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.
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
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
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
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