Archive for the ‘CILIP’ Category

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

06 Jun
Armour image

Let me just put this on… (Flickr CC image from EllenM1)


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.


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You already have a brand! Here are 5 ways to influence it… (#CILIPNPD12)

12 May

Yesterday I presented at possibly my favourite library event of all, CILIP’s New Professionals Day. I love it because it gets so many people fired up and energised, and there’s so much enthusiasm about the place.

I was honoured to do the first talk of the day, and my presentation was about two things: firstly the fact that you don’t have to be a super-librarian to get on in your career, and secondly that we all have a personal brand so if you do want to try and build that brand, there are steps you can take to do so positively.

I wanted to dispel some myths (particularly that we all have to aspire to be like the really well-known, uberlibrarians), following on from this blog post about whether or not we really have to market ourselves at all, which explains a lot of the stuff I talked about yesterday.

Here’s the presentation (works best on full-screen):

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Thinking of submitting a paper for the New Professionals Conference? Here’s some unofficial advice.

06 Apr
Wikiman logo made up of words

Believe it or not, this is my blog post about last year's New Professionals Conference, turned into my logo by the inimitable Dave Pattern


(A lot of this applies to conference proposals generally.)

CILIP have announced details of the 2011 New Professionals Conference, which takes place in Manchester at the University, on June 20th. The Hashtag is #npc11 if you want to discuss it on Twitter etc.

There is currently a call for proposals to present, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you do this if you’re within 5 years of having joined the profession. You have till April 15th to get something in. All the details are on the CILIP website.

Why present?

It’s a brilliant experience! It takes you out of your comfort zone, it connects you to your peers, it gets you into the conference for free! It’s completely worth doing – I guarantee you’ll feel differently about the profession afterwards, more positive, more energised and more excited.

Subject matter

Important disclaimer: I was on the organising committee last year and involved with choosing the successful papers, but I am NOT involved this year, so these views are just my opinion and are in no way official. Kay?

The most important thing about the subject matter is making it appropriate to the context of the conference. So for example, something about the value of libraries generally might be really interesting and really entertaining, but it might not be as useful for this particular conference as something which the delegates can take away and apply to their own lives, and to their own careers. Think about the utility of what you’re saying, and the ‘take-homes’ that the people watching your presentation will get from it.

Be explicit about the value of your presentation. You have 300 words to play with – I’d probably use 250 to talk about the topic, and the last 50 would start with the phrase ‘this paper will be beneficial to new professionals because…’.

Get a second pair of eyes on it before you send it off – another opinion is almost always helpful.


Same disclaimer as above – this is my opinion, and is certainly nothing official or endorsed by the organisers.

I think, personally, the formatting of your proposal really matters. The organisers of this event are volunteering and doing it on their own time, so there’s not always the luxury of a huge amount of time to discuss the proposals. There’ll probably be more than 40 decent ideas, and it takes a long time to get through that much stuff. So anything that’s poorly put together is already heading towards the ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ piles rather than the ‘yes’ pile. Of course the content of the proposal is by far the most important thing, but that oft quoted scenario of ‘two otherwise equal candidates’ actually applies quite often in this type of situation, so don’t put yourself at a disadvantage. Poor formatting shows a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of understanding of the assessment process. For what it’s worth, here’s what I would do if I were submitting:

  • Send a PDF – Word docs are only fit for emailing to people if there’s a chance the recipient may need to edit it.
  • Don’t use Times New Roman, use Calibri, Arial or similar, and make it a normal rather than tiny or huge font size.
  • Include your name, a short bio and your email address in the document (this does not have to fit into the 300 words – make it clear which section is which). You may have also put some or all of this stuff in the email you send it in, but the chances are the panel will be printing out all the documents and getting together over coffee to go through everything – they don’t want to be making notes or printing emails. Put everything in one place for their easy reference.
  • It goes without saying, proof-read it to death. Read it out loud to catch mistakes, and don’t rely on the spell-check – I still find myself having used the wrong their / there / they’re from time-to-time… Americanised spellings are another thing spell-check might not catch.
  • Send it to someone whose opinion you trust, and get them to check it over too.


