Tag Archives: professional librarians

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.

The ‘Amateurisation’ of Public Libraries

The 2015 CILIP AGM takes place on Thursday 24 September at CILIP Headquarters and unlike previous years is a fairly low key affair estimated to take just over two hours. As usual I would urge all those members who cannot attend to at least use their proxy votes.

The two areas that have grabbed my attention are the proposal by Andy Richardson and Anna Brynolf (below) and the, as usual, ever increasing subscription rates. The unnecessary increase in subs is something I argued against last year but it seems that Cilip is determined to treat members as milch cows despite the job losses and limit on public sector pay. This is a matter I will return to in a future post.

Well done to Andy and Anna for submitting the following proposal and saying what many within the profession think. The phrase ‘amateurisation of the Public Library services’ sums up the current situation succinctly and encapsulates in a single word the reductions, hollowing out, deprofessionalisation, and handing over to volunteers. Amateurisation indeed!

The wording of the proposal is:

“That CILIP actively oppose those public authorities and senior library staff over the “amateurisation” of the Public Library service by offering library buildings and contents to be run by the local community with little or no funding for professional or paid library staff. This is resulting in public libraries being run by volunteer staff and taking away work currently done by paid professional and library assistant staff. All current public library service points manned by paid local authority library staff should be the current base-line – and where such actions are suggested by the local authority and senior library staff, CILIP should support the opposition to such proposals and say so publicly.”

 

Vol stats

The loss of staff and increase in volunteers is starkly illustrated in this graph from the Guardian.

Recently Cilip has raised its profile around advocating for libraries and Nick Poole has done a round of radio and TV interviews talking about library closures. However, I still think Cilip’s approach is too softly-softly so will be supporting the proposal and urging Cilip to be more adversarial in its opposition to the removal of paid staff.

This proposal transitions interestingly into the announcement 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. From one perspective this is a positive move to involve those who actually know about libraries, from another it could be seen as glossing over the relinquishing of 5 libraries to volunteers and the loss of paid staff.

So this is a precarious position for Cilip. Any move to find a solution which involves volunteer libraries will be met with outrage from members and campaigners alike and will run contrary to the above proposal if passed.

Cilip has released a statement in support of the work Jan has been asked to do. Unfortunately, it is couched in terms that immediately gives rise for concern and suspicion in that it is similar to the vague terminology and management-speak that seeks to disguise reductions to service and removal of staff.

Cilip needs to clarify in plain English whether or not this will mean supporting, even indirectly, volunteer run libraries. It would be reassuring if Cilip were to offer a base-line affirmation, along the lines of the SLIC recommendation, that volunteer run libraries without paid professional staff are not the preferred option.

There is a basic financial imperative for Cilip in all of this. It is paid staff, not volunteers, that pay subscriptions and without employment they are unable to do so. So less employment for members means less members for Cilip. Simple really!

Addendum

Interesting comment from librariesmatter:

Just a thought …..if CILIP had wider membership then perhaps it wouldn’t need to raise subscription rates and it wouldn’t be seen so much as a narrow professional body merely protecting its members interests.

For example the American Library Association provides personal membership to Library Friends, Trustees and Associates. CILIP for some reason doesn’t embrace such people.

 

 

 

Say no to libraries without librarians

I saw the title of this post on Twitter recently and fully support the sentiment. Now we just need to influence the policy makers and politicians to this end. Cilip has produced an Election Watch area on its website with a good range of advocacy materials and information in the lead up to the general election. The information has also been made available via the Update magazine and includes details on public and school libraries, digital inclusion, and tips on engaging with political candidates.

It’s worth reproducing what the campaign is about:

As the political parties campaign for our vote in the 2015 General Election, we have a unique opportunity as a professional community and as individuals to raise our profile and demonstrate our value as a sector.

This campaign is about engaging in dialogue with political candidates and key party spokespersons to encourage greater understanding of the relevance and opportunity our sector presents in terms of a future government’s goals and strategy; and to show them that libraries and information matter to many voters.

Equally, it’s about supporting CILIP members to carry out their own campaigning on their own, or shared, issues.

The last point is one worth reinforcing. During the past five years under the austerity drive libraries have closed, been handed over to volunteers, and services hollowed out. Many paid staff have been made redundant and the profession undermined by the ideology of localism and the big society.

