Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries

20 Jun

I want to draw a bit of a line under the whole CILIP and Newsnight thing pretty soon, so a good way to do that would be to see what we, the library community, can learn from the whole thing. [For those of you who missed it, a previous blog post on CILIP and the media generated unheard-of-for-this-blog levels of views and comments, so clearly tapped into something a lot of people feel strongly about.] Clearly all of the below deals specifically with CILIP, and particularly with Newsnight. But there may be lessons which can be extrapolated across the board.

Picture of a thumbs-up

This is a more positive post; here's a visual metaphor

In amongst all the debate it suddenly occurred to me that I have a Newsnight related contact! As exciting as a I like to think that sounds, all it means is one of my friends’ career paths took them in that direction, so I could ask them about it from a Newsnight perspective. So there’s a few quotes from, let’s call them a nice androgynous name – Alex – below. Alex did not work on either specific programme that we’re discussing, so Alex’s views are NOT officially representative of Newsnight; they are just opinions based on what has happened.

CILIP does go where the conversation is

I was impressed that many representatives of CILIP tweeted links to, and commented on, my post. The social-media using arm of CILIP are always open to debate, never afraid of engaging with posts which criticise the organisation, and manage, insofar as I’ve seen, to remain fair and balanced in the face of something of a battering, at times. Remember kids, these people aren’t necessarily the ones making the decisions they have to defend!

In addition to this, Chief Exec Bob McKee took the time to come and leave not one but two comments, responding to our questions, even though he had his own blog post on the same subject to deal with the responses to. I think that’s great.

If we’d ALL acted after Newsnight, we’d probably have got an apology

I know that Debby Raven, editor of Gazette, and Johanna Bo Anderson, and a few other people, emailed Newsnight after the incorrect figures being wrong by several hundred million, thing, but really we should ALL have done so. I didn’t, and I don’t know why not really – no excuses for not taking action if you’re going to stand on the side lines and criticise others’ efforts, as I have done. Would’ve been simple enough to use Twitter to get 100 Information Professionals to send a brief email correcting the figure, so we should’ve. I asked Alex if the BBC would have been fussed about getting the figures so wrong:

Yes, the BBC would have been bothered. Someone would have got an earful but it would have entirely depended on the editor (Peter Rippon) whether there was an apology made or not. Unlikely to be on the web, not Newsnight style. More likely to be at the end of the next days programme or something.  If there were only a handful of complaints, chances are they would have responded to those individually and not broadcast a correction.

Now as far as I know, Jo and the others didn’t actually get individual responses. But it seems that if literally 100 or 200 of us had emailed in, they would have corrected it on the next night’s edition! Perfect Echo Chamber escaping behaviour, that would have been – letting the same audience that saw the original misinformation about libraries hear the truth the next day, rather than just repeating the truth to other each other as we have done.

We have to go to the media, rather than expect them to come to us

I proposed a theory to Alex, that went like this. The first Newsnight programme didn’t invite CILIP simply because they weren’t aware of them, ran with incorrect figures, then Debby and Jo et al emailed irately in, and with that in mind CILIP was firmly on the radar of Newsnight, hence the offer to appear on the second programme.

You’d be right in saying CILIP didn’t get the nod for the first programme because nobody knew who they were. Unless you’re either a. on the BBC ‘ENPS’ contacts system because you have been on before/a reporter has talked to you, or b. been a regular in the broadsheets you’re not likely to be on Newsnight’s radar.

So it seems, and this presumably goes for most media, that we have to force the issue and make people aware we have a professional body (with a royal charter, no less!) to represent us.

We have to play by the media’s rules

It was suggested in the comments on my earlier post that even attempting to sum up the contribution of libraries / skilled librarians in just 1 minute was inevitably going to end up token and facile, and from Laura Wilkinson‘s tweets from a CILIP event yesterday I understand Bob put across the perfectly reasonable argument that it was better not to have anyone at all on the programme, than have someone under prepared who’d do a bad job representing libraries.

I agree with both those points. But on the other hand, the 1 minute elevator pitch is, considering libraries’ legendary problems with marketing themselves, actually quite a well known idea and an established part of every Info Pros PR armoury – it’s a shame there wasn’t anyone on hand who could quickly brush up on theirs. More to the point, if you spurn someone like Newsnight are they really going to ask you back in future? Alex again:

Now that CILIP have refused to comment, I would say yes, they are unlikely to be contacted in the future. There are plenty of important, good value people with pro-library views and so they’re not forced to go with an organisation which isn’t willing to ‘step-up’.  You have to remember that Newsnight is run by a very small team of people. They often have to put these things together in a day, so aren’t going to chase people around who are too afraid to speak on TV, providing there are many suitable alternatives as I said.

