Have been asked to make the text of my speech for the CILIP Big Day available. Easiest way is to put it here ... this is what I wrote to read out. It was originally longer but as I was aware that we were running late and people had trains to catch (plus it had been a long busy day with many members getting up early to be there) I cut bits out so haven't included those. I also paraphrased some bits as I was talking - if you've ever given any sort of presentation, you'll know that sometimes things do come out differently than how you've written them!
CILIP BIG DAY – President Speech
This morning, I said that today was going to be a day for celebration, inspiration and challenges and it’s certainly been that!
We have watched three remarkable videos showing the work of some inspirational librarians, people who really do make a difference:
· The Kids Hub in Hertfordshire that runs closed sessions with tailored activities for children with additional needs.
· Studio 12 in Leeds that is encouraging young people from the local BME community to express themselves and grow in their personal development.
· And the Enterprize Hubs in Northamptonshire who are providing support for the self-employed and job seekers to get back into the job market.
All of these projects are working collaboratively with other partners to open up libraries to areas of the community that are not regular users, projects that have an influence beyond their initial impact. And they are not only changing people’s lives, they are changing the public’s perception of libraries as well which is so important. Well done to all the finalists and congratulations to the winner: Enterprize Hubs - as William Sieghart said, “copy them”!
All of the candidates should rightly feel proud of the work they do. When you see the outreach these projects have and know that similar activities are happening across the country, you wonder how anyone can ever question or doubt the importance or necessity of libraries. How people can think they are just rooms full of books that are irrelevant and that nobody uses is beyond me.
We have heard about the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards and the incredibly successful Shadowing Scheme, – a reminder of the figures involved – over 5000 groups, over 100,000 children. What a wonderful example of the pull of books and reading. This is a venture that inspires children to enjoy a wide range of authors and genres and I have first-hand experience of the impact a shadowing group can have on students and how it can motivate and enthuse their reading. My students are still talking about this year’s winner and recommending the book to their friends 3 months after the event (despite the media accusation of it being dark and disturbing) … and that’s a long time in the life of a teenager where “what’s in” changes almost weekly.
We have also congratulated a phenomenal number of members who have achieved Certification and Chartership during the year … around 180 in total, not to mention over 100 members revalidating. This isn’t a sign of a failing organisation; it’s an indication of a group of active and engaged professionals who, by progressing with their CPD, are helping to advocate, raise the level of the profession and build a stronger organisation. I wish every one of you success with your career, whatever stage you are at, and it was my pleasure celebrate your achievements with you today.
If that wasn’t enough … we have awarded six Fellowships and a further six Honorary Fellowships to members in recognition of their contribution to the profession. I was honoured to be involved in the selection process for the first time this year and understand that there was rather a lot more than usual nominations resulting in an extremely strong field of candidates thus making the final decisions difficult. Thank you to all of you who make such a significant impact to the information profession.
And, last but not least, we have celebrated the Mentor of the Year Award, congratulations to Sam Wiggins. As a CILIP mentor myself, I know how much time and commitment it can take to help a fellow professional through the registration process but I also know how rewarding it can be and how it can help you to focus on and think about your own CPD. As Sam said, it’s a reciprocal process where both parties benefit. It’s also an opportunity to give something back to CILIP by helping those with less experience than you grow and develop, and, with the increase in candidates for professional registration that we’ve heard about today, we are certainly going to be needing a lot more mentors so perhaps this is something that some of you may want to consider.
I’m delighted to be able to officially launch the CILIP Digital Inclusion Statement today, entitled “Driving Digital Inclusion: the role of library and information professionals”. It has been produced by the Information Literacy Project Board, of which I am Chair, and we hope this will be the first of several statements dealing with this important aspect of our work. One of CILIP’s aims is to be seen as a key stakeholder and participant in the wider Information Literacy agenda across a range of issues; only by being visible in this way will we be included in any strategies and decision making. The purpose of this statement is for it to be used with external stakeholders as an advocacy tool, showing the part information professionals play in the digital itinerary. Please take a copy away with you today and use it to support your roles. When you read statements such as the fact that 11 million people in the UK are offline and you know that professionally led library and information services are essential in helping these people, not only to get physical access to technology but to gain the necessary digital skills, you again wonder how libraries can be considered unnecessary and be closed. Where are these 11 million expected to go to get internet access? And who is going to help them do that?
Today has definitely been inspiring. And I’m not just talking about all the wonderful award winners but also about our two keynote speakers: William Sieghart and Jan Parry. I found William’s comments encouraging and positive and look forward to the report coming out. Let’s ensure that it really doesn’t end up on a shelf somewhere like so many of them do. What was interesting was his comment that he was “flabbergasted” when he found out the sort of things that librarians actually do and that he didn’t realise this. You have to ask, why don’t people know? If ever there was a call for us to get out there and tell them then this is it. CILIP can and does do this but they can’t do that unless we tell them what we do. So pass on your success stories to Mark, I’m sure he’ll be happy to receive them.