The biggest and most far reaching change is the belief that untrained volunteers can replace qualified staff. This idea should be anathema to our professional body and individual members so now is the time for librarians to challenge politicians and their attitude towards public libraries and staff.

If all Cilip members were to write/email/tweet their local MP and candidates, as well as the separate political parties, to promote, challenge, and question this would be a powerful campaigning voice for the profession. In addition we can ask our family, friends, and library colleagues who might not be members of Cilip, to do the same.

On a personal level I see no point in engaging with the current culture minister or coalition hierarchy. The past five years have seen their contempt for the profession made clear. I do however think there is value in engaging with the other parties and in particular Labour. To that end I have emailed Chris Bryant (Shadow Culture Minister) and Baroness Jones (Labour’s House of Lords spokeswoman on Culture) seeking Labour’s views.  As yet, I haven’t received a response to my questions but will publish them when I do. Cilip has also indicated that it has written to the main parties and will publish the replies received.

Engagement and advocacy is never an easy task but we should all do our utmost to influence politicians, especially in the lead up to the general election. Cilip has provided the framework and it is now up to members to advocate for the profession.

After all, if you believe that your library qualification matters, that your chartership means something, then why stand idly by as the very basis of your professional identity is undermined and demeaned? This is the first time in five years, the first time since austerity began, that, as individuals, we have the chance to influence the political narrative about libraries and our professional standing .

Let’s not waste the opportunity.

___________________________________________________________

Addedum: see also Alan Wylie’s post Library Workers unite (and tweet)! in which he points out that cuts effect all grades of library staff and not just those professionally qualified. I absolutely agree and encourage all staff, regardless of role, to speak out in defence of libraries, both locally and nationally.

Dysfunctional and devalued

I’ve been quiet on the blogging front lately during which time there seems to have been a never ending stream of negative news about public library provision, either threatened closures or handing over to volunteers. Even in Wales, where in the main they have sought to protect library services, there is definitely a sea change driven by the continuing austerity measures and major reductions in funding. This was further reinforced by the details of the Autumn statement and the massive cuts to public spending that are being forecast. Given such projections it’s difficult not to be despondent about the future of public libraries at the moment.

This brings me to Sieghart, who appears to have finished his report and it is now with Ed Vaizey, no doubt glaring accusingly from a ministerial in-tray. If early indications are anything to go by it will make uncomfortable reading for the Minister as it seems to be the antithesis of his own approach and at odds with the expectations of localism and the big society. I suspect there will be a lot of pressure and horse trading to tone down those areas which make the current coalition’s approach to libraries look as bad as they genuinely are.

It also comes as no surprise that Sieghart has described the current system as dysfunctional. Many campaigners and those within the profession have been pointing out the same for a long time now. But it’s good that Sieghart appears to be so forthright and honest over the situation. It appears that the notion of standards, a national coordinating body, views about volunteers, and if earlier indications are anything to go by, libraries as trusts might also form part of the document. There’s a good piece about the awaited report by Guy Daines on the Cilip website.

Ian Anstice recently reported back from Spain, where there appears to be a general acceptance that libraries are more than just buildings and stock. There is apparently a third ingredient that makes libraries a ‘service’ rather than just a ‘function’. Yes, you’ve guessed it…the librarian! It is the professional element that allows us to manage and develop services, deliver on the universal offers, and contribute to the many local, regional, and national initiatives. This is in direct contrast to the view that any Tom, Dick or Harriet can run a library.

No wonder professional staff abroad are appalled at the changes and damage being done not just to individual services but to the profession as a whole in the UK.

Perhaps even more than closures the real damage is through the hollowing out effect while trumpeting that no libraries have been closed. This is one of the biggest divergences between the library profession and politicians. On one hand the profession points out quite rightly that libraries are more than just buildings and stock, that service quality and development also counts, and for that you need professionally qualified librarians. On the other is the politicians view that any unqualified, well meaning amateur…well, see above.

Equally, library services are increasingly being used as a shop front for council services, which is indicative of the narrow view of libraries as just buildings and thus an outlet for other services, rather than as a unique and valuable service within their own right. I am not against partnership working or authentic collaborations but restructuring and integration at this level are ‘cuts’ driven and have very little to do with improving operational efficiency or the strategic development of libraries.