So could there be an argument for getting someone on anyway, even unprepared? I don’t know, it’s so hard – I’m glad I’m not having to make this kind of decision myself.

I do think, though, with regards to the ‘it was only a minute so it wasn’t worth it’ argument, that when libraries are in crisis, so many jobs are at stake under the new Government, and public perception has the potential to be a nail in a coffin or two, you’ve got to take any bone the media throws at you. Besides which, as Alex points out:

Note also that 1 minute of TV time is massive!  Any press person worth their salt should be able to get their point across in a 20 second clip. Bear in mind most news items are only 1 minute 30 to 2 minutes in total, and that usually includes 2 or 3 interviewees.  Newsnight is the exception.

There’s hope yet…

I asked Alex if we could get CILIP back into Newsnight’s good books, and to stay on their radar.

Basically, the BBC gets people on the radar because they either a. get to know reporters, b. have a high enough profile due to funding/politics or c. issue press releases alot and actively try and publicise the organisation.

I think that it would be a fairly rare thing for CILIP to be a regular story contributor as libraries are rarely in the news. But it might just be as simple as calling up Newsnight and asking to be contacted if there are similar stories in the future. the BBC has the system called ENPS which is a big database holding all contacts, scripts, research…everything. If someone types in ‘Library Specialist’, they’ll [CILIP will] want to be the one that comes up.

So – someone at CILIP, make that call!

Edit: a final thought (just like Jerry Springer)

I feel like I should add something which I didn’t make clear in the original version of this post.

For me, the thing to take from all of this is not, oh God, Newsnight are never going to invite CILIP back again. Admittedly that is rather depressing, but Alex could be mistaken about that, or CILIP could rectify the situation with a well placed call to the BBC. More to the point though, Newsnight is just one programme and doesn’t represent the be all and end all.

The big thing, for me, is that CILIP, BIALL, the SLA, the ALA, all the other professional bodies and libraries generally, need to understand how the media operates in order to successfully engage with them – and that understanding isn’t easy to come by! You have to proactively go out there and find out what makes the media tick, what the are the rules they operate by – in order that they / we get it right next time, and the time after that, and all the future times too. We must be self-confident enough to think to ourselves, yes, big news programmes do want to hear from us and yes, we do know how to deal with them effectively.

I think there’s a hang-over from the old days of libraries as public institutions – charities in effect – that makes us somewhat meek, whereas in fact now they need to be run as businesses, with all the aggressive marketing that entails (and both pro-active and re-active PR).

- thewikiman

P.S Woodsiegirl and I will be discussing these issues and MANY MORE as part of our echo-chamber presentation in Leeds next month! :) Details elsewhere on the blog.

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  • Tom Roper June 20, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    ‘better not to have anyone at all on the programme, than have someone under prepared who’d do a bad job representing libraries’. Fair point, but nature and journalists abhor a vacuum [comment edited].

    I don’t want to suggest that it’s easy to sit in a Newsnight studio in front of the star chamber, with Jeremy Paxman stage left, but I’d have a go, and so would most active CILIP members, because I think we have something to say.

  • Ned Potter June 21, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I think.

  • kate smyth June 21, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says I think.

  • CILIP June 21, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I t …

  • Gary Green June 21, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I think.

  • Scott Vine June 21, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I t …

  • Carl Clayton June 21, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I t …

  • Katy June 21, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    Really interesting comments from Alex. Disappointing that CILIP may not be contacted in future. I was one of those who emailed Newsnight, and I am still waiting for a reply. I have also volunteered to talk about the profession even though it fills me with trepidation. Seems to me if CILIP can’t/won’t be available for comment we have to take up the challenge.

  • Helen Saunders June 21, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    #Newsnight, libraries & how to put message across : interesting blog post from @theREALwikiman, relevant to others too

  • Dr. Bethan Jenkins June 21, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    RT @Ceridwen339: #Newsnight, libraries & how to put message across : interesting blog post from @theREALwikiman, relevant to others too

  • Ned Potter June 21, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Okay just added an edit / update bit to the Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries post – Sorry to be indecisive!

  • @LisaJeskins June 21, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Thought these were great posts (I too am guilty of not emailing and in fact coming to all this a little late – am feeling like a bad librarian today.

    However I think your point about not thinking about ourselves in media terms is true. We don’t, yet it’s so important for our whole profession.

