The only way we will definitely be screwed is if we screw CILIP

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CILIP have been getting flak from the Library community since before I became aware of its existence. I gave out some of the flak myself – my post on CILIP and its lack of media presence remains one of the most commented-upon post this blog has ever had. I spoke up to try and constructively catalyse change – whether by coincidence (almost certainly) or not (it’s a nice thought) CILIP has since addressed the issue and it a much more vocal presence in the media.

The trouble I have with some of the criticism it gets is the level of at best dismissiveness and at worst, bile (or perhaps scorn) that doesn’t seem to be accompanied by much that could be considered constructive. Lots of people are happy to express the opinion that the rebranding process needs halting, but fewer have suggested what we should then do about the fact that CILIP still needs rebranding and (almost certainly) have entered into a legally binding contract with a consultancy firm.

People seem to imagine CILIP is an abstract entity which is perhaps ignorant of or indifferent to the needs of libraries, librarians and information professionals. What CILIP actually is, of course, is a group of individual human beings who care very much about libraries, librarians and information professionals and are doing their best to support all of them. To say otherwise is ignorant. I’ve met a lot of CILIP people and never once have any of them given me even an inkling that they didn’t care, or weren’t working hard, or were not qualified to do their jobs.

CILIP is a big unwieldy company with a royal charter, and it has a lot of armchair critics. A lot of people who’ve never led a massive charity-registered organisation appear to think they’d be awesome at it if given the chance; a chance 99% of them would not take if it actually came down to it, of course. Perhaps because smaller groups have achieved amazing things online, people expect CILIP to be able to do the same – but it has responsibilities and processes which prevent it from being so agile. Rowing a boat is not the same as running a big old paddle-steamer with thousands of paying customers. I know of no big organisations with massive budgetary constraints that consistently do everything right.

Traditionally I’ve supported CILIP. Recently I’ve lazily drifted into the camp of taking easy shots at them, and I was horrified at the thought of £35k (if that figure is indeed correct) being spent on the rebrand. I didn’t renew my membership right away when it lapsed. One of the reasons is that people I respect have tried to work with CILIP and found it untenable.

But I’m a member now and will continue to be one. This is partly because certain individuals previously or currently at CILIP (particularly Kathy Ennis, Biddy Fisher and Phil Bradley) have been really supportive of me and given me confidence and valuable opportunities. It’s partly because the Career Development Group helped me develop my career – in fact they’ve helped me develop my career to a stage where I no longer need them anymore. But it seems a bit callous to just say ‘okay thanks, bye!’ and no longer put any money into the organisation. If CILIP has helped you get just ONE pay-grade higher, then that’s more than a decade’s worth of annual subscriptions in extra salary you earn every year – it only seems fair to reinvest a fraction in the organisation.

But the third reason I’ll continue to support CILIP – even when they do things I don’t agree with – is because the only way we’ll be completely screwed is if we screw CILIP. By supporting them and letting them speak for us, we might be screwed – they might get it wrong. Just doing one’s best is not a guarantee of success. But by withdrawing our support, dismissing them, being scornful of them, bringing up absurd conspiracy theories online – that way we’re definitely screwed. Because like it or not CILIP speaks for the profession in this country – that’s precisely why they’re going through the controversial rebranding in the first place, because they feel (and most of us have felt for a long time) that ‘CILIP’ and 'Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' are not working for their role as mouthpiece. The way some people talk on social media, you’d think CILIP are quite enjoying this complicated process, and are just doing it as a way to thumb their nose at the members.

I think there’s an undercurrent to all this of ‘If we don’t renew our membership and say how much we hate what CILIP doing, that’ll show them – they’ll HAVE to change then’. But know this – if the personnel at CILIP changes, we’ll be replacing one set of hard-working people doing their best for the profession with (hopefully) another set of hard-working people doing their best for the profession, and they may not make choices you like any better. We are, after all, talking about very difficult choices here. Have you tried trying to change and adapt, move forward without leaving people behind, maintain the responsibilities of being a registered charity and having the royal charter, and trying to include everyone and yet speak with one clear and unambiguous voice, and all that at a time when there’s a hostile government, a public mostly indifferent or steeped in happy but irrelevant nostalgia, and unprecedented threats to the very existence and value of libraries? ME EITHER. I imagine that’s quite hard to do. It is not through lack of effort that these controversial decisions are being arrived at.

By all means criticise CILIP. By all means make your voice heard. But support the organisation at the same time. Criticism and support are NOT mutually exclusive. Make suggestions. (By suggestions I don’t mean ‘stop what you’re doing I hate it I hate it’, I mean suggestions which work towards addressing the problems which CILIP are dealing with in ways not currently to your liking). If half as much energy was put into helping CILIP as was put into slagging it off, it could get a lot more done.

Remember that running a big chartered institute is nothing like running a social media campaign or a pressure group. And above all remember that CILIP is a bunch of humans working all day on our behalf, on the really very tricky problems we face as an industry and a profession.

Libraries are in a bit of a state. I don't want a professional body that keeps everybody happy, I just want a professional body which gets shit done. CILIP can get more done with us, than without us.