Saturday 19 July 2014

CILIP Governance Review

I have decided to blog about the recent events surrounding the proposed changes in CILIP Governance … even though I’d much rather be talking about school libraries, books or reading initiatives and I’d much rather be spending my time reading or knitting. But there have been a lot of online comments about this recently, following the resignation of a council member, many of which are half-truths and misconceptions and, as an information professional, I’m appalled at how some people (who are information professionals themselves) are assuming these are correct and retweeting without checking or verify the facts. I tell my students from the age of 11 years to always verify anything you read online and this is certainly true of anything written in blogs or on Twitter (so please don’t assume that what I’m saying is the truth … verify it with other people!).
I’m also aware that people will assume that I’m “following the party line” as I’m currently CILIP President but those that know me will know that I try to explain how I see situations from my own perspective. If I was writing this as President then I could understand that reaction but I’m not. This is MY blog and, whilst I’m tactful and try not to be rude or offensive to anyone, I try to write honestly … and I’m also very good at seeing the other side (this trait is not always an advantage I may add)!
So … I am going to try and address some of the issues that have come up recently …
Last year, when I became VP, it was only meant to be for a year as the Governance review was due to be voted on in 2013 and introduced in 2014. However, after the renaming episode, CILIP decided to postpone it for a year to ensure that members were informed, consulted and able to respond. Thus began an extensive round of meetings, emails, articles in Update, etc. I don’t have the exact figures to hand but I know that CILIP SMT, together with trustees, have engaged with as many Member Network groups and SIGs as possible, going to meetings to give presentations on the Governance Review and gathering feedback. I attended 4 myself in an official capacity and spoke unofficially at several others. As well as asking for questions, I also said I would be happy to answer any emails and pushed for members to send comments (positive or negative) to CILIP. And CILIP have taken on board these comments, producing an online FAQ, although some of them were unable to be answered immediately as the legal situation needed to be checked. And I know that CILIP have engaged with branches over this, being proactive and pushing for a response rather than just sending information out. There have also been regular emails sent out to members and articles in Update so for anyone to say now, at this late stage, that they have not been consulted is ludicrous. If they really think like that then I would suggest that they are not engaged with or connected to any of their branches or SIGs, are not registered for email newsletters and do not read Update regularly. And if this is the case then why are they so upset about any changes in CILIP as they are obviously not that bothered about the organisation?
When I became VP, I wasn’t really involved in CILIP other than being on the SLG London & SE committee and attending occasional branch meetings. It was a steep learning curve! And I can remember, at my first meeting, discussions about the Governance Review … so this has been under consideration for a long time. I am not an expert on governance although I have sat on various committees, been involved in several charities and am currently a school governor. And, although I have had training on governance and included this aspect in my CPD this year, I do not consider myself an expert which means I am completely happy to accept the recommendations of the Governance Review Board. These people have far more experience than I do and I could not imagine why they would suggest a structure that would be damaging or detrimental to CILIP. The Chair of the review board was Phil Bradley and I will not accept that he would suggest anything untoward or undemocratic. Further, these proposals have been scrutinised by the Privy Council and Charities Commission and they find them acceptable. And who am I to argue with them?
Much has been said about these discussions happening in secret. As I see it, there are various reasons for this. One is that they were just proposals and ideas, and needed to be firmed up after consultation regarding their legality. If these were made public then we would end up with the situation we have now with everyone putting in their ideas as to what we should have … and I have to say that I’ve read about so many variations on this that I am totally confused! It wouldn’t be so bad if everyone wanted the same thing but they don’t! I also think it’s important for council to be able to discuss things in a private conversation, especially if it’s at the development stage. Sadly there are people who are quite happy to take statements out of context giving the words a completely different meaning. And the problem with this is that a tweet of just a few words is often taken as being the definitive statement on something … a lot of damage can be done this way and it is hard to redress the balance. And what about somebody who may originally be against an idea and says so but, after discussion and research, changes their mind? There’s bound to be somebody who picks this up and attacks them with being indecisive! Besides, I don’t want to have to spend my time defending myself against a malicious tweet or blog comment. Because, let’s face it, if people think it will help their cause then they’ll happily twist words and statistics. Politicians do it all the time!
