Stronger Together

cilipI make no apologies for this post being unashamedly a recruiting drive for Cilip after seeing on Twitter that membership is still falling by 3%. However, as with everything, the context needs to be understood to see this fall as a positive and not necessarily a negative.

For years I was a harsh critic of Cilip, not because it had lost its way, but because it didn’t have a way forward at all. It was floundering under the pressure of austerity and the resulting widespread hollowing out of public libraries with the loss of jobs and thus membership. Worse of all, this was happening without Cilip speaking up for the profession or advocating the advantages of retaining a professional workforce.

It also faced the challenge of arresting the decline in membership. My own opinion was that members where leaving because they could no longer see the relevance of belonging to a professional body, and paying expensive subscriptions, that was too far removed from their everyday experience of year-on-year budget and job cuts.

But all this has thankfully changed. Cilip now has, and continues to develop, a strong voice in defence of its membership and championing library services in different sectors; public, schools, health. It challenges Government policy and intervenes, as much as it can, in local decisions to reduce services. Cilip is becoming the professional body its members need it to be.

I contacted Nick Poole for further information about the fall in membership and he sent this reply:

“The current rate of attrition is just over 3%. That’s actually around half what it was 3 years ago, but it’s still a declining number. We follow up with people who don’t renew, and the underlying reasons are informative. A significant proportion are due to retirement, which is why we’re working to improve the offer the retired members. Similarly, we see a significant drop-off in the transition from free student membership to full membership. We have seen a decline in the number of people leaving because of dissatisfaction with CILIP.

 Of course, over the past 10 years, the most significant decline in sector terms is membership among public library staff. This is one reason why we launched the new Careers Hub on the CILIP VLE – to provide support for public librarians who find themselves having to make a transition to other parts of the library sector. We know that public libraries are changing, but we see it as essential that public library staff are encouraged to engage with their professional body, develop their skills and maintain the connection to the wider library and information profession. This is why we are pleased to be working with SCL on the new Public Library Skills Strategy, which will help address some of these issues.

 We know from the workforce mapping project that there are around 69,000 people in the library & information workforce in the UK. With around 12,500 members, we currently represent around 18% of that workforce. The average for professional association membership in other sectors is around 20-22%, so there is scope to grow our membership base. It is important for us to do this because the more of the sector we can represent, the more credible we are when advocating for librarians and information professionals.

 When we went out to the wider profession, we found that a lot of people want to be part of CILIP as their professional body but don’t currently regard membership as affordable. The new membership model on which members are currently voting is designed to help us retain and support our existing members, and reach more of those people. We also found that there are a lot of people who want to be part of the profession but aren’t yet ready to commit to Professional Registration. Welcoming these people to the CILIP community and encouraging them to take up Chartership has been a major factor in the design of the new model.

Ultimately, the sector needs a strong independent voice – I’d argue now more than ever. We understand that people expect value for money from their membership, and we are working hard to deliver that. This is a model for growth and we are really hoping that members will support it and empower us to reach out to those people who could and should be members, but currently aren’t.“

All I ever wanted from my professional body, what I had the right to expect, is that it speaks up in defence of its members and profession. Cilip is absolutely doing this, which is why I have changed from critic to proponent for the body.

I absolutely understand why library workers have drifted away from Cilip in the past but I genuinely believe it has changed and would encourage all library and information workers, especially public library staff, to stay connected to the profession.

Here’s some very simple reasons I think you should stay with, join, or rejoin Cilip:

  1. Advocacy: a strong voice for the profession
  2. Lower subscriptions and better value for money
  3. Advice & support including access to employment law advice
  4. Professional development and networking

Ultimately, we are stronger together, and I look forward to Cilip expanding towards the 69,000 target.

Please do forward your question and indeed criticisms via the comments area and I shall ensure they are passed on to Cilip to answer.

Further information:

Libraries Without Boundaries

My england-regionsnew post Libraries Without Boundaries can be found on the Libraries Taskforce blog. In it I argue for:

  • Adoption of a set principles to underpin and clarify the 1964 Act
  • Creation of regional library consortia or organisations
  • Direct central government funding for libraries
  • Creation of an independent advisory body
  • Adoption of library standards

Cilip AGM 2014

Today is something of an anniversary for me. It was the debate over the renaming proposal last year that reignited my interest in Cilip and attendance at the general meeting, which led directly to me starting this blog, with the first post being a report back on the AGM 2013.