Unfortunately, there appears to be another insidious thread worming its way into public libraries, which is the downgrading and disappearance of senior library roles. In my experience it seems that the role of Chief Librarian/Head of Service is being shunted down the management structure, ever further away from the senior echelons and decision makers. Obviously, this represents a loss of influence and while some HoS enjoy good working relationships with senior officers many have to wade through several layers of intervening management, each with their own agenda, to get the library message heard. It is one thing to say libraries must do more to influence key policy makers but the reality is one of services being corporately sidelined and merged with other areas, with the danger that libraries are devalued and no longer viewed as a distinctive service but just another council outlet.

Another worrying aspect is the deletion of HoS posts, with the resulting loss of substantial professional experience and knowledge, and the replacement (usually at a higher grade) by generic managers with little or no familiarity of the sector.

I am still idealistic enough (perhaps naively so!) to believe that it is the professional component that makes libraries a genuine service rather than merely a function. Whether this is a view shared by the Sieghart report we shall have to wait and see.

Who’s in the house?

Although not able to attend I’m looking forward to the Cilip debate this Saturday (27th September) to discuss the proposition: ‘This House believes Local Authorities are still the best way to deliver the public library service‘, with a panel contesting an issue that might have been inconceivable only a few short years ago. After all who else would deliver public library services! But the days of such surety are long gone thanks to the austerity measures of the past four years.

I have always been open in my own views around this issue, which is that local authorities are best placed to fund or commission library services but strategic development should be left to librarians and not councillors. The continuing long list of reductions and closures hardly inspires either the profession or public to put their trust in local authorities and only strengthens my belief that decisions are driven by misplaced ideology rather than sound business practices. In many ways it is the poor decision making by councils that has given rise to the myth that librarians lack business acumen when actually the reverse is true. Many librarians would relish the opportunity to have greater control and freedom over services rather than having to implement inadequately conceived ideas driven by local political expediency.

Library services should be in the hands of the staff themselves; to shape, develop, and deliver. Librarians have the depth of knowledge, expertise and experience to run an efficient service, and one that reflects a genuine partnership of community focused, rather than community led, libraries. The best way to achieve this in the current climate is, in my opinion, through a not-for-profit trust model. I would also hazard a guess that trusts will feature in William Sieghart’s report given that he has praised the Suffolk Libraries model on several occasions recently.

In the keynote speech to Cilip members at the recent AGM Sieghart also stated that urgent action was needed over libraries and likened the situation to Beeching’s closure of railway lines. However, despite the aspirational tone of the speech the unavoidable reality is that libraries, however delivered, need sustainable funding, not only to survive but also to develop. Therefore, it will be interesting to note what funding streams are identified as part of his report and how genuinely maintainable these will be. Equally, it would be a great pity for the report to concentrate solely on measures to keep libraries open without also addressing the issue of paid staff and professional librarians as being integral to service delivery.

One of the panelists, Ian Anstice of Public Library News fame, a strong proponent of public libraries, knows better than most how under pressure services are since he is the main source of news regarding changes to libraries nationally. The fact that this is achieved in his spare time is testament to Ian’s dedication and faith in the importance of libraries.

Another panelist, Biddy Fisher, should bring an interesting perspective as trustee of the Denby Dale Library.The friends group were instrumental in ensuring that the library continued to be run in conjunction with Kirklees Libraries and retain the services of a paid member of staff (albeit for a limited number of hours per week and with funding only agreed until September 2015). The approach of using a mix of staff and volunteers is becoming more common and an explanation by Biddy of how it came about can be seen here. I am sure that the group will be hoping for the council to continue with paid staff at the library but given the current news coming from Kirklees the future is looking rather uncertain.

Obviously, any debate around the subject needs to consider the dwindling settlement each year from national government to local authorities. Added to this are the soaring costs of both adult care and children’s services, which along with the austerity programme, is forcing massive cuts and radical change within the public sector. Until the matter of funding for social care and health services is addressed at a national level, expenditure locally will continue to increase to the detriment of nearly all other services. Whoever forms the next government will have to face the politically unpalatable issue of deciding whether or not to protect health budgets while so many other services suffer. This is the real context in which reductions to local services, including libraries, is set.