And if you do get accepted…

You’ll be asked to write a ‘full proposal’ by June. This is really just to check you can follow up on your promises and deliver a full paper. It doesn’t have to be written to a journal standard of prose and referencing. When I presented in 2009, I wrote mine up all formally and then a week before the conference, I started to practice delivering it and realised that I’d have to completely rework it. I couldn’t read it out loud as it was (that would have been rubbish) and I couldn’t even just split it up into notes (the tone and phrases were suitable for being read alone, not said out loud to an audience). So don’t beat yourself up trying to write the full proposal – it’d be more productive to write the notes you plan to learn or speak from, and then turn THOSE into the full-proposal, not the other way around. More tips on presenting for first time speakers are available elsewhere on the blog.

All just my opinion of course. :) Here’s another one – last year’s Best Paper prize winner Bronagh offers her views too.

Good luck!

-    thewikiman

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Learning from the Orteig Prize – the sky is the limit for libraries!

09 Feb

It was from this Freakonomics Radio podcast, which I’ve refered to on this blog before and which provoked a huge number of comments, that I learned about the Orteig Prize. It’s a really fascinating story, it inspired the LISNPN competition mentioned in part one of this post, and who knows what else we can learn from it – so bear with me while I go through the events of the early 1920s.

A little history

In 1919, a New York hotelier called Raymond Orteig put up a prize of $25,000 (equivalent to over $300,000 today in pure inflation terms, but actually a lot more in terms of what that money could buy) for the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, or the other way around. For the first five years, no one could claim his prize as the technology wasn’t advanced enough. But in those five years people worked enormously hard, because that was an enormous amount of money.

Eventually, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh makes the flight successfully, and wins the prize. It took 33.5 hours in a single-engine plane (the Spirit of  St Louis) and was a minor miracle of good fortune allied with supreme skill, but he made it safely to France. Lindbergh was only 25 years old at the time, and he used the massive fame he now enjoyed to promote commercial aviation. He was obviously one of those polymathic people who just operate on a higher plain (no pun intended) than the rest of us – he later became a prize-winning author, an environmentalist (can’t of been too many of them at that time), an international explorer and an inventor!

Picture of Charles Lindbergh & Raymond Orteig

Lindbergh and Orteig in 1927

This was of course a fantastic achievement, but the existence of the competition catalysed massive progress in the aviation industry by loads of people, not just Lindbergh himself. In fact, $400,000 worth (in old money) of innovation happened from the combined entries to the competition – and Orteig only had to pay out once! The results of this expenditure were immediately quantifiable – the year before Lindbergh’s flight, just 6,000 people travelled by air as passengers; 18 months afterwards there was 180,000 commercial passengers. Even in the months remaining in 1927, the year of his flight, applications for pilot’s licences tripled and the number of registered aircraft quadrupled.

(Another ramification of the competition was, as you might expect with experimental air travel, a huge loss of human life. Many pilots died failing to win the prize. Hopefully a library equivalent won’t place its entrants in such jeopardy…)

The Legacy

Apart from the 30-fold increase in commercial air-travel, which effectively gave birth the multi-billion dollar industry we know today, the prize had another legacy. Inspired by Orteig’s competition, Peter Diamandis set up the X Prize Foundation. This offers a more modern prize of $10,000,000 to achieve huge goals such as commercial flight into space – again, far more than $10,000,000 is invested, in total, by all the entrants combined, so the field moves on apace. Not only that, but the Foundation themselves don’t put up the prizes! They are funded by organisations and philanthropists, eager to making progress happen.

The LISNPN competition

As I’m sure you’ve realised, the LISNPN competition is a very (VERY) small-scale attempt to do something similar. We’re offering prizes we think people will really value, and will be willing to work hard and innovate in order to have a shot at winning. Although entrants will retain full copyright of their ideas, LISNPN will be able to show-case ALL of them, and hopefully ALL of them should reach a new audience not normally involved with libraries at all. We’re only giving out two prizes (again, put up by generous people who want to encourage the enterprise, rather than paid for from the – non-existent – LISNPN coffers) but hopefully the profession will benefit from lots and lots of advocacy efforts.

Are there other things we can do with competitons and libraires?

So is there scope for more library innovation on a much grander scale, adopting the Orteig prize principles? I think there must be. Other bodies must be able to run other competitions, the entries for which could be public-facing and progressive. I’d love to see one around technology in libraries.

And this links to another thing I’ve often thought, which is that libraries (certainly in the UK) don’t appear to be as good at attracting philanthropy as other comparable areas. We need to be something that rich people and foundations think of when they’re wondering where to put their money in a charitable way. Perhaps an innovation inspiring competition is a way to achieve this? What do you think?

In the meantime, good luck with the competition if you’re entering.

- thewikiman

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