    Historically we’re pretty bad at marketing ourselves and our services. (although as you said things are improving) I know there is a very academic/self deprecating mindset to libraries and librarians. This humbleness, however commendable, isn’t getting us anywhere and might end up talking us out of jobs…and we’re needed. We’re just needed differently and in so many new and interesting ways, that it should be a really exciting time to be a librarian.

    You can see why other people don’t realise that they need us. We continue to think about ourselves in quite average ways. (I’m guilty of this too and it’s not easy to put yourself out there.) However wouldn’t it be great if we started remembering how fantastic libraries and librarians are, and how perfectly placed we are to upskill ourselves continually in all new technologies and then educate others. You’d think (sorry for following cheese) that of all professions, we are the ones who should be able to futureproof ourselves.

    When I said recently on Twitter and in the #cilipfutures survey that I think as a profession we need a re-brand and all the pizazz that goes with it, I didn’t explain what I meant by ‘pizazz’. But I meant thinking about a proper marekting strategy with ads on radio & tv, press realeases, newspaper articles – THE WORKS. Getting ourselves out there and killing the stereotype and that d*mn Nancy doll dead, stone dead. (I’m aware that there could be a few money issues with this plan mind… ;) )

    So basically what Ned’s been talking about here.

    We need to start being media savvy and marketing savvy. We need to stop thinking about our features and the features of our services and start looking at how to market the benefits of what we do and how we can help people to navigate their way through complete information overload.

    P.S. …and we have to stop only marketing library services IN THE library.

  • thewikiman June 21, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    I pretty much agree 100% with everything you just said! :)

    All that stuff really consumes me – this blog was supposed to be documenting the creation of a wiki [shudder] but ultimately it’s all that type of stuff that I’ve found interesting.

    I want to turn the best #cilip1 “I’m a librarian and I…” quotes into something more visual than just reading them – as I think the route of our marketing problems is people not knowing what we do these days. (Not the route, that’s the wrong word – but the first thing we need to address.) I’m imagining Microsfoft style ‘I’m a PC’ or ‘Windows 7 was my idea’ ads – I find them annoying actually, but the principle would suit us. A series of librarians, in different (visually arresting) locations, saying “I’m a librarian and I sort through the information so you don’t have to” / “I’m a librarian and I can help you with social media” / “I’m a librarian and I make sure the past is accessible to the present and future” or whatever and whatever, really quick cut to form very brief but punchy ads for what we do.

    Will mock up a version using Xtranormal and stick it in a blog post, when I get time.

  • @LisaJeskins June 21, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    I think the ‘ads’ sound great – can’t wait to see. Am imagining a united colours of Benetton type affair. With all shapes and sizes of librarian. Wonder if quality of Flipvideo would be good enough? ;) (yes i appear to be obsessed.)

  • Steven Heywood June 21, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries | #cilip Worth a read for what the Newsnight contact says, I t …

  • Katharine June 22, 2010 at 10:02 PM

    Sorry for being late to the conversation! But if one more comment will be acceptable. . .
    I’ve been a member of CILIP for about 6 years and during that time I have changed my views on CILIP membership several times, but never cancelled my subscription. At the moment (and I may change my mind again)I see it like this:
    CILIP came up against massive criticism last year for not getting involved enough with members and not communicating in new ways, such as via Twitter, or having their blogs open for comment by non-members etc. (I’m sure you remember the famous post by Phil Bradley last February which brought this issue to our attention).
    Until that point I’m not sure that CILIP were really getting much direct feedback on how members felt (not even CILIP were included in the echo chamber). People were disappointed and unconvinced by their professional body, but until Phil’s post I’m not sure that message was getting back enough to make a difference.
    Then CILIP started really working to encourage and improve communication, not just with members, but with the profession as a whole. They opened the blogs, they started tweeting, they massively improved the web site, and as we all know, implemented the enormous #cilipfutures initiative. Thats a LOT of work to take place in just 16 months.
    I know some of this is stuff they should have been doing anyway, but let’s not dwell on that, rather, let’s appreciate what they have done in response to feedback. Lets look at how hard they are now working to change their culture.
    There has been much criticism of #cilipfutures for various reasons, and I can see why some members feel disheartened and left out by it, but again, let’s remember, this is a massive project and to my knowledge is the first of its kind that CILIP have run – let’s give them a bit of leeway to make a few mistakes whilst on a steep learning curve. Would we have got this right first time if implementing it in an organisation with the size and variety of membership that CILIP have?

