Questions?

Like my fine colleague Katy Wrathall, I thought it would be useful to disambiguate my CILIP Hustings answers here (since CILIP Communities remains a frankly poorly formatted environment compared to nicely treaded comments on WordPress.).  If you’re a CILIP member and you’ve a question for me and the other candidates, don’t forget to pop over to the hustings and ask it!  (And yes, this makes for an easy way to write blog posts!)

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I recently read the CILIP Presidential Address for 2010. In it Biddy said…“In its specific field of learning a profession must give leadership to the public it serves.” “…we still struggle with the question of how are we able to truly recognise and then relay to society our worth to our communities?” How do you feel we could achieve these things?

Hi Gary,  Thanks for the question.  I think it’s one that the profession struggles with from within as much as it does without.  A lot depends on the stereotypical image of the middle aged dowdy woman librarian shuffling quietly around the moth eaten books in tatty library that so many of the public seem to have.  Even today in academic libraries the look on some students faces when they realise that a) libraries are much more than that and b) so are the librarians is both shocking and a delightful revelation at the same time.  Personally, I do think at times the profession as a whole seems to worry over this image a little too much – every profession and walk of life (van driver, nurse, builder) has a short hand in people’s heads (loutish, mothering, course respectively for example), and the image of the “librarian” is not going to change for the vast majority – you only have to look at a lot of the comments on BBC Have your say in recent weeks to see that!

What we can do to challenge this preconception is something that CILIP the organisation, the Presidential Team and each and every member of council could and should be doing.  As I’ve said elsewhere we need to get our “good news” stories out into the press, forget Update and SIG journals – it’s the popular, local and social media through which we should be communicating this.  Local radio story about libraries?  Get your resident “voice for the library” on air!  Something in the national press?  Get Annie or the Chair of Council in the letters column or more.  And it’s something we need to work at, proactively and continually.

Even in our social circles, be they virtual or RL.  Think about the people you interact with.  Are they all librarians?  Certainly not, these are your common, everyday people to whom we each could, should and must be telling library stories too.  Sharing what we do well, where we add value.  It might sound evangelistic but if every CILIP member made it their goal in 2011 to tell 10 different people about the power of libraries in the community, in the class room, in the economy we might just be able to make a ground-root difference.  And I firmly believe it’s the role of the Council, CILIP and Presidential team to all lead by example – and where possible go beyond their own comfort zones and sectors.

Maybe then, we might just get the message across – libraries & librarians add value in all walks of life.  Thanks for asking.

How do candidates receive information from, and the opinions of, UK librarians and information professionals (CILIP or not)? In other words, what media or sources do the candidates use? And how do they engage (i.e. respond, debate, as oppose to just passively read) with these professionals?

Hi John, and thanks for your question.  I agree with you – it isn’t possible for any single member of Council to monitor every single form of communication – that’s one of the reason there’s a number of different members of Council through whom communications can be routed. 

Personally I’m certainly a strong engager with social networking, mailing lists, twitter etc – although I’d never claim to be in touch with every single member (nice though that might be).  All the same I’m a strong believe in making sure that there are multifarious routes to communicate directly with all members of Council – which is why I’ve always been very open with routes to my blogs, my twitter, my email, my forum IDs and the numerous emailing lists on which I’m a member, and this would certainly continue.  I’d hope serving on Council would expand the range of library professionals with whom I engage with in those manners.

And despite my love of the electronic, I’m a strong believer in the face to face meeting – which is why I’d hope that all members of Council would be readily identifiable at conferences and events; not out of some sort of self-aggrandisement but rather to allow the average member a chance to spot and chat with them.

How will CILIP effectively counter The Big Lie? Librarians, and many library users, know it’s a Lie, so preaching to the converted or informed is of limited use. How can and will CILIP point out to the wider masses – citizens, voters, politicians – that not everyone can download everything online?

