On “Moaners”

(as referred to in CILIP social media policy…)

The birth of a librarian

When I left University (quite some time ago) with an art degree and no real idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was a bit lost. I could not imagine myself being a “professional” anything.

Then I fell into librarianship. I got a library assistant job in a university library without really knowing what librarians did (yes, I was one of those people who thought it would be really quiet and I might get bored. How wrong I was!). It was only when my manger spotted some potential in me and encouraged me to do an MSc in Librarianship I started to believe I could be a “professional” (I will never forget her asking. I was getting in a dreadful mess with vistafoil at the time!)

I threw myself into my MSc. I loved it. I got a distinction, a student award, papers written, did talks for various groups, got my 1st professional post. I excitedly joined CILIP. I was so proud to be part of a professional body. I could not have been a more willing or enthusiastic advocate. The cynicism I met about CILIP from others who had been in the profession for a long time baffled me. The arguments against chartership baffled me. It was everything being a professional meant to me (yes, really!).

I was undertaking my MSc right when the “global” economic crisis struck

THEN…….

The activist librarian

Drastic public library cuts were set to hit Gloucestershire. Some of the poorest areas were to have their libraries de-funded and were told to run the libraries themselves. I founded a library campaign to try to stop this. “Don’t worry” I said to the public librarians in the service “I am in touch with CILIP and I am sure we will have their support”. The looks on their faces! As if I had just landed from another planet. “I don’t think any of us are even members of CILIP anymore. They abandoned us years ago” was all I heard. They were proven right.

It was around this time that CILIP started getting a lot of criticism from information professionals. CILIP failed to accept invites by the mainstream media to represent librarians in the face of cuts. The self-appointed spokespeople for libraries to be seen in the media were normally well-intentioned authors. CILIP said it could not get involved in “campaigning” because it was a charity not a union. At around this time a new CEO joined CILIP. The new CEO assured me she would “pull her sleeves up” and get stuck in. CILIP would change…..to my dismay this change never happened…except to, um, update their volunteer policy. CILIP were adamant that their role was to quietly lobby behind the scene on the rare times they got thrown a bone by an MP or a civil servant.

Librarian activists and public librarians were really left out in the cold. After repeated disappointment in CILIP I got increasingly disenfranchised and I left. I continued to fight for public libraries through Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and Voices for the Library. I was not alone in my dismay with CILIP. Lots of people felt the same. Lots of people left. CILIP was in crises. I completely disengaged.

Instead of chartering I did a Postgrad Cert in Higher Education as this was now generally valued more in academic librarianship

The battle-worn librarian

Roll on to 2017/18 and there is another CEO. People keep telling me “CILIP has changed!”. There are a few members of the board appearing in my feed on Twitter being fairly vocal about libraries and library cuts. They are saying the same things we were begging CILIP to say 10 years ago. The same things I, WE, YOU! were saying years ago (I would argue it is rather too little and too late…but still, at least there is some evident will to change).

I had not engaged with CILIP in years but with the new membership structure and a few vocal CILIP voices out there, my ears pricked up. “maybe I should give them a chance” I thought. I would so love to be in a professional body that doesn’t cower in the face of ideological attack, one that is strong and supportive. I would really welcome a professional body that has our back. I seriously considered re-joining.  The only thing that stopped me at the time was that it was coming up to Christmas so I didn’t have the funds.

Sadly, before I could get my wallet out, my mind has changed. Here are the reasons

I and my campaign group largely won our library fight and saved some of the libraries in the poorest neighbourhoods. I wasn’t naive enough to think this was the end though and have been keeping my eye on the County Council ever since. I was right to do so. Recently the authority decided they were going to start charging non-members for internet usage. I was concerned about how this would impact on the most vulnerable of society. I challenged them. I got the usual non-responses and they refused to answer my very valid questions. “I need some back-up” I thought “maybe CILIP can back up my concerns…can adopt a supportive stance based on sensible arguments and policy”. “Now CILIP have changed maybe I won’t be fighting on my own anymore”. I tweeted the CILIP official account asking if they had a view. I didn’t expect an immediate response.