    So what about NewsNight?
    Given all the other stuff CILIP have been working on (largely in response to membership pressure) recently will they really have had time to give any serious thought to appointing and preparing a spokesperson to appear on TV at short notice just in case they get an unexpected invite to have a chat with Jeremy Paxman? Evidently not.
    But it’s happened now, and we are ALL upset about it. I wish we had a CILIP representative who could be available as required to get on the tele and make an articulate and impressive argument every time libraries were in the news. It would be an ideal service for CILIP to offer its members.
    But what HAVE CILIP done in response? They have started already to work on potential ways to avoid this from happening again, such as the one-minute messages. Some people think this is a bit of a cop out, and that CILIP should not be putting its members in a position it should be filling itself, but this is a great first step, which has resulted in much member enthusiasm and has captured our imaginations. Maybe we should give CILIP some time to take more steps before we write them off.

    If CILIP do (and I hope they do) appoint someone to “play by the media rules”, deal with the media and be ready to go on TV at a moments notice and to make sure they are in the national press when the need arises, I hope they get the right person for the job, rather than making a snap decision in response to disgruntled members.

  • thewikiman June 23, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    Certainly not too late to join the party! Thank you for commenting, and it’s good to see CILIP getting some positive feedback here. I agree with a lot of what you say.

    (And just to be absolutely clear about something – I’m in no way writing CILIP off; in the cilipfutures survey when it asked me if I’d still be a member in 2020, I picked ‘yes’… :) )

    My position all the way through this, right since the first Newsnight with incorrect figures, has been that whether CILIP is actually at fault for something /anything, or not, there’s a problem which needs to be adressed. Because jobs are under thread, libraries are struggling, the media is very powerful and it seems to be engaging with us.

    I don’t know whether it’s always been like this and I’ve never noticed, but it seems that libraries are in the news slightly more of late – and CILIP being offered a place on Newsnight is a big step forward. It shows the game we’re in now, as it were. So while CILIP are a group of excellent people doing their best in very difficult circumstances, and I for one couldn’t do any better or even half as well, I still think this whole issue is significant enough to bring up and discuss. As you say, though, they’ve done a whole load of other good things in the last year and a half. This was never intended as an indictment of CILIP per se, it was always about this one key issue.

    If I had to sum up my view in a sentance, it would be this. CILIP were unable to appear on Newsnight for various perfectly understandable reasons – but the stakes are high and they are the professional body who represent us, so as part of the changes that would prevent a similar issue occuring again, they need to lead from the front.

  • Katharine June 23, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    Thanks Ned,
    Thanks for your reply. I hope I didn’t sound like I was arguing with you, I think your posts on the issue have been very thoughtful and written in such a way to show that you just wanted some insight and discussion. I don’t think anyone can accuse you of CILIP bashing :)
    Just wanted to add to the conversation generally that NewsNight probably wasn’t something CILIP were prepared for – and reinforce the point that CILIP do do good stuff – but they do depend on member input and feedback if they are going to really achieve impressive results.

    In fact, blog posts like yours, opening the conversation in this way and giving new perspectives from outside of libraries (and, in this case, inside of TV) are just the thing we need to break out of our library-silo.

  • thewikiman June 23, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    No you didn’t sound like that – I’m just over senstitive about the whole issue of criticising CILIP as it is something I felt troubled about doing!

    And yes they probably weren’t prepared for such an eventuality – as long as they are next time..

  • Richard Hawkins June 25, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    Katherine – many thanks for your excellent insightful comments.

    And everyone else, rest assured that important people at CILIP (and of course me as well) have read this post and have taken note of it contents and the comments that followed.

    But if I may just change the subject slightly, today has been a pretty good day in terms of CILIP in the media as evidenced by the following coverage:

    BBC website:

    The Telegraph:

    The Independent:

    The Guardian, Carnegie announcement:

    The Guardian, Kate Greenaway announcement:

    The Bookseller:

    BBC Radio 4, Front Row, approx 19 minutes and 30 seconds in:


    Also, on the 1st of July at 11.30 BBC Radio 4 is due to broadcast a programme about classic books that have won the CILIP Carnegie Medal:

  • thewikiman June 25, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Wow, that’s absolutely incredible! Not bad for a single day… Good stuff CILIP. :)

  • Katharine June 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM

    Pretty cool! Keep em coming :-)

  • Richard Hawkins June 26, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    What’s that? Did you say keep ‘em coming?

    OK here’s another from the Independent again:

    BBC Breakfast News (no mention of CILIP) but good library advocacy etc.

    I’ll do my best to continue spamming up your blogs with examples like those above too in the future.

    Anyway what am I doing here anyway – it’s saturday morning!

  • Tim Coates June 26, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    It is unpleasant to read Tom Roper’s comment here and am not sure why he says what he does.

