital role to play. While individual HoS, as paid council officers, have no choice but to implement changes – and many do argue quite strongly behind the scenes – SCL, as the body representing senior library managers, could make an unequivocal statement opposing volunteer run libraries and the loss of paid staff.

However, this might not be realistic given that only a year ago the President of SCL as part of her inaugural speech stated that a priority was to “…explore how we might develop resources and a framework to support community-led libraries.” It might be that Cilip and SCL’s positions on this issue are starting to diverge significantly.

Another interesting factor will be reconciling the principle of the resolution with the fact that Jan Parry, President of Cilip, has been appointed to lead a task-force charged with working out how Liverpool’s libraries will be funded from 2017 onwards. On the face of it the resolution would appear to preclude Jan recommending that Liverpool hand over further libraries to community groups or volunteers. We shall just have to wait and see what models are eventually suggested.

So, another AGM over with lots of changes afoot. I’m certainly looking forward to the Shape the Future consultation, greater advocacy and opposition to volunteer run libraries, but most of all, to finally sorting out the subscription bands.

 

 

When is a librarian not a librarian?

There has always been a confusion in the mind of the public to what actually constitutes a ‘librarian’. From experience I know that many users refer to any and all staff in libraries as librarians. For most of my career that’s never bothered me overmuch. However, over the past few years it’s become more important as the government has tried to redefine terminology to enable the reduction and deprofessionalisation of the public library sector.

For example ‘community library’ used simply to mean a library that was part of a particular community or denoted size/level to distinguish it from larger counterparts. Nowadays the phrase has become synonymous with a library that has been riven of paid staff and run by volunteers. After all ‘unsustainable book swap run by unpaid amatuers’ doesn’t quite have the same attractive ring as ‘community library’. So in best marketing style the term has been hijacked to mask the reality.

Unfortunately, those that should be concerned with maintaining high standards of library provison: DCMS, ACE, SCL have all bought into this notion and readily propagate such disingenuous definition.

That’s why as a profession we should be cautious when terminology is subverted to suit the current political and austerity agenda. A recent newspaper article about a volunteer run library in Lincolnshire uses the term ‘volunteer librarian’. Now  I assume that this oxymoronic phrase (unless they genuinely mean qualified librarians actually volunteering!) has been coined by the local newspaper. However, all such terms need to be challenged before they gain common currency as does any other erroneous assumption that librarianship is anything other than a highly skilled profession.

I was very disappointed when the Arts council averred in Envisioning the Library of the Future that an essential ingredient of the public library was “well trained and friendly ‘people’ (my italics) to help users to find what they want…” when all evidence points that what the public actually wants is ‘well trained and friendly paid staff’. One phrase justifies volunteer run libraries, the other does not. As always terminology matters.

However, it is beholden of the profession to also be wary of accidently perpetuating such an approach. A case in point is the appointment of non-qualified candidates to professional posts. Now to be fair there is a long history within libraries of bringing in candidates with the appropriate skills set from other sectors and this is a perfectly legitimate approach in order to attract the best individual for the job. Such people can be very talented and bring much needed skills and perspective to the service.

However, it is also common for such candidate to undertake further training, perhaps through distance learning or the Cilip Chartership route, to gain qualified status. This is often a requirement for accepting the role.

What the profession needs to be vigilant of and something that should be challenged is appointing candidates to post as ‘librarian’ or equivalent without qualification or the need to pursue one. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of volunteer libraries it is the responsibility of all of us in the profession to uphold the integrity of what it means to be a qualified librarian. Anything else fundamentally undermines the concept of professional librarianship.

No one should use the term ‘librarian’ who has not earned the right to do so and this right includes being appropriately qualified.

Show me the money…again & again & again

The Cilip AGM is upon us shortly and members are being asked to dig deeply into financially shallow pockets yet again. In a post last year I argued against raising the subscription rate but was in a minority and the increase was passed. Unfortunately, it seems Cilip is determined to treat members as milch cows despite the job losses and limit on public sector pay.

I think the debate over fees was lost amongst the changes to the governance model last year and unfortunately might well be again this year as the focus will be on the proposal to oppose the amateurisation of the public library services.

But the ever increasing subscription rates is an important issue that should be given greater prominence.

The current fee for those earning more than £17,501 is £204 with a proposed increase to £208 from 2016. Since 2010 subscription fees will have increased from £184 to £208 (if agreed) representing an increase of 13% and the fourth time they will have been raised in a relatively short time.

