A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Last week, along with a few colleagues from my workplace and CILIP north-west committee, I ventured up to Newcastle for CILIP’s big day and AGM. We were all very pleased that CILIP had decided to make a big event out of it’s AGM and also bring it out of London. This is something that CILIP north-west has done for a while, as we hold our member’s days every March which has our AGM included in the programme.
It seems that a lot of other people were pleased to see CILIP venture outside of London as the event was a sell out. As we arrived in Newcastle City Library and made our way to the conference room, I was amazed at how many library and information professionals had turned out.
The day was opened by a local councillor from Newcastle Council, Ged Bell, who began by praising libraries and their role in society but then touched upon the controversial subject of volunteers. Now, I don’t know any library staff who are against working with volunteers. In my own library, we have volunteers helping to deliver the housebound service and volunteers helping us run the summer reading challenge. These are initiatives that would be very difficult for us to deliver logistically without them and the more volunteers we have, the more people we can reach. However, I am against job substitution and forcing communities to take over libraries or else pointing the blame at the community. It is a very complex subject and I don’t think that Ged came across particularly well to a group of sleepy librarians. It was a bit demoralising to start the day on that note.
Next up was Penny Wilkinson from the Northern Rock Foundation, talking about her role working with charitable organisations in the north-east. What I found most interesting about Penny’s talk was her career progression. She recalled starting her career as a Saturday shelver in a public library and then progressed on to working in museums as a curator and then on to more managerial roles resulting in working for the MLA north-east. She now works for the Northern Rock Foundation, working with charities in the local area. Her experiences of working with partners interested me as this is something that public libraries do very well and it is a time when we need to support each other. The title of her talk was ‘the big society’ and I admit I was cynical. To me, ‘the big society’ is forcing communities and local people to take on roles that should be funded and supported by government organisations. As Penny’s talk demonstrated, the big society is something that charities and public organisations already do well.
After a quick refreshment break, Mark Taylor from the SCL and Ann Rossitor from SCONUL spoke about digital access for all. Mark’s talk was from a public libraries perspective, talking about the Race Online initiative, which aimed to help 500,000 people get online but actually resulted in helping 2.5million. Public libraries have always played a big part in helping users bridge the digital divide and supporting non-internet users, but the Race Online project was a way to formalise statistics and demonstrate the value of public libraries in helping this. My own library takes part in the Race Online and we also offer various IT tuition, from one-to-one tuition to informal group sessions for the over 60s to digital job hubs to help job seekers get online. Ann Rossiter’s talk focused on digital access to online information and making information free, through a national online library. America already have the Digital Public Library of America, which has helped to digitise a lot of work that should be in the public domain. I think that this is something that we should look at doing as a nation too. I know that a lot of libraries (public and academic) have their own digitisation projects but it would be great if it was all in one place and easy to access for all. She also discussed a report by Professor Hargreaves in which he calls for radical change to the copyright laws as they are too outdated for a digital world. The two talks linked together for me, as a public librarian, as we encounter all of these digital issues in our work. I agree that more work should be in the public domain and that copyright laws are too outdated now.
After this talk, we had a nice lunch break and some networking. I spoke to quite a few people from public libraries which was nice to see, as I sometimes feel that public librarians find it hard to get away from the day job to attend these events, especially in this economic climate. A few of them felt a bit negative about the morning talks and we hoped that we would have some positivity in the afternoon. After lunch, we had our next speaker up, Lord John Shipley. Lord Shipley is part of the all-party parliamentary group for libraries and former leader of Newcastle City Council, so he was the perfect speaker for the big day. He provided the perfect antidote to Ged Bell’s opinions. He said that he did not agree with the replacement of professional staff with volunteers, but that volunteers can work alongside professionally trained staff to enhance the service that local authorities can offer, which is exactly the stance that I take on volunteers. He also reiterated the fact that public libraries are key to a civilised society, so he was firmly pro-libraries and pro-librarians which cheered us all up!
After Lord Shipley, we had Phil Bradley, the president of CILIP, with his presidential address. I have met Phil a few times and he always motivates and invigorates people with his infectious enthusiasm and militant librarianship. Phil also counteracted Ged’s talk by stating outright that volunteers cannot replace trained librarians and the new CILIP professional knowledge and skills base shows this. He talked about CILIP’s actions over the last few months and the future of CILIP – which should be controlled by us, the members. He expressed his frustration when people say ‘CILIP should do that! What are CILIP doing?’ etc. Do they mean what he, the president is doing? What Annie, the CEO, is doing? What the local branches are doing? As members we all need to take ownership of CILIP and give them feedback as it is only through doing this that CILIP can be what the members want and represent them.
Then, we moved on to the celebration of awards for CILIP members who have achieved ACLIP, MCLIP, revalidation or Fellowship in the last 12 months. It was nice for these achievements to be celebrated, as this is the first time CILIP have done any formal celebrations of these. It was also great to end the day on such a positive note and it made me want to get a move on with my Chartership even more!
All in all, the Big Day was a great day and it certainly created some lively debates and made us think about our roles as CILIP members and information professionals in general. I came away feeling positive about the profession and my future and eager to get on with Chartership.
This blog post has been written by one of our members, Helen (@afeitar). We would like to take this opportunity to thank Helen for writing this post and encourage any of our members to get in touch with us if they would like to write a post for us (Amy, Catherine, Helen and Siobhan).