    I was called in the afternoon, along with many other people. I imagine each of us was asked what we would say to defend libraries against cuts and, then, whether we would could and would be available. The researchers are working quickly and to a tight brief which will be being changed all during the day. That is the nature of live news programmes.

    In reality the time to speak and the point in the debate at which I was called, were quite different to that which had been rehearsed. Nevertheless, Newsnight is the Jeremy Paxman show and there is no doubt that he understands and supports libraries; so the idea of closing them all to save £1bn, was seen to be daft. At the same time there are wider issues about the criteria for saving public money- and that is where he moved the discussion to, which was clever and correct. There are much bigger expenditures at stake than public libraries.

    I learned afterwards that CILIP and several other possible government and industry spokespeople had declined the offer to go on the programme. But I didn’t mind doing it– I think libraries are worth putting oneself out for. It is always the presenter and the producer who decide what is the most interesting and entertaining course to take- of course it is- that is what they do.

    I know that Alan Gibbons was keen, as he was on a previous occasion and would have jumped on a train from Liverpool. I would have done the same.

  • Frances Hendrix June 26, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    Oh Dear totally predictable. of course Cilip wern’t asked to comment, they are a shadowy organisation with no ‘formal spokesperson’. But we get this amazing air time, with someone who, like him or not, put his head above the parapet time and time again to support libraries.He is on the radar, he spoeaks it like it is, and as they say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Those of you who emailed the programme have made that point.

    It wasn’t Tims best performance, but he was frequently interrupted, BUT HE WAS THERE!!!

    Tom, are you an advocate of public libraries? I dont recall your ever debating it, emailing about them, or speaking about them? I find your comments about another porfessional, albeit from a related field, but one who has worrked hard to protect public libraries, offensive., could you ask for your email to be reomved.
    Lets be grateful there are people like Tim, Desmnond and Shirley et al on the side of public libraries.

  • thewikiman June 26, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    I’d just like to explain something, about the way comments work on this blog. The mechanism is such that if someone has had a comment approved in the past, their next comment does not require manual approval by me – it appears by default, although of course I can remove it. So as Tom has commented before on this blog, his comment went straight up without my having to approve it. I was slightly worried by the content of the comment but, rightly or wrongly, I decided not take it down – a combination of the fact that it was already there (a weak argument, I know – reminds me of debating the difference between killing and letting die during my Philosophy degree…), and the fact that I’d tried very hard to encourage debate on this topic so did not want to start censoring it.

    I do sincerely apologise, Tim, that you had to read on my blog what I’m sure was a comment you found offensive. I appreciate you stepping up and defending the industry in the media.

    Weary as I am of seeming ungrateful for debate on this blog as I normally do everything to encourage it, I’d respectfully ask that we draw a line under the issue of Tim’s performance, and of Tom’s views. In neither post did I mention Tim specifically, or seek to critique his defence of our profession in any way – the purpose of the posts was to try and focus attention on the way CILIP’s members feel about its role in, and engagement with, the media. From Bob McKee’s recent comment on his own blog, I’m encouraged that perhaps they have taken on board the way we feel, and made use of Alex’s comments – that’s as good a result as I could have hoped for.

  • DWR Clarke June 27, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    The media are interested in public libraries when we focus on the needs of those who use and rely upon them. They are not interested in the profession per se.
    It is most encouraging that organisations such as the Society of Authors, the Booksellers Association, the Reading Agency, the Campaign for the Book and many user groups have declared their support for a campaign to encourage every local authority to provide comprehensive and efficient services which meet the diverse needs of their communities. This can be achieved despite the enormous financial pressures on local government. We need more Hillingdons and no more Wirrals.
    Furthermore, user groups have been involved in very constructive discussions with the MLA and the DCMS and it is expected that an important announcement will be made this week. All this is aimed at persuading Leaders, Cabinet Members and Chief Executives of councils to meet the needs of their communities.

    We have long talked about the need for better leadership and effective advocacy. The opportunity is there for the stratgic agencies, the profession. other book trade organisations and user groups to get on the same page and put across a very powerful message

  • Tom Roper June 28, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Some of this discussion doesn’t make much sense now my comment has been deleted; but I understand why.
    I know you want to draw a line but I think I must be allowed to respond to Frances Hendrix’s remarks. I’m a founder member of the Library Campaign and I’ve been involved in campaigns to stop library closures as a professional librarian and member of LA and IIS, then CILIP, as a trade unionist, and as a library user. I led the successful campaigns in Haringey in the late 80s which stopped wholesale branch closures.

  • DMcAuley July 1, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Check out Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries @

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