Since then I have widened the posts to include issues around library closures, service reductions, campaigns, and advocacy, as it is libraries in the political arena that mainly interests me. Most of all I have tried to bring a librarian’s view to the debate as I firmly believe that professionally qualified librarians are fundamental to the very nature of a library service and integral to the best possible service delivery. Quite simply, a library without a librarian is not actually a library.

Now obviously there are practical caveats is to this statement such as smaller libraries would be overseen and have consistent access to a community librarian (or similar) rather than one being based in each library but overall the general principle stands.

Sieghart: Anyway, back to the Cilip Big Day and AGM. The keynote speaker was William Sieghart who was obviously very supportive and sympathetic to public libraries. The main thrust of his speech was that libraries need a change of narrative to highlight how valuable they are. As well as updating the infrastructure and governance models, with Suffolk libraries being held up as what could be achieved when libraries are released from the bureaucratic constraints of local authority control. Overall, the talk was high on aspiration but low on substance. Anyone attending expecting a detailed analysis will have been disappointed so will have to wait for publication of the report for the specifics.

Governance: Although less controversial than the name change last year there had still been quite a furore caused over the proposed changes to the governance model, which on the day needed a two thirds majority to pass. Given the barbed comments at times on emails lists and social media the debate on the day was good natured, with the result being the adoption of the new model of governance but keeping a fully elected Board.

Credit to Cilip for allowing the proposals to be voted on separately as most members agreed that a new model was needed but many were not convinced about the proposed changes to Council.

Fees: I was in a minority regarding the subscription fees and the increase was passed. I think a debate over fees was lost amongst the changes to the governance model but I am hoping this will be the last rise for a while otherwise I see another argument brewing for the future.

Engagement: What continues to perplex me is the continuing low turn-out and voting on issues by the membership. I’ve said before that £200 is a lot of money to pay to then more or less ignore the workings of the professional body. Even where members are unable to attend AGM’s the proxy voting system is quite straight forward (although I look forward to the day when as an information profession we manage to do this online) so I find such indifference puzzling.

Fellowship: Another highlight was the awarding of the Honorary Fellowships of which there were six worthy recipients including John Vincent for his work around social justice and equality, and Janene Cox for championing the development of the Universal Offers.

However, this is not a blow by blow account of what happened on the day – full details can be found here – but rather my impressions. A highlight for me was Philip Wark’s comments during the Library Change Lives awards defending the professional integrity of library services over them being handed to volunteers. Philip is head of the award winning Midlothian library service and a honorary fellowship recipient.

On a personal note it was good to catch-up with colleagues from other services or that I had worked with in the past. Equally, it was good to talk to Council members such as John Dolan and Martyn Wade. It’s easy to forget in the cut and thrust of disagreement that Council is made up of genuinely decent individuals, giving their own time and doing what they think is best for Cilip. It’s OK to disagree but let’s remember do it professionally.

So one year on and while many things have changed the battle for public libraries continue. With the Sieghart review due for publication and a general election on the horizon we are certainly living in interesting times professionally, and I wonder what my reflections will be in a year’s time?

Cilip Governance: fit for the future?

The Cilip Governance Review continues and there is a two page spread in the Update Magazine (May 2014, pp 22-23) explaining what’s happed so far. Members will be given the opportunity to vote on the new structure at the AGM, 20th September 2014.

As I’ve said previously the proposals are in the main reasonable and will hopefully make Cilip more flexible and responsive as an organisation. However, I also raised concerns about the accountability of the Board particularly concerning the role of appointed members and their influence in voting for the post of President.

I also raised the issue that only elected members should be eligible for the President’s post as I believe there should be a direct link between ordinary members and the post of President. Currently Cilip Council is considering an amendment to the proposed byelaws that the President should always be an elected trustee. Hopefully, the amendment will soon be a reality. Personally I wouldn’t support the new structure if it wasn’t.