Brian Ashley, Director – Libraries, Arts Council England is also on the panel, and will no doubt be representing ACE’s view. I have never disguised the fact that I think libraries have been misplaced with the Arts Council, who fail to appreciate the full scope of what libraries do and try to shoehorn them into a mismatched arts agenda. I wonder if ACE readily funded library schemes not connected to the arts how many more Library Change Lives projects could be delivered.

I am also cautious about their links with Locality in that they commission a body whose core purpose is to support and enable community organisations to research issues around public libraries. It’s difficult to accept that a predetermined bias towards community led projects does not influence the outcomes of the reports, which calls into the question the credibility of its research. Given the resources available to ACE there appears little justification for not commissioning such work from an independent research organisation. Continually resourcing studies in support of community led libraries hardly inspires trust from librarians or campaigners who believe in the statutory principle of libraries and that paid staff are an essential element of the service.

Hopefully, another panelist, Andrew Coburn, former Secretary of the Library Campaign and UNISON activist, will be bringing the opinions of both campaigners and library staff to the table.

This is a important issue and the principle of local authorities as the best way to deliver library services has very real and practical implications for how services could be run in the future, so this is more than an academic exercise and should be treated as such. Perhaps this could be used as a prelude to a policy making exercise in which the outcome helps inform the formulation of a position statement for Cilip to take forward.

Because while discussion is essential in defining ideas ultimately what good is debate without action?

Cilip subscription fees

At the Cilip AGM this weekend members will be asked once again to vote for an increase in subscription fees. The current fee for anyone earning more than £17,501 is £200 with the proposed increase to £204 from 2015. On the face of it this seems a reasonable rise. However, since 2010 (incidentally the start of the government’s austerity programme) subscription fees will have increased from £184  to £204 (if agreed) representing an increase of 10.8% and the third time subscriptions will have been raised in a relatively short time.

Now set this against a background of pay freezes and below inflation pay caps for public sector workers, including library staff, during the same period. Many librarians have felt the full impact of the austerity measures not only in terms of job losses but also in the increase of living costs. According to the TUC the average public sector worker is £2,245 worse off in real terms since 2010, and there are indications from ministers that pay caps are likely to extend to 2018.

With this in mind Cilip should be looking at ways of freezing or reducing fees rather than putting an additional burden on members.

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.

The Axeman Cometh!

Closures and professional library posts

There was a Guardian article recently bemoaning the destruction of the national library system and highlighting job losses and library closures. With both actual and threatened closures so widespread campaign groups have also become ubiquitous and to my knowledge most, if not all, support the retention of paid staff. However, we also need to recognise that while many local campaigns would prefer to keep library staff the majority will also step forward to run their local library if they believe there is no other choice to closure. Understandably, the primary focus of the campaigner is the library not the librarian. It’s also a sad fact that many professional staff are lost not through branch closures but through ‘efficiencies’, cuts to ‘backroom functions’, ‘management delayering’, and other innocuous sounding mislabeling.

Given the scale of proposed reductions in places like Cornwall, Havering, Staffordshire, and Kirklees (the list goes on!) the rate of attrition of professional posts is likely to increase.

The loss of professional staff contributes to the hollowing out effect and represents a lessening of the quality of service. There are many good sites explaining what library staff do and extolling the virtues of a professionally run service so I won’t go into all the advantages of having both a professionally led and delivered service here except to refer to the Why Public Libraries? section of the Voices for the Library website for a fuller explanation.

My own observation regarding the loss of so many posts is one of limited career advancement and less mobility as professional staff struggle to hang onto the posts they already have.Now I could go into ‘spin’ mode and say that despite this staff still manage to deliver an excellent service to the public, which is absolutely true. But the problem with such counter-balancing is it that does a disservice to those who struggle with managing services on a day-to-day basis and deal with year-on-year reductions, an uncertain future, low morale, job insecurity, and an ideology that regards the replacement of highly qualified and experienced staff with unqualified and inexperienced volunteers as acceptable.