And Jan – what an extremely emotional talk. I was transfixed and I’m sure you all felt the same, the room was totally still and silent, you could hear a pin drop. But what a powerful example of the difference the correct information makes and the trust people have in our profession.
So that’s the celebration and inspiration part of the day. But what about the challenges?Well, I guess I’d better mention the AGM – and with the Scottish referendum happening during the same week, I feel that my life has been dominated by voting! CILIP is a democratic member institution, despite what some people may think. It is run by a council who are members themselves, they discuss and put forward what they consider to be the best options for the organisation and these are made looking at the whole picture, allowing for various factors, often things that members are not aware of. Before I became part of the Presidential team, I certainly didn’t realise how many aspects had to be taken into account. Some decisions require member approval … council hope that members will agree with their suggestions but if they don’t then, as is the way of any sort of democratic process, the majority decision is abided by.
Today we had an important vote on the Governance proposals. There has been much written and said about these so I’m not going to go into any detail here but members have decided not to accept all of them. CILIP is a strong organisation and it will carry on with the excellent work it has been doing, advocating for the profession and supporting those who work in it. We “lost” two votes at the last AGM and still went on to have a great year. 2015 will be no different.
However, I’m sure no-one will disagree with me when I say that we all face challenges of one sort or another.
In 2010, CILIP began a five year strategic plan to introduce changes and improvements and I know from talking to members that many have noticed the difference within the organisation. If we look at some of the aims of the current plan, they include growing the membership, increasing the range of members, recognising the different routes people take into the profession, and having an active, engaged and positive member community. And there is still a further year to go before the end of this period although the Strategy Board are currently working on the plan that will take us up to 2020, which sounds like it should be the title of an Arthur C Clarke novel!
So what’s been happening? The branch and group structure has been rationalised and we have heard from various members about their involvement at this level; the VLE was implemented and the PKSB has exceeded everyone’s expectations. We now have a core of student members – the Chartership and Fellowship candidates of the future? – and almost 100 new members from the Government Knowledge and Information Management community. There has also been an increased focus on advocacy as anyone who receives the monthly media update is aware.
I’ve already mentioned the quantity of people going through various stages of professional registration, committed and dedicated members who want to be part of their profession: from January to August 2014, a 34% increase in those enrolling for Chartership, a 43% increase in enrolment for Fellowship compared to the whole of 2013 and a 700% increase in members revalidating in 2014. I always feel a bit guilty when I mention revalidation because I’ve registered but so far haven’t submitted any evidence - I’m sure you understand when I say I’ve been a little bit busy this year!
No doubt some will say that this isn’t enough. That membership numbers are at their lowest since CILIP began, that these low figures foretell doom and gloom for the organisation. I disagree. Yes, we need members to exist, they bring in money in the form of membership fees but our current financial situation is stable and CILIP’s income is derived from many sources including Facet Publishing and lettings. In an ideal world, all librarians and information professionals would belong to CILIP – how fantastic would that be? But let’s be realistic; we know that’s not going to happen. That’s not to say that we don’t need or want new members, we do ... new members are important to the organisation and CILIP has put several strategies in place to attract and retain members. One of these is increasing support and benefits, things that members want. However, many of these are delivered via the branches and groups structure, and this is driven by the membership - without members getting involved, much of this wouldn’t happen. So I think it is better to have a smaller number of pro-active and engaged members, the sort we have heard speak to us today, supporting each other, advocating for the profession, and working with CILIP to make their organisation stronger than having a larger number dis-engaged and not connecting with anybody. Do we want quantity or quality?
To me, as a school librarian, one of the most important functions of a library is that of supporting reading. Apart from people needing basic literacy skills, there’s a lot of research showing the benefits of reading including increased well-being and improved life chances. But you cannot read without access to books and other reading material, and the most obvious place to access those is in a library. This is not a difficult concept to grasp yet the decision-makers still think they can raise literacy levels without having school or public libraries nor any sort of professional librarian managing them. However ... whilst my school library may be a centre for reading, it is also so much more than that and this is true of public libraries. Many who visit libraries, don’t want a book! The concept of what a library is, what it does, is going through a period of transition. We cannot be part of people’s lives in the 21st century without change – and yet change is uncomfortable, some people feel threatened by it rather than seeing it as an opportunity. We are here to serve our communities– and if we don’t do that then what is our purpose? If we don’t provide what people want they will get their needs met from elsewhere and we will become irrelevant.