I think I can only echo what Katy has said above – it is a great big fat fib.  On a personal level libraries have been invaluable to me growing up in a deprived part of the country, with scant access to resources.  In my youth that was funds to buy books and sufficient space to study without getting under everyone’s feet at home.  Given that I’m the first generation in my family to go to university, at least part of that scholastic debt is owed to my local public libraries for giving me the resources and space I needed to learn and grow.  Today some – and let’s face it only some – books might be in the e-world; but that doesn’t mean that everyone can access them equally, nor has sufficient space and scholastic repose in their own home to study.  Libraries are this valuable 3rd space (between home and work/school) for so many people – even people like me!  if i couldn’t escape to my local library for some quiet time once in a while, I’m not quite sure where I’d go – since i don’t drink coffee!

And that’s without emphasising the role of the mobile or public libraries as points of community.  Where else would you go to just bump into the great and the good in your local community?  The post office?  Good luck finding one of them still open! 

CILIP’s (Council, Presidential team and the membership at large) have got to be the voices of reason to counter the arguments.  CILIP might say again and again that it’s not a trades union – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t speak with passion whenever and wherever the lie is promulgated.  I certainly salute Annie for playing her part already.  Now it’s up to the rest of us as well to harness the media cycle and take the message out into the cloud and community alike.

If you do feel that the future is, what steps would you see as necessary in ensuring that workplace training is to a high standard everywhere?  I come from a public library background and am very aware that training budgets for library staff are a soft target within a soft target and are certain to be cut.

Thanks for the question Martin – staff training and development at all levels is something I feel very strongly about, both personally and as a manager of goodly number of staff.  Staff training budgets in all sectors are going to be an issue these days I’d suspect, which is why I think it’s important for those whom do the in-house training take their own ongoing personal development just as seriously.  I’ve certainly been delighted over the years to have been involved as a trainer and delegate at SIG based training – which is generally offered at spots around the country for very low (and occasional zero) charges.  Where I have a problem is where CILIP offers what can be viewed as very expensive, but very attractive, training in London.  However, with rail travel to the capital from even the East Midlands prohibitively expensive; I’d like to see more of a focus on bringing this training out of the capital and around the regions – a role here I think for the SIGs themselves to support and facilitate it.

For the wider question of training budgets, I think this is where CILIP has to continue to be vocal in stressing the value added from a well trained and maintained workforce, where possible sharing the success stories and exemplars from access the sectors.  It won’t stop the cuts everywhere, but it will help somewhere!

Candidates: what are your professional ethical values and at what point would they be triggered by something that emanates from officialdom, local or national? Can’t vote for people unless they can demonstrate an understanding of professional ethics…

Hi Danny and thanks for the question.  Rather than reference the CILIP code of ethics or similar (which is a long but pretty good starting point for any IP), I thought I’d answer this one from my own core professional beliefs.  Honesty in all dealings is essentially at my very core, which brings with it an implicit dislike for spin.  Awareness of stakeholders needs I think is pretty high on the list too, can’t do the job without taking account of everyone.  Enhancement of human knowledge too in recent years (this is what I get for working in open access for so long) is pretty key.  Not to mention a real appreciation for the rich diversity of skills within the profession as a whole.  At the same time as all of these, I’m a firm believer in challenging “conventional” beliefs – development of services and the profession is built on the shoulders of giants but only through addressing the unique circumstances we find ourselves in can we evolve into the library services of tomorrow. 

Things that get my goat? Restrictive legislation like the DE Act which are predicated purely on greedy commercial ends, and not only make my job harder to do, makes it harder to deliver the educational services to my customer base.  I’m all for creators to be appropriately recognised for their intellectual endeavours, but not at the expense of the furtherance of knowledge and societal development.   Hope that briefly answers the question

What would the candidates do to make the non-librarian information professionals feel that CILIP supported them, welcomed them, understood the world they work in …?

Hi Sheila – thanks for the question.  Truth is, I never intended to be a librarian!  I got turned onto the library and information world through working as a pharmaceutical researcher whom had to make use of a business information and research unit in a multinational.  I liked the idea of seeking out and organising information so much, I changed careers and…well look where I’ve ended up today.  I’ve always been thankful for that first introduction to the information profession, and that’s why I was a member of both the IIS and LA before the merger.  I do agree with the statement implicit in your question, it is far too easy for IP to be subsumed by the all powerful library lobby at times, although a glance at Update does show a healthy coverage of that sector. 