In a recent interview, Librarian of the Year 2014, Jacqueline Cooper, made the following telling point:

“With fantastically bad timing,I met the common place service cuts of recent years coming in the opposite direction. Five years ago we had 6 full time equivalent librarians in West Berks; now we have 3 and none of us works full time. As a result, in recent years I’ve often had paid work outside libraries as well and perhaps this has given me a different perspective.”

While Jacqueline seems to take a positive approach to the opportunities this has presented, her comments highlight very clearly the issue of ‘underemployment’ for librarians in a rapidly dwindling job market.

Given the limited opportunities I wonder how many graduates leaving library school actually avoid public libraries as they no longer consider the sector to be a viable career option?

Number crunching

The loss of professional posts is not always easy to assess even relying on Cipfa figures. Recently, along with Jo Richards, I undertook a snapshot of how many professional posts had been lost within county council library services over the past five years (table below).

Now, obviously such figures should always be approached with caution. One of the difficulties is defining what is meant by a ‘professional’ post as not all authorities require staff to hold library qualifications. For example, Norfolk stated that only 15 of its 26 community librarians held library qualifications, although those without a library qualification are encouraged to undertake certification (ACLIP) through Cilip.

In Surrey only 6 posts are required to have professional library qualifications as a condition of employment and a further post requires an information management degree. However, the remaining 43 posts are not required to hold library qualifications at all although some will. Equally, North Yorkshire shows quite a high number of professional level posts but according to the information provided none are actually required to hold a library qualification as a condition of employment, although again, some obviously will.

Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing how consistently each authority interpreted the FOI request so perhaps a safe assumption is to take the figures to mean those employed at a professional level but not necessarily professionally qualified. There will always be debate about how a ‘professional’ post is defined and therefore the exact level of losses or reductions within the profession will be open to interpretation.

Equally, some authorities stated that the figures represented FTE while others did not. Only Worcestershire indicated that numbers were based on a headcount. I have made the assumption therefore that with the exception of Worcestershire all other figures represent FTE although this would require further clarification to be absolutely certain. Only one service showed an increase in numbers, ironically enough Lincolnshire, from 6.8 to 9 FTE.

Obviously, an analysis of Cipfa returns would give a more in-depth indication of the loss of professional posts throughout the country whereas the table below is based on a limited number of councils but I suspect is generally indicative of losses within all authorities. Unfortunately, it paints a rather depressing picture of the continuing de-professionalisation of the public library sector.

Number of professional library posts by county council for the financial years 2009/10 to 2013/14

County Council  2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 Loss as %
1.Buckinghamshire 16 11 11 11 10 37.5
2. Cambridgeshire 33.38 37.82 37.10 20.70 19.61 41.2
3. Cumbria 33 30 28 28 28 15.1
4. Derbyshire 55 47.6 38.5 38.9 35.1 36.1
5. Devon 39 39 39 29 29 25.6
6. Dorset 18.3 19.3 17.3 14.3 No information 21.8
7. East Sussex 27.3 27 25.2 24.7 22.3 18.3
8. Essex (1) No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided
9. Gloucestershire No information No information 23 23 17 26
10. Hampshire 15 15 13 7 7 53.3
11. Hertfordshire 67.7 67.3 49.7 52.5 54 20.2
12. Kent 69.31 61.89 54.96 49.93 44.61 35.6
13. Lancashire 22 22 19 16 12 45.4
14.Leicestershire(2) 25 20.5 20.5 (25) see notes (24.3) see notes (2.7) See notes
15. Lincolnshire 6.8 6 10 9 9 + 32.3 (increase)
16. Norfolk (3) 48.6 42.7 36.8 36.2 36.2 25.5
17.North Yorkshire (4) 55 55 55 43 43 21.8
18.Northamptonshire 31 30.5 26.5 26.5 18.5 40
19.Nottinghamshire 55 57 32.5 32.5 32.5 40.9
20. Oxfordshire 47 43 47 36 34 27.6
21. Somerset 25.4 23.3 21.9 20.2 17.0 33
22. Staffordshire 43.3 40.8 33.3 29.5 No information 31.8
23. Suffolk 25 24 20 18 12 52
24. Surrey (5) 51.7 51.3 48.8 52.2 50.4 2.5
25. Warwickshire 29.4 24.1 No information No information 15.5 47.2
26. West Sussex 62.8 44.8 41.3 41.3 41.2 34.3
27. Worcestershire (6)Numbers based on headcount and not FTE 36 29 32 29 28 22.2

(1) Essex: only provided one set of figures and do not stipulate what year they covered. Despite follow-up requests for clarification I have received no further information

(2) Leicestershire: provided the following information to supplement the figures provided. Details can also be seen here.

