Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Twenty Years as a Law Librarian - Professional Bodies

This is the third in this series of twenty years in law librarianship. I already have covered technology and communications, both of which are fairly uncontroversial. This one is about librarianship's changing professional bodies, which made up part of my report's section on ‘professional awareness’, and could be problematic.

Our Professional Future 1998

Twenty years ago the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals was the Library Association. My Professional Development Report provides an excellent snapshot of where I was in 1999 and was submitted to prove my professional worthiness to become an Associate Member of the LA. At the time of writing it, the profession was undergoing momentous change, and they were consulting on the proposed merger with the Institute of Information Scientists (IIS). I wrote,

This is a very exciting time for our profession with ‘Our Professional Future being published in October 1998. This paper proposes the unification of the LA and the IIS with the resultant body intended to be a very modern and dynamic organisation’. Its internal focus would be promoting vocational training and CPD, whilst externally it would be lobbying, promoting the profession and working closely with others.
All this new technology, new ways of working, and previously untapped talent would shape our professional future; the library world was poised to face the challenges of the new millennium.

So why do I feel so hesitant about renewing my CILIP membership in 2014? Would I be willing to lose my hard won ‘MCLIP’ post-nominals? Never have I felt further from my professional regulatory body. The single cohesive, powerful, lobbying organisation that I was so excited about has never really materialised.

I noted back then that there were reservations about this especially from the IIS. They foresaw that the relationship wasn’t going to work because of differences in culture, priorities, objectives and qualifications. One commentator didn’t even like the word ‘profession’, preferring ‘industry’. And all of these have turned out to be issues and CILIP is a body in crisis.

Public v Private

Rather naively I stated that no one outside the profession or industry is going to perceive the differences [between the two merging bodies]. In reality the public can easily see the difference between a public librarian and private information scientist. Whilst commercial information centres have flourished in the past twenty years, public/school/government library and information centres have been the casualties of swingeing government cuts. Successful libraries such as the City Business Library have worked exceptionally hard to justify funding and offer value added services but on the other hand, the London Borough of Brent lost 6 libraries in 2011-2012.

Apart from pockets of redundancy and a period of slow-down around 2007-2008, it has generally been a good time for legal and commercial information. For those willing to work hard and learn new skills, opportunities abound to work within knowledge management, intranet architecture, driving and assisting information solutions to firms who are grateful for our expertise. Even at the most basic level, they value our input because we are constantly at the cutting edge of making information work. And how are we experts? For me personally, it’s not because of CILIP but because of BIALL, CLIG, blogs, social media and other networking channels.

Unresolvable Differences?

I have purposefully taken two extremes to demonstrate library and information problems. I am genuinely sympathetic to the plight of CILIP; the needs of commercial versus public (with all the others, from health, education, government, and scientific) is an eternal and unresolvable struggle. We all have very different needs and this one body can only address the top level superficial ones.

One problem is the specific v general. By that I mean, all librarians and information people have issues in common, from training needs, networking possibilities, helping our users ‘find stuff’ regardless of the subject. But sometimes we may need to communicate with other support/business services like IT or HR, or get involved with user groups to make sure we are offering the right support. We might need to be member of other bodies so we can share other non-information information related queries.


Should there be a demerger of CILIP so public and private information people could have an organisation that was more suited to their needs? The reason I do my job hasn’t changed in twenty years; ‘the information service is there to help build a successful business. This business must combine a mixture of skills from all departments and it is clear that the information service is part of the whole and a part of the future of the business’.

So my needs are related to the needs of my business. And the only way that CILIP can learn what they are is if I get actively get involved and help CILIP to help me. But my disconnect is so entrenched, I wonder if I am past caring about whether they are there or not. Internal politics, of which we have seen a lot in the past year, bore the proverbial out of me. The two things that are essential for a professional body are mandatory CPD and a recognisable presence; sadly neither seem likely any time soon. About time I joined another BIALL committee if I want to achieve anything for the profession I love.

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