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A Twitter-friendly CILIP London meeting

Last week, I attended my second ever CILIP London meeting. As well as getting a chance to catch up with those members of CILIP London I already knew, and meet a few more I didn’t, I got to hear 2010 CILIP President Biddy Fisher talk about the results of the CILIP Defining Our Professional Future survey. Biddy’s always great to listen to, so although I’d heard her speak about the survey once before (when the results were first published), I was keen to hear what she had to say a few months further down the line. I was also looking forward to coming along to what promised to be a Twitter-friendly event! After my experience at my last CILIP London event, I was assured that accommodations would be made for those who wanted to Tweet as well as those who didn’t want to be bothered by people tweeting.

In the end, unfortunately I got there slightly late so instead of heading for the Twitterer’s section of the audience I just grabbed the first seat I saw, which turned out to be smack in the middle of all the non-Twitterers! Ah well. No one complained, although this may have been down to Biddy’s exhortation right at the start that those of us with smartphones and laptops should be tweeting away. Great to see Biddy encouraging the use of social media like that – a great riposte to those who insist that librarians shouldn’t waste their time on Twitter and the like!

After a moment’s silence in memory of Edward Dudley, Biddy began talking about the CILIP Defining Our Professional Future project. She talked a little about the background to the project, and the fact that when it was launched one of the criticisms was that it was designed with established information professionals in mind, and that no young people or new professionals would want to get involved. Happily, that turned out not to be true, as the presence of Alan Fricker and Katie Fraser on the project board proved.

Talking about the future of the information profession, Biddy emphasised that we all have a role to play. The next stage of Defining Our Professional Future requires that we all take ownership – we need to understand that this is bigger than just CILIP, and that it’s not about what CILIP does but what information professionals do. While I do think that CILIP needs to take a more proactive leadership role (which I’m glad to say they do seem to be at the moment), I agree with Biddy that it’s not really enough to just sit back, arms folded, and demand that CILIP as a professional body does all the work.

Going over the results from the survey (poorly written though it was – it was heartening to hear Biddy admit that she’d struggled with making sense of some of the questions too!), no one present was surprised to hear that most respondents felt that the future of the information profession would involve less people and money, more self service and outsourcing, and more technology. Biddy attempted to show Ned Potter’s excellent “If you want to work in libraries…” presentation at that point, but unfortunately the internet connection didn’t want to play! It’s here, if anyone hasn’t seen it yet:

Moving on to what the survey respondents felt their jobs would consist of in the future, the most common responses were information literacy, online communication, business and marketing. I would certainly agree with those, although I do have some sympathy for Biddy’s viewpoint on this which was that those are all very generic skills. What out of that set of skills would actually mark us out as information professionals? It’s a tough one really – I don’t believe that “traditional” library skills like cataloguing and classification will ever disappear completely, but the market for those skills is shrinking. I get that we need to remember what it is that differentiates us as a profession, but I don’t think that focusing on traditional library skills, and ignoring the fact that they are not a growth area, is really a helpful way to do that.

Finally, Biddy discussed what the survey had said about CILIP’s future role. Unsurprisingly, most people stressed advocacy, promotion and lobbying on behalf of libraries and the profession. The rest of Biddy’s talk was devoted to how CILIP intended to do that, and how we as information professionals can also play a role. She mentioned a recent occasion when she found herself on the train sat next to an MP, and used that time to talk to him about libraries. Was very impressed with Biddy for that! The message to us all there is to seize opportunities where you can – especially now MPs have to ride in standard class on the train along with the rest of us! :)

Some other basic ideas for advocacy were trotted out, mainly to do with escaping the echo chamber. Advocacy can really be as simple as talking to your friends, family and neighbours – how many of your family members, for example, actually know what your job consists of? That reminded me of something I saw on Emma Cragg’s blog a while back, about asking your friends and family for an approximation of your job description – I might do that myself actually, would be interesting to find out what the people closest to me think I actually get up to day-to-day!

Some examples of the positive things CILIP does to raise awareness of the importance of libraries were given, such as the Libraries Change Lives awards. I agree that they’re a fantastic awareness-raising tool – the winners and nominees each year are always such inspiring stories, what better way to remind people of why what public libraries in particular do is important? Biddy did however point out that CILIP’s own activities are going to be necessarily lower-scale than they’d like, due to their financial difficulties. I was pretty shocked to find out that CILIP has to slash £1.1 million from their budget within the next year – I hadn’t realised things were quite so bad for them!

Biddy wrapped up her presentation by talking about how positive she felt about CILIP’s future due to the activities of the “new professionals” – she thanked Maria Cotera for all her work in encouraging the new professionals initiatives within CILIP, and shared her opinion that the enthusiasm and initiative of new professionals, tempered by the wisdom and experience of established professionals, means CILIP’s future should be safe.

There was time for a few questions afterwards. A few people raised the issue of membership of the British Computer Society (BCS), and whether or not CILIP should be cultivating links with BCS to reach out to those information professionals who don’t consider themselves to be traditional librarians and therefore don’t believe that CILIP has anything to offer them. It was an interesting point, but unfortunately was rather derailed by a few people who still seem to harbour some resentment regarding the merger between the Library Association and the Institute of Information Professionals. I have to admit, I find those kinds of debates slightly baffling. The merger was so long ago, I don’t really understand why people still even talk about it. But then, I guess I have a slightly different perspective as I’ve only ever known CILIP as CILIP!

All in all, a very interesting and enjoyable evening, despite the freezing cold room it was held in! I’m also glad to say that there were plenty of other Twitterers besides myself present, and no one objected to our Tweeting :)

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