The information below details the posts where the post of Librarian was explicit in the job title and required the holder to hold a professional qualification as an essential requirement.

2009 = 25.0
2010 = 20.5
2011 = 20.5
2012 = 8.0
2013 = 7.3

In 2011 the library service was significantly restructured and a new post of Library Development Worker, and Area Manager were created which is not detailed in this data, but where professional librarian status was desirable, and required many of the skills of the librarian to undertake. The number also includes a Head of Service. Numbers associated with these posts are set out below and are in addition to the first numbers.

2012 13
2013 13

In 2012 the library service became part of the Communities and Wellbeing service, an integrated libraries, museums and arts service. The following numbers incorporate management and support functions , although not needing a library qualification, are graded at a professional level and will require work at a related level, and again are in addition to the data above.

2012 4
2013 4

(Comment: what I think this means is that the total for 2012 = 25 and 2013 = 24.3. However, I am happy to be corrected if I’ve misunderstood the information)

(3) Norfolk: stated that there are 26 Community Librarians, 15 of which have library qualifications. People employed as Community Librarians and without a library qualification are encouraged to complete the Affiliate of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, (ACLIP).

(Comment: a later email stated that they didn’t keep records of professional qualifications, which possibly indicates that community librarians are not required to hold a degree level library qualification or chartered status)

(4). North Yorkshire: stated that no staff are required to hold a library qualifications as a condition of employment.

(5) Surrey: 6 posts require library qualification, 1 posts required an information management degree, 43.4 not required to hold library qualification.

(6) Worcestershire: figures based on headcount and not supplied as FTE

The Leadership Void

I have to admit to admiring mavericks. Individuals that stand above the mainstream and are quite happy to challenge the system or status quo from without or within. Think Tony Benn. Such maverick behaviour is a time honoured and valuable political tradition. Principles before party and all that.

Then again, perhaps I just watched too many films such as Rebel without a Cause, Easy Rider or The Wild One when younger! The phrase ‘what are you rebelling against’, which elicits the reply ‘whadda you got?’ resonates down the decades.

Rebellion seems rife at the moment over the governance review with barbed comments flying thick and fast on LIS-PUB-LIBS. Even without Tom Roper’s resignation to add to the mix the issue was always likely to cause a furore. As far back as February I highlighted elements of the proposals, which to me, went against the democratic principles of a membership organisation. Equally, many other individual members also raised concerns in their feedback to Cilip. Certainly Tom’s resignation has not caused the resulting uproar but it has brought it into sharp focus.

Many campaigners and those outside the profession are both perplexed and as Desmond Clarke observed, appalled, by what they see as an unnecessary distraction to campaigning against library cuts and closures:

“All this energy being spent by the CILIP leadership on changing the structure of its Council at this time is appalling when the library service faces a major crisis and thousands of librarians are losing their jobs. Fiddling with the composition of council at this time is not going to help anyone, neither CILIP, its staff. CILIP members or the public that libraries exist to serve. No one would be affected if the changes were put off for a year or two while everyone focused on ensuring that a library service is available to the millions of people who need it.”

Now I have to say that I see things slightly differently. Despite the unfortunate tendency towards mud-slinging the debate has thrown-up, the governance of our professional body is an important issue. If a revised structure improves the running of the organisation than well and good. It’s been a long time in the planning and deserves proper consideration and debate by the membership.

Such discussion should obviously not distract us from the major changes going on in the library sector. However, debating these changes does not equate to there being any less willingness or time spent on advocating for public libraries either by individual members or Cilip itself. They are not mutually exclusive activities.

Maybe the real point then is not whether such activities distract Cilip from campaigning but whether Cilip is capable of the robust advocacy needed in the rough and tumble of the political arena in the first place. And that’s a whole different question and debate.