Now set this against a background of pay freezes and pay caps for public sector workers, including library staff, over the past 5 years. Many librarians have felt the full impact of the austerity measures not only in terms of job losses but also in rising living costs. The government has announced that public sector pay will be capped once again at 1% until 2018. But the 1% is not guaranteed. Greg Hands, chief secretary to the Treasury has stated that the rise should be paid in a ‘targeted manner’ with some workers getting more and others getting less than the 1%.

The change to subscriptions not only affects professionally qualified librarians but also many experienced staff who apply for ACLIP status as they have to pay the same rates. These staff are likely to be on the lower end of the subscription band and tend to be part-time workers. In fact throughout public libraries underemployment is a real issue limiting the amount of disposable income.

For library staff who have suffered derisory pay rises during the past few years the cost of membership is a major investment. With this in mind Cilip should be looking at ways of freezing or reducing fees rather than putting an additional burden on members.

One of the inequities is that the subscription band for most members ranges from £17,501 – £42,00. This is far too broad and members have repeatedly requested that different bands be created with a more equitable sliding scale. This has not happened and I suspect there will be many who will ask if the investment in membership, particularly in public libraries, justifies the cost and decide to vote with their feet. For an organisation that struggles to retain members this continuing increase in fees is not a sustainable policy.

Needless to say I will not be supporting the subscription increase and hope that others also question the need to do so during difficult financial times for members.

Addendum

As part of the justification for the increase the subscription proposal argues that:

“Wage inflation is varied with general wage inflation reportedly being 3.5%, however at the same time I am well aware that some members in the public sector will have had no inflation increase.”

However, as a recent story in the Financial Times recognised this rise is driven by private sector pay and bonuses. Thus, the above claim is misleading and a far cry from what public sector workers, who face a pay cap of 1% until 2018, can expect.

 

Keep library staff to keep changing lives

For anyone who has missed it there is an excellent interview with Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce and Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP, talking about library priorities particularly in relation to the Government Spending Review in November.

You don’t have to agree with everything that’s said but there are some very important points for library staff and campaigners alike to reflect on. Amongst the many comments the following from Nick Poole really stood out for me:

“My biggest concern is that we allow services to be hollowed-out in the name of keeping up appearances, keeping the doors open while reducing the range and quality of services offered by skilled and qualified staff.

We can’t afford to focus on the short-term situation while allowing library services to be systematically under-funded. We need to fight the battles ahead while remaining focused on the real aim – which is to deliver the modern and comprehensive library network that the public need and have a right to expect.”

I doubt there is anyone within the sector that would disagree with these sentiments and all credit to Nick for making such assertions so publicly. This acknowledgement of the importance of paid staff is further evidenced by Cilip Board members support for the resolution on the ‘amateurisation’ of public libraries proposed by Andy Richardson. The reason for the proposal is explained by Andy here.

The importance of skilled and qualified staff delivering a meaningful service to communities is highlighted through the Libraries Change Lives Award. Every year this provides a showcase for wonderfully innovative projects that have a real social impact within communities. It’s worth reading through the list of past winners and this year’s shortlisted finalists to get a flavour of how important libraries are and can be to their communities.

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The real point here is that it is paid staff that dream up, develop, and deliver on these initiatives.

And let’s not forget that this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the projects that happen everyday within libraries. The real point here is that it is paid staff that dream up, develop, and deliver on these initiatives. Without them none of this innovation would be possible.

Unfortunately, the steady encroachment of volunteer run libraries threatens to undermine all of this. As Martyn Wade, Chair of Cilip Board states:

“Volunteers should be an asset. We should recognise the valuable skills, knowledge, enthusiasm, experience and fresh perspectives that volunteers can provide. But we must act when the quality and long-term sustainability of library services is at risk.”

Even innovation that is now taken for granted and considered standard service e.g. reading groups and film nights were first and foremost instigated by library staff or developed in partnership with individuals and organisations. Other initiatives developed with bodies like the Reading Agency have become mainstays of library provision such as the Summer Reading Challenge or Reading Ahead (previously the Six Book Challenge).

Staff continue to provide innovation from the library based Fab Lab in Exeter to the Get it loud in libraries project. Despite the challenging financial reductions and the fragmentation of services innovation is in the blood of librarians.

However, for this to continue skilled and qualified staff need to play a central part in all libraries; not just as managers and supervisors of volunteer run libraries, the overseers of the charity shop or hub and spoke model run by unpaid amateurs but as innovators embedded in their communities delivering core services.

For an overwhelming argument in support of paid staff look no further than the Libraries Change Lives Awards. Good luck to all those shortlisted.