Saturday, 16 November 2013

Space for new things?

This article was written for the CILIP Career Development Group North-Eastern division, who sponsored me to attend the CILIP AGM on 21st September at the Library of Birmingham. It was published in the CDG North-Eastern newsletter, InView (Autumn 2013 issue), which is available to read in full on this webpage.

Of course everyone who went to this year’s CILIP AGM will have to tell you both about the new library, and about the proceedings of the meeting. I’ll start with the library.

One word to sum up the Library of Birmingham: space. It’s huge, it’s impressive… But I was also struck by how much space there was on the shelves – is it on purpose to leave room to expand the collections, or is it because it is so popular all the books are gone? Even though the library is beautiful, with its terrace gardens, its old books on display and its lovely children and music sections, I felt a bit lost among the black/grey/blue emptiness of the building. However, it seems to be a success with the locals! By the time I got out, people were queuing to get in. Service manager Brian Gambles, in his opening speech for the AGM, talked about how proud the people of the city were of their new library – “we are feeling like we are riding a wave of success”.

Talking about the AGM... I should actually say THE agm, the one where something as important as a change of name and a motion of no-confidence in the libraries minister would be decided. As we all know, the latter went through but not the former. Before the vote on the name change, there were questions and comments (restricted to no more than 3 minutes per person!) One was on how much this “rebranding exercise” is costing us. Answer: CILIP had set aside £35,000 for it (that would have included future implementation had members voted for changing the name) out of which £8,000 had been used so far. The other comments echoed what had already been said and repeated on Twitter, blog posts, etc.
I wanted to go to the AGM because to me this was an important stage for our professional association: whatever the outcome of the vote on the name, the process that led to it (the badly phrased consultation, members’ discontent...) meant that one way or another CILIP would have to move forward, put this in the past and put new things in place, as there was clearly space for improvement. And yet, how can it do that without the involvement of members? At the AGM only about 1,000 members voted (either in person or by proxy) – that’s 7% of the membership. Where were the others?! Why did they not feel concerned? During the comments on rebranding, Tom Roper said: “When I talk to non-members, their reasons for not joining are not because of the name but because of the offer.” It’s the same for us members: this is our professional association – if we’re not happy with it, let’s get involved and change it.

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