This still leaves us with the issue that a third of the Board will be appointed (unelected) and therefore directly unaccountable to the membership. I am not opposed to using appointed members as they can provide much needed expertise and experience. However, they would have ‘full and equal rights as members of the Board’ including the right to elect Cilip’s President. This continues to strike me as undemocratic. Therefore, I would urge a further amendment that only elected members can vote for the post of President.

One thing that struck me is that as part of the process Cilip has considered various documentation to help inform the new structure and quotes the following:

‘Governance pertains to the legal and formal structure for exercising power and authority in the association and ensuring a smooth operation that benefits the individual member and the entire membership.’ 

FLA Guidelines for Governing and Leading Library Associations

However, the same guidelines, outlining where authority and responsibility should lie, also states:

‘Usually this person or group with ultimate authority is selected by members and reflects the whole membership in order for decisions to be acceptable.’

My own view is that when it comes to electing Cilip’s President appointed members lack the mandate from ordinary members and as such do not reflect ‘the whole membership’ in order for this particular decision to be acceptable.’

As I said in my previous post about the governance review I urge Cilip members not to let these proposals 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.

Details can be found at What’s Next? and you can send your views to: web@cilip.org.uk

 

It’s New York!

In these days of doom and gloom it’s very rare that we see news that actually inspires us. Well, recently I saw exactly that. The inspirational story for me was York Libraries & Archive Services move to becoming a Mutual organisation from April 2014.

Looking at it from a library perspective the positives are:

  • There is a very clear vision that puts core library services at the heart of the venture
  • Decisions are made by professional librarians and managers
  • Continued staffing by professionals and experienced library staff
  • Working with volunteers but not handing over responsibility and libraries to the community

A clear message came through in the article; that a more professional service is provided and staff can focus solely on their business because as Fiona Williams (soon to be CEO of the new Mutual) stated ‘…being a librarian means something: being an archivist means something.’

It’s such a great pity that York is still a rare entity instead of being the norm. Many library campaigners and librarians themselves have been wary of going down the Trust or Mutual route, and sometimes with justification.

However, the alternative is proving somewhat worse. For many still under local authority control the reality is dominated by the morale sapping grind of salami slicing the service year on year, with councils spinning a smokescreen of not closing libraries when in actuality what remains underneath the façade is a hollowed-out shell that bears little resemblance to an effective and comprehensive service.

In a national climate that is too often dominated by a lack of strategic vision, political tribalism, uninspired thinking, the deletion of professional posts, and blackmailing communities into running local libraries – often with a resultant fall in the level of service, it is good to see a truly, innovative model being advocated.

The York model shows that there is another way, a more positive way, and one in which the library staff themselves have a vested interest in the long term success of the organisation.

Opposition is the hardest word

There has, quite rightly, been suspicion and not a little outrage at an official government website that is actively promoting individuals and communities to take over libraries. Now, for those of us on the front line of public library cuts, this doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. However, what is causing consternation is that the government appear to be advocating volunteer led libraries not as a last resort but proactively as a viable, cost-effective alternative.

Cilip has expressed concern and sought clarification from the government and Ed Vaizey over the wording and implications involved, and called for the government to reiterate its commitment to statutory public library services.

Now, Cilip is absolutely right to be concerned and to raise this issue and I applaud them for doing so. However, the real question is what happens next? What will Council do when clarification is provided, or indeed if clarification is provided? Can we expect stronger opposition from our professional body over the whole issue of volunteer led libraries?

Rather than highlighting a weak policy backed by ineffectual advocacy Cilip should be developing a new strategy to actively address the issue of volunteer led libraries and the Government’s rush to impose them on communities regardless.

Opposition might be a difficult concept for Cilip to grasp (evidenced by the lack of willingness to proactively highlight the motion of no confidence in Ed Vaizey) but so far, the usual tactic of quiet, backroom diplomacy has failed spectacularly. For those of us in public libraries the diplomacy has been so quiet as to be deafeningly silent.

However, as any politician knows, while cooperation and conciliation are preferred, conflict and opposition are also useful tools in the arsenal.