I think the problem is CILIP can’t be all things to all peoples, no matter how keenly I might wish for a greater focus on HE/FE libraries, or one of my illustrious competitors might want a stronger focus on the public libraries.  But that’s CILIP the central body, and I believe it’s through the rich diversity of SIGs that the membership truly gets this focus and welcome.  I thoroughly applaud the work of all the SIGs in helping their members training, develop, network and exchange experiences.  And in many regards it’s the role of the dedicated people who run the SIGs on behalf of CILIP to make sure their voices are heard centrally as well; as well as through the Councillors, whom I do think need to be of their sectors and a little apart from the sectors too (at least once elevated to that role).

Above all I think the Presidential team above all need to be sector agnostic – and while each has their “themes” I’d expect them to work just as hard supporting each and every sector.

And finally, on a personal note, I’d hope my experiences and openness to discuss issues with anyone, anywhere, any time would make me the kind of Councillor that would make you, and any other “non-librarians” feel welcomed, regarded and engaged.  Thanks for asking.

So … would you counter the views of librarians who are anti-technology in some way, and if so, how?

Hi John and thanks for your third question.  As someone who’s lived and breathed ICT since primary school I’ve encountered the anti-tech lobby for sometime.  If anything it’s been very exciting in the last few years as more and more librarians come onto the power of the net, web 2.0 and the like in education and all walks of the information world.  That said my extensive personal love affair of the book isn’t going away any time soon (until they make a kindle that I can’t destroy my dropping it in the bath or down a flight of stairs I think I’m going to be wedded to print).

I wouldn’t say I’d want to “counter” someone’s views in the respect to technological exploitation.  I’d hope any professional librarian or information worker worth their salt would keep an open mind, and maybe I’d be able to show them a range of applications that might just make them change their view points.  And the thing is, the information society in which we live today is what we have.  it’s not good hiding our heads in the sand and sticking our fingers in our ears and hoping it just all goes away.  If we don’t embrace it, it will roll over librarians and libraries alike.  Yes it means a change in working practices, yes it means a major challenge to our skills, and yes it is possibly the greatest opportunity for years for us to show the world the skills it takes to really exploit it.

I have only to look at the academics and students I’ve taught over the years.  They have a superior range of information resources at their fingertips, but they cling to the one or two that they know and trust.  It is our roll as librarians to help all of our readers and users improve their skills and awareness, so that they can get the maximum value and return on their investment of time.

Keeping PCs out of libraries, decrying rich social networking resources as somehow anti-intellectual and focussing on the print alone is a dead end, a blind ally.  We owe it to our readers to be better, we owe it to ourselves to evolve.

Annie says in the Guardian that, ‘I don’t believe [….]that this government wants to be responsible for the end of the public library service in this country.’ Do you agree?

Hi Tom, I can only agree with what Katy (and Annie) says – no government wants to be the one that kills public libraries, although they seem to be doing a fair job of it at the moment *sighs*.  I do think libraries are seen as a “soft” target, which is why CILIP, Voices for Library etc are having to be so vocal in their supporting. 

Yes, this is why Green & Black :)Final question. What is your favourite colour?

Green.  Although it has to be a classy black to wear as a close second!

The anti-technology views (John K) mentions are often expressed by library users and in particular by those who are strong supporters and defenders of libraries. These people often suggest that librarians have allowed themselves to be distracted by the superficial attraction of technology and have lost sight of the core role of the library and the core needs of the majority of library users. They are often very sceptical about the competence of librarians to deliver a Good Library service. Given that libraries need all the friends they can get, how would candidates engage with these views.

And Carl, I agree that there while is at times a strong focus on the shiny tech away from library values, in many regards I’m dealing with a customer base who perceive libraries as slow to adapt and change – you just have to look at the explosion in n-device usage in US universities, and yet here in the UK we seem to expect most people to come to our OPACs on IE.