I didn’t get any response! (I got a random irrelevant link to ACE funding grants or something tweeted at me and then quickly deleted!). I asked again. Nothing. Weeks passed. Nothing. So I grumbled out loud on Twitter. Suddenly up popped the CEO of CILIP and other board members telling me “CILIP has changed” “CILIP has changed”  “be the change you want to see”. With that I bristled.

  • In the past 10 years I got more changed outside of CILIP than I ever could have within it
  • I have campaigned so hard and for so long. I am shattered. I am disillusioned. Sometimes, just sometimes, I DON’T WANT TO BE THE VOICE. I don’t want it to have to come from me. If CILIP really has changed, show it! I needed some support from them. In return they may then get it from me.

My heart sank to my toes. I used to hear the same “change it yourself” lines in 2010

I was told this particular incident was an oversight, a one off, “CILIP has changed”, “CILIP has changed”. Meanwhile the official CILIP account continued sitting there in stony silence. I suggested CILIP review its social media policy and explained that some sort of response, be it sign-posting to useful resources, a letter to the council asking for more information, anything would have been welcome. Just being ignored when out here trying to advocate for public libraries is utterly demoralising.

Roll on several weeks. A well-known author publically states on Twitter that, unlike academic or specialist libraries, public libraries don’t need paid trained staff. I asked the CILIP twitter account for a response……silence… (it did actually respond to the author, which I did not see but I was pointed to it by other librarians on Twitter. The account just failed to engage directly with me). Meanwhile CEO Nick Poole responded with the hyperbole

‘There isn’t one. We don’t have the staff, nor would it be productive for us to respond to every misapprehension about professional librarians on twitter. We do respond wherever there is a formal implication. In this case, she had already had a robust response from the community’

Just think about that for a minute. The CEO of  the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the organisation that is supposed to  “provide unity through shared values and advocate on behalf of the information professions” saying “there isn’t [a response]” to a well known author stating that paid, trained public library staff are not needed.  This wasn’t ‘every misapprehension’ this was a renowned author with a large audience. Perhaps ‘the community’, the usual suspects, shouldn’t have to do it all alone for a change.

I start to get a bit paranoid. Why is this professional body official account not engaging with me? Is it because of bad practice (any serious organisation worth its salt knows that to use social media to just broadcast is bad practice, right?).  So I had a look at CILIP social media policy and I saw the words “some people just simply enjoy having a moan” (yes really!) and it got me thinking

It worries me when language like this is used as it can, and has, been used to silence critical voices (incidentally that is also how the local authority implementing the cuts in Glos referred to library campaigners).  It was also an accusation thrown by CILIP at critical voices back in 2010.

I could easily write you a list of us that probably feature on their moaners list. They would be the people who voraciously defend librarians and libraries, challenge policy and perception. They are those who have stuck their heads above the parapet. In many ways, the recent desperate wails of “we are different” have vindicated these “moaners”. I take some comfort in knowing that the reason CILIP is so desperate to convince everyone that it has “changed” is because the very same “moaners” back in 2010 were correct. (or maybe the coffers were getting a bit dry).

I appreciate that many of CILIP staff are dedicated to making it better but, I am sorry, individuals tweeting into the echo-chamber isn’t enough for me. Engagement should not be about finding vocal or responsive board members on Twitter in the absence of the official account even bothering to acknowledge you took the time to ask a question.

I have decided CILIP have not changed enough for me to re-join yet and I don’t know that there is anyone as disappointed by this as me. I desperately yearned for some solidarity but my initial efforts to reach out have left me feeling exactly as I have for years, the lone voice in Gloucestershire speaking out against worrying policy change in public libraries. (I still don’t have a response from Gloucestershire County Council)

A few weeks ago CEO Nick Poole tweeted

“One takehome from my recent question to the #Libraries Minister was that we need to activate non-#librarians via Friends Groups to engage local MP’s and ensure local people are making the library a ‘doorstep issue’. Is anyone out there doing this already?”