Perhaps this highlights the issue of the ‘leadership void’ that so many campaigners have complained about. Not individual leaders of which there are many fine examples in libraries but rather a body that proactively seeks to defend public libraries and staff.

Cilip

One of the difficulties that Cilip faces is that it lacks both the size and political influence that say a combined professional body and union such as the National Union of Teachers has. Neither does it have a strong history of political advocacy, which immediately put it at a disadvantage during the upheaval of the past few years.

A difficult point for many outside, and even inside, the profession to accept is that Cilip has never been a campaigning body. Why this is so is not always clear. It has been argued that the charitable and chartered status of the body sets certain restrictions on campaigning activity. Equally, as a body it has limited resources so has tended to rely on co-operation and conciliation rather than taking a more adversarial approach. Perhaps it has never needed to campaign strongly and the advantages that we have taken for granted until recently, such as professionally staffed libraries, have been given to us rather than fought for and earned.

The profession is, in the main, conservative with a small ‘c’ and overall members have shown a lack of appetite for direct campaigning. Partly, I suspect, this is related to job insecurity and not wishing to put heads above the parapet. Cilip has also become quite a broad based organisation appealing to other sectors such as information and knowledge management, as well as school, academic, and special libraries, which means it’s not just public libraries that have to be catered for.

Nevertheless, we should also recognise that as a professional body Cilip does many things well, such as training, networking, highlighting good practice, raising professional standards, organising conferences, cooperating with other library associations, and contributing to important professional topics e.g. copyright law and ebooks. As such it should be given credit.

However Cilip is not, and is unlikely ever to be, a strong campaigning organisation and those that expect it to be expect too much.

Society of Chief Librarians

Equally, looking to the SCL for political leadership is also unrealistic. The SCL is not an independent organisation but is accountable to the Local Government Association and as such will conform to restrictions imposed by the expectations and policies of the LGA. The recent announcement to support ‘community libraries’ being a case in point.

The SCL enjoys close links to governmental agencies that influence the direction of travel for libraries such as the DCMS and ACE. Over the years this has usually worked to the profession’s advantage. Equally, Ed Vaizey is still happy to talk to the SCL directly (unlike Cilip), which could be viewed as keeping open important channels of communication to the Minister responsible for libraries. Conversely, it also indicates how much SCL is part of the mainstream political machinery and regarded as a safe organisation for promoting the government’s view of libraries.

Now to be fair to the SCL they have always been open about their limitations. When meeting with campaigners in 2012 they made it very clear that:

• They were not and could not be a campaigning body
• As a body they were accountable to the LGA
• They could not criticise local authorities or oppose government or council policy
• They were not a voice for librarians but for local government and that it was CILIP that was the voice for librarians

That is not to say that the SCL does not carry out excellent work. It does. Over the years the body has promoted good practice, encouraged senior librarians to support each other and work together on a regional and national basis, and has been responsible for the Universal offers, to which the addition of a ‘learning’ strand is to be welcomed. The Universal offers are in my opinion one of the best schemes that libraries have undertaken. And for this the SCL should be given full credit.

So it’s unrealistic to expect the SCL to be anything other than it is. Those who expect the SCL to provide independent leadership for the library profession will be sorely disappointed. That is not its raison d’etre.

Rebels with a cause

In the main I am not a reformist. I do not believe that Cilip can be changed sufficiently to provide the strong focus, frank rhetoric, and forceful advocacy that public libraries need. So far this has been left to organisations such as the Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. But such groups, while providing an essential outlet, are not professional bodies or a voice solely for librarians.

The library sector is changing, driven by technology, societal pressures, and political ideology. As a profession we have responded positively to technological and societal changes but it is the ideology that is proving our downfall. In response we need to find another way to challenge the politics, to provide a united front, to fill the leadership void. One that is focussed solely on campaigning for public libraries and in which librarians are the central voice.

Not so long ago I wrote a post speculating about the need for another kind of professional body. At the time Tom Roper who was then a council member, disagreed with me (just as I disagreed with his viewpoint). There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding divergent views – which leads to debate and then hopefully consensus – but equally there comes a point when attacking organisations such as Cilip and the SCL becomes a waste of time and energy particularly if transformation is not possible or, more importantly, if they are not the most effective agents for the change that is needed.