I’m not saying that we throw out all the old traditions and I love those huge quiet libraries with rows and rows of wooden shelves full of books but their place isn’t within a living evolving community …
The digital revolution has transformed the information world. Nevertheless libraries still have a significant role within society, they will always be linked to literature and reading but they are also important for creating cultural content and they must be social centres engendering a sense of ownership by involving the local community – be it school, business or the general population - and embracing the needs of all generations by encompassing equality and access.
It’s also no good just saying libraries are important - we have to show how we affect the issues within our locality. We have seen how libraries are doing that today with the Libraries Change Lives Award. But we cannot do this by remaining static, we have to both move out into the world and bring that outside world into the library. It’s a two-way process. Work with trends, pro-actively seek groups and engage with them. The more we do this, the more our voices are heard, the more impact we have.
Many people are confused as to what a library is in 2014, they hold that conventional view and are unaware of the amazing work that we do – as William said - so they don’t see us as being part of their lives.
It doesn’t help that we, as a profession, also don’t agree on what constitutes a library and if those of us who work in them cannot concur on what they are, how can we expect anyone else to? This is a challenge because “one size doesn’t fit all” … and that’s also true of CILIP members. We are drawn from a very diverse range of experiences and occupations yet we need to have a unified vision because that will make us stronger. This means recognising and accepting that other members may well have different priorities, needs and concerns than yours.
It also means realising that CILIP, the organisation, cannot totally focus on just one issue or sector. It has limited resources – time, money, staff. And the latter, whilst they are all passionate about their jobs - I’ve worked with them for the past two years and know how much they care - are not volunteers.
Social media is wonderful. It connects us, it allows us to share things, to communicate, to use it as a force for good – I couldn’t have organised the Mass Lobby for School Libraries or the Guinness World Record in support of National Libraries day without it.
But it has a downside.
Things are taken out of context. Only part of a message is passed on. Words can be manipulated to give them a different meaning. People tend to criticise without being productive. However, as Aristotle said “there is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing” which doesn’t exactly help our cause.
So I prefer the words of Hilary Clinton, who said, “I try to take criticism seriously but not personally.” Nevertheless, there’s more than one way to give criticism and it has more value if it’s given constructively. Discussion is essential and necessary as it’s a way of ascertaining people’s views, of questioning and asking for explanations but generalised statements without evidence is not good professional practise.
I also wonder what impression someone joining the information profession would get about its members from looking at comments on social media. If I was joining any organisation, I would not only check out the official stuff but I’d also want to know what the members were like, would I be connecting with a supportive, enquiring community, one that acknowledges the achievements and works together with its professional body, one I felt compelled to join? Perhaps this message is something we all need to think about?
One of the things that has surprised me during the year is how often people have been confused over the role of President and forgotten it’s voluntary. As are all the council member positions. And I’ve definitely met an “us and them” attitude - I’m used to this in a school with teaching staff verses support staff but when I became President I didn’t realise I was going to become part of the “them”. I certainly don’t consider myself like that.
Doing this isn’t like being the Queen, I wasn’t trained from birth! I didn’t even think about it when I became a librarian as I had no aspirations for this office. So I balance this voluntary work with my interests, my family (which now includes an adorable granddaughter who most definitely is going to become a reader, she has no choice about that!) and the day job of being a school librarian.
Yes, I’m obsessed with books and reading – when I’m out shopping with my daughters they drag me across the road if they spy a bookshop ahead as they know I’ll get distracted – and libraries, in all their wonderful guises from old archives to modern community spaces to the downright quirky. And I wish I could get everyone to love libraries the way I do. To appreciate their benefits. To recognise that a room full of books is not a library; that it needs that special person – the librarian – to bring out its secrets and marvels. To see how important a library is to its community, in so many ways.
I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. I wanted the answers before I became President and I want them even more now because of the responsibility I feel in representing all of you. Wearing this medal hasn’t suddenly made me different and I’m sure the same goes for anyone who is elected to council. Underneath it I’m the same school librarian as before, fighting to get that message out there. Fighting to get people to believe in libraries. But I’m not perfect and all I can do is my best.
I challenged you earlier to find somebody to talk to who you didn’t know and I’m now going to leave you with another challenge. Which ties in with what William Sieghart was saying – about people not knowing what we do.
I would like you to identify somebody who inspires you, somebody you admire, who has used what they do to advocate about the profession, speaking out about the benefits of libraries and librarians. Somebody who has spread that positive message outside their circle into the wider world. You don’t have to know them, it can be somebody you connect with online or even just somebody you follow.
And I want you to do the same. Use what you do, your commitment to the profession – and I know you’re all committed because you’ve given up your Saturday to be here today - your passion for libraries, to spread that important message …. that libraries matter because libraries make a difference!