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and several people (who are probably on the blacklist) have been doing exactly this for years. Pretty successfully too.

I pointed this out but judging from the silence in response I don’t think CILIP feels it has any lessons to learn from us.

To really move forward, instead of dismissing people as “moaners”, CILIP must pay heed to its critics. Those of us who have been fighting a very demoralising fight out here in their absence over the last ten years need them to do better. It may seem like a small thing but it could start by getting the basics like social media right.

I know that fear of being labelled a “moaner” stops people from speaking out but, though never acknowledged, these very same “moaners” are often those who instigate change.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Frank Daniels on February 28, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Hello. It is so much more worse than even you can imagine. I cannot say more in this public place …

    Reply

    • Hi Frank, I am sorry but not surprised to hear this. I only wish I could have had more of an impact on saving libraries. Solidarity to you and everyone else struggling. I fear the damage is irrevocable. 😕

      Reply

  2. […] Bo Anderson’s Blog: 27 February On “Moaners” ‘To really move forward, instead of dismissing people as “moaners”, CILIP must pay heed […]

    Reply

  3. Posted by Tim Coates on March 3, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Joanna

    There are those who have huge admiration for what you have tried to achieve and have achieved over many hard years – I am definitely one of those

    You are heroic . Everything you say here is fair and true

    Tim Coates

    Reply

  4. Posted by Peter Moll on April 7, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    When I left public libraries to become a law librarian (long story) I joined BIALL (The British & Irish Association of Law Librarians), but continued to pay my dues to CILIP to preserve my right to call myself a Chartered Librarian (I got little recognition or benefit for doing so).
    I let my sub to CILIP lapse after I retired, but sensed withdrawal symptoms when I considered doing the same for BIALL (a much smaller sum was involved, also tax deductible) so my Inbox continues to receive invitations to meetings I can’t attend, discussions about matters of common interest (e.g. salary scales, dealing with various publishers, etc.) and requests for help with queries – to some of which I can still make a meaningful response. The main difference between the services to its members by the two
    associations being that one is supplied by a professional bureaucracy and the other by practising information professionals.
    I was a very active member of various CILIP committees and special interest groups and aware of their dedication, but the main practical benefit from HQ was the provision of somewhere to meet.
    Am I being too unfair to its staff?

    Reply

  5. […] and supporting the people the say they will. I enjoyed reading Johanna’s recent blog post ‘On “Moaners”‘ . It’s a very interesting and critical look at CILIP* and Johanna’s journey in […]

    Reply

  6. Posted by Emma Foote on April 12, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Hi Johanna,

    I’m planning to start an MSc in Information Management in September and your comments about CILIP have got me thinking. Do you think an MSc on a CILIP certified course is still a good idea? And could you point me in the right direction for more information about the post-graduate cert in higher education you mentioned? Any pg cert in HE in particular? I looked up the pg cert in my local university and it appears to deal only with medical education. Sorry to be asking such basic questions but I’m a careers changer who is just starting out in library work and clearly I have a lot to learn!

    Reply

    • Hi Emma,
      Thanks for reading my blog. I loved doing my MSc so I wouldn’t want to put anyone off it. Doing the dissertation has also really helped me to support students doing their own. I did research in Malawi for mine and it was one of the best things I ever did. I was really lucky and got my MSc funded so it was a bit of a no brainer. It’s been a while since I did it though and so I don’t know much about courses now.
      The PG Cert is often something academic librarians do while on the job. My employer encourages all librarians to do it, as do many other universities. It’s really hard to do otherwise as a lot of it is practice based. MSc courses rarely cover the user education/teaching aspect of librarianship so librarians often find the PG Cert really useful. It’s not really an equivalent to the MSc but it is often valued more than chartership. New lecturers have to do the PG Cert too as researchers aren’t necessarily already equipped with the skills and experience of teaching.
      Sorry, I don’t feel I’ve answered your question very well. Are you on twitter? If so feel free to follow me on there @hohojanna if you want to chat further . There are a lot of librarians on my network there who I’m sure would have advice for you on this.

      Reply

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