The Governance Review was discussed at the July council meeting, not for the first time but in detail, because this was when we were taking into account the member feedback received (and if anyone didn’t feedback their objections or concerns then it’s a bit late to do it now … everyone has had several opportunities to do so). And the majority of this was positive. Yes, there were a few who didn’t like certain aspects of what was proposed but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Again I don’t have the statistics to hand but they will show that of all the responses, very few were negative. Council listen to these responses and have changed the proposals so that the Chair/President will now only be elected from those council members who have been elected and not appointed.
So … let’s have a think about the office of the President. There has been much made of the fact that if the changes go through then the President would not be elected by the members. Well, I’m sorry to inform you but I wasn’t elected by members and neither was our Vice President, Jan Parry. The reason being … that no-one else stood for the position! And I’m not sure what members think the President does? Judging by various comments I think a lot of people are confused over this role, that of the trustees and the fact that CILIP also have a paid staff who carry out the strategic decisions of council. But it’s an ambassadorial role, the President doesn’t have any voting rights and yes, I do speak up at meetings but I don’t have any power or influence. At least under the proposals you’d end up with a President who had actually been elected! And, as political analogies have been used by various people, I’m going to use one now … people do not vote for the Prime Minister, he is selected by other MPs who have been elected by the public. If it’s good enough for parliament then it should be good enough for us!
Another issue that has arisen is membership figures. The statistics being quoted have obviously been taken at a time when the figures were at their highest (lies, damn lies and statistics people!!!) … if I went far enough back I’m sure I could find a year when the figures were lower than they are now! And these are taken completely out of context. How many libraries have closed since then (280 school libraries closed last year) or professionals replace with para-professionals or jobs downgraded so that you no longer need to be Chartered? And I’m not getting into the discussion about libraries closing as it’s not what this blog is about but I’m also tempted to ask how many of those are members who have died because we seem to be in danger of becoming a top-age heavy organisation with fewer younger professionals joining us … and no wonder when all they hear is this in-fighting and bickering! That said the CILIP staff responsible for membership are doing a fantastic job with a range of strategies and initiatives, and to suggest that CILIP aren’t doing anything about this is not only rather insulting to all their hard work but shows a lack of knowledge. Maybe instead of focusing on numbers we need to think about quality over quantity?
There are a lot of other things that I’d like to comment on but I’m aware that this blog is becoming rather long.
Things like the fact that, once a decision has been made by a council or committee, then it’s not usual practise to reopen the discussion when new members join. If you did this then you’d never move on from anything. I’ve been in this situation and it is so frustrating to rehash everything!
Things like the fact that every committee runs along the lines of a majority decision. How else could you do it? If you insisted on a complete majority then you could find yourself in a situation when nothing moved forward. I’ve been on committees where I don’t agree with everyone else but accepted the final decision – this is part of what being on a committee is about. And if it’s something you feel strongly about then you build up relationships with other committee members (which takes time) so that you can discuss issues from a stronger position – advocacy doesn’t happen overnight!
Things like the fact that much has been made of the four appointed council members and yet the current constitution already allows for three appointed members so it’s not really such a big change (and check on the CILIP website if you don’t believe me). Anyway, every committee has appointed members … can you imagine what it would be like if a school governing body consisted of just parents and teachers? And yes, I know we could buy in the expertise but the costs could become prohibitive … much better for the finances (ie: member’s money) if people could be co-opted. This would also mean a much better engagement from them than if someone was paid to deliver a service.
The final thing I would like to say (and well done if you have read this far!) is that why on earth do people think that council would appoint people who would damage CILIP. We are all volunteers, giving up our time (and yes we do get our expenses paid but is that so bad? My salary as a school librarian is not exactly huge and I would not be able to do my Presidential activities if I had to pay for my own travel) and any appointments would be scrutinised by the Audit panel anyway.
Throughout society people elect committees to make decisions on their behalf. There are times when you have to let go and trust those people to make the right decision for the whole. It may not be what you personally want but most people aren’t in a position to see the complete picture. There are also times when you have to let go of the past …