That aside, if people whom are the champions of libraries at their most conceptual are distracted by the shiny, then it’s up to CILIP and the membership at large to celebrate and share the very best exemplars of how it works with these movers and shakers.  To educate them if you will.  A tricky prospect, but one that I’m pretty sure the membership is up to.  It’s also a role for those organisations with close links to CILIP to pull in the experts from Council in these areas to pitch the case.  I spent a lot of my recent years being the “expert” pulled in across the country on the open access and repository front, and I know the real power that a “voice from beyond” can have.

CILIP needs to offer if you will a bank of expertise that councils, libraries, SIGs and even individual members can pull upon.  Council itself is one source, and would doubtless be the go-to guys and gals of choice, but let’s not forget the national SIGs.  It’s an inexpensive and effective way to lend a supporting arm at the local level, alongside the national advocacy work of the Presidential team; and one that I would wholeheartedly support.  Thanks for the question.

If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.”  What do candidates think about about this?

I have to agree with the statement on the whole.  Certainly there will still be a few, skilled or semi-skilled roles for the conservator and the like but frankly anyone with a serious desire to make library and information work needs to be able to engage with the online, the virtual and the e.  Personally as a professional advocate (who spent the last week prowling the corridors and offices of academics as part of open access week) I’m a huge enthusiast of getting out there amongst the peoples, rather than hiding in a quiet little cubby hole at the back of a library.  Reaching out to where people are (physically where possible, virtually where not) does require a different mindset than one hiding behind the counter, and I for one am all for it. 

In part I think it helps answer elements of the earlier question about showing value and impact.  We need to go where the readers are more, and expect them to come to us to a lesser degree.  I encounter more praise for the value I add (which is gratifying, but also powerful evidence) when I’m out and about than I ever do when I hide behind my office walls.  Encountering people in the raw, beyond library-land, is possibly the single most energising and rewarding part of being a librarian today – and I am able to see where we are really adding value to our readers lives.  Not to mention hear first hand what it is they really want from us.

So communication and self confidence skills in the virtual and the physical realms will continue to be key skill areas.  And I, for one, won’t be too sorry to leave the shackles of the desk behind.  But what can CILIP do to support this changing role?  Through offering training, through ensuring accredited course include these elements and through supporting the SIGs professional devel;development programmes in taking account of these emerging needs for their membership.

Another question for you all. CILIP announced today the closure of the MSU. Do you agree?

Hi Tom – like Andrew I agree that the answer is more analogue than digital.  Yes, it is a shame that some wonderful people at CILIP will no longer be employed there, but even given what I know of the organisations current financial status cuts were going to have to come somewhere.  Update/Gazette from last week’s announcement are being cut back and now this.  Makes me wonder what’s next.  However, I would expect that this decision isn’t one that’s been taken lightly, from what I know of the CILIP Command crew they will have agonised over this for some time, and given that people’s employment future was in the balance I can well understand the lack of transparency on this one.  That said the fact that this is a “member support unit” for a supposedly “member focussed” organisation, does leave a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.  I hope we’ll not see more member benefits being cut, but for now like the rest of the membership at large, all I can do is wait and see.  I’d be interested to see the SIGs rally round now to try and fill the gap the loss of the MSU has left.

I’m still waiting for someone to ask me “What’s your perfect Sunday?”…

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3 thoughts on “Questions?

  1. Hi @llordllama, thanks for this compilation. I particularly like your appreciation of smaller groups like SIGs where support and sharing best practice actually happens and from which members can get a real sense of belonging and ownership. So, I think I voted correctly ;-).
    And since you seem desperate to tell (and I’m intrigued what this has to do with the CILIP election and/or hustings) – What IS your perfect Sunday?

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    1. Esther, a pleasure! SIGs have always been the heart of CILIP for me as an ordinary member rather than the central body. Thanks for voting whomever you voted for (which reminds me I really need to return my own papers!)

      My perfect Sunday? Some warm weather, time in the garden, three or four hours to do some serious writing and/or filming and still the energy to cook a roast chicken dinner for the wife! Oh, and preferably the day off on Monday so I don’t have to go to bed too early 😉

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