Perhaps it’s time to stop rebelling for the sake of it, for asking ‘whadda you got?’ Public libraries are a cause worth fighting for, what we need is an organisation that can take that fight forward.

Elected!

I’ve written before about the Cilip Governance Review (Fit for the future? & Chairman of the Board), which will be debated and voted on at this year’s AGM in September. Cilip Council met recently (8th July) to discuss the proposals and comments from the membership. The minutes and comments can been seen here.

It seems a number of reservations have been expressed regarding several areas of the review but overall there doesn’t seem to be that much opposition to the proposals from the wider membership, certainly not in the way that the name change last year generated opposition. Whether this amounts to approval of the suggested changes or just simple indifference is difficult to tell. Maybe librarians are more concerned about pay and conditions than the esoteric maneuverings of their professional body. Certainly there are a lot less of us nowadays in public libraries to be worried about Cilip’s shenanigans.

That said, I still believe that this is an important issue that will see Cilip being less democratic in principle than before, particularly in relation to co-opted members being given voting rights to elect the president.

The issue took on a new twist with the resignation of Tom Roper from Cilip Council who has also expressed concerns about the review and in the way Council conducts itself. Tom is considered a leading light in the library sector and has challenged Cilip over issues previously, particularly the vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey, but whether Tom’s exit will rock the boat enough to knock the review off course remains to be seen.

There are some very sensible suggestions in the review and in the main I support more of the proposals than I don’t. However, the recommendations form a single package so it seems a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater to vote against them. And perhaps that is what Cilip Council is hoping for to get the plan through without too much resistance. Then again, perhaps some members will feel strongly enough about the issue to submit amendments to the proposals.

What would be interesting to know is what other professional bodies Cilip looked at and considered to reflect good practice. If they could highlight how the model has been successfully achieved elsewhere without undermining the fundamental link between the membership and leadership it might go a long way to allaying mine, and I suspect other members, fears. Comments from Cilip Councillors welcome.

One way or another the issue will either fizzle out due to members having more pressing concerns, such as trying to hang onto their jobs, or it could be an interesting few months of infighting similar to what we saw last year.

Given the potential for conflict and the fact that the keynote speaker is William Sieghart who’s recent comments about the future of libraries didn’t exactly garnish overwhelming approval it could be an interesting AGM once again this year.

I very much look forward to it!

Time to speak out

In a recent editorial Ian Anstice makes the telling point that a new narrative around public libraries ‘…can only happen in different political circumstances where national politicians realise the importance of libraries and are willing to invest in public libraries … and that can only realistically happen with a General Election.’  

I wholeheartedly agree. And for this to come about the message needs to be driven home over the coming months time and again.

In a speech the new SCL President, Ciara Eastell, highlighted the need to advocate for libraries in the build-up to the general election. Leaving aside the potentially divisive commitment to support community-led libraries this was an excellent rallying call to be more proactive in promoting the value of libraries to politicians. To which we can add, promoting the value of librarians and library staff.

However, it would be wrong to leave advocacy only to campaigners and professional bodies. As individual librarians we also can make a difference. The general election is only 11 months away so now is the perfect time to start engaging politicians about public libraries. As citizens and constituents we can be a powerful voice in advocating for libraries at both local and national level with potentially thousands of library staff throughout the country standing up and defending an important public service.

Cilip’s  ‘public libraries – get involved’ page is a good place to start, with links to sites for contacting your MP:They Work for You and Write to ThemThere is also some excellent advice for writing to a MP at the Open Rights Group website.

If you have ever felt powerless as a member of the library profession in the face of changes to services over the past four years now is the time to influence political opinion for the future. Remember, your MP is not an expert on libraries but you are and you can use this opportunity to educate them about the value of public libraries. Obviously, some may disagree but others might just be willing to listen. And politicians tend to listen a whole lot more when it’s election time!

There are also many sites for background information including the excellent Public Library News, the Library CampaignVoices for the Library, and Speak Up For Libraries (including the SUFL Manifesto). Local library campaigns can also be good sources of information.

Try to publicise the information you get back (start your own blog!). Equally, I would be more than happy to publish replies on this site and I am sure that other, campaigning sites would likewise be interested in politicians replies.

Our voices can make a difference. But only if we raise them and speak out.