Speech by Nick Poole of CILIP at Speak Up For Libraries conference, November 2015

Nick has kindly sent me the full text of this speech at the SUFL conference. I reproduce it here in its entirety.  I have added a few links, quotations and changed the line spacings.

Speak up for Libraries Speech – Nick Poole

Good morning everyone. Before we begin today, I just wanted to ask you to join me in taking a moment to reflect in silence on the people who lost their lives in last night’s tragic events in Paris, and in conflicts around the world.

[MINUTES SILENCE]

Thankyou.

Well it’s a great pleasure to welcome you all here this morning.

I would also like to set out some principles – we are going to talk about difficult and emotional things today. I need to ask, and I will also promise to, that we treat each other with kindness and respect. That we listen well and share freely and that we always remember that we are all trying to fight for the same thing, even if we have a different view on the tactics.

Welcome to all of you – we have a varied audience and I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas as we run through the day. It is fantastic to have Kathy Settle in the room from the Libraries Taskforce, and to have SCL here represented by Ciara Eastell. I’d like in particular to welcome two new campaigners, Ed and Dave, both of whom have voiced their support for the library campaign in the past week. I think Dave’s passionate letter to his local council in defence of his libraries touched all our hearts.

It’s also an opportunity to talk about an issue which we don’t talk about often enough. It’s an issue which commonly affects politicians over around 40 – Empathy Deficit.  It can ruin lives – admittedly, not their own. But it can ruin lives. Of course, it can also lead to the other type of ED – Electoral Defeat.

I love libraries, and I love librarians. Librarians changed the course of my life, introduced me to ideas and literature, taught me about the value and the fragility of freedom and civil liberties. I never want to lose sight of that, even as we look to dark and difficult days ahead, I want to keep sight of the fact that we have brilliant libraries, full of brilliant people. That across the country today, right now, our libraries are changing lives for the better.

This is also a timely opportunity for us here at CILIP to have this conversation. You’ll be aware we’re two-thirds of the way through Shape the Future, our open, collaborative project to develop our future plan.

There’s a word I’ve been using a lot since I started in this job in June. That word is ‘solidarity’. It’s an important word, and I think it has never been more so than it is today. I wanted to start today by expressing solidarity with all of you – here in this room and all over the country, indeed all over the world – as you fight to defend something that I believe is incredibly precious.  I’ve worked in countries where the right to knowledge is not universal. I’ve met families – here in the UK and elsewhere – that are struggling to support the kind of digital access that a modern education demands. I’ve seen what happens to peoples aspirations when their right to self-expression is curtailed. And that is not the future I want. I suspect it’s not the future you want either.

“I want to express solidarity with everyone that is working to deliver library services to the public – whether paid or unpaid, Chartered or not. Whether you’re on the front desk or managing services, what you do matters.”

I want to express solidarity with everyone that is working to deliver library services to the public – whether paid or unpaid, Chartered or not. Whether you’re on the front desk or managing services, what you do matters. I have visited many different kinds of library since I joined CILIP. Some big metropolitan services, some community-run. Some in health, schools and colleges. I can honestly say that almost every single person I have met has articulated the same passion – to help people help themselves.  This is so important. To help people help themselves. And we ought to stand in unity and solidarity with anyone who shares that belief. I don’t want to blame the volunteers for volunteering, I want to blame the people who are forcing our libraries to substitute paid professionals for unpaid volunteers.

For the same reason, I want to express solidarity with the managers – the decision makers who find themselves making decisions none of them ever wanted to make.  Yes, some of them are making arbitrary and vindictive decisions, but many are trying to keep as many plates spinning as possible with an ever-diminishing resource.

I don’t imagine that the authors of the 1964 Public Libraries Act ever dreamed that the definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’ would be stretched so thin. But the simple fact is that we should never have to be in the position of defending people’s right to benefit from a quality library service. In an enlightened society, that right should be inalienable.

Lest we forget – we are the 3rd largest economy in Europe, possibly the 2nd, 7th largest in the world. This isn’t about money, it’s about ideology.

“we are the 3rd largest economy in Europe, possibly the 2nd, 7th largest in the world. This isn’t about money, it’s about ideology. “

For those of us in receipt of public funding, we must always be accountable and efficient in how we use that money to benefit users. But we cannot be held to account for the value of our services solely in economic terms – in the recent words of a Parliamentarian, “this is not a spreadsheet exercise”. At some point all lives, all careers, all communities intersect with and benefit from the work you do. That is the definition of a universal public service.

As the UK-wide professional body for library and information professionals working to open up knowledge for the public, we have a responsibility not only to stand in solidarity with everyone that is willing to commit to defending this ideal but to bring our voices together at the highest levels in Government to hold our elected officials to account. And that is what we will do.

As the professional body for library and information workers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the media and through them the public understand what it is that they are at risk of losing. And that is what we will do. As the professional body for library and information workers we can repair the fabric of professionalism and standards that has worn thin over the past decade, strengthening the Act, advocating for national policy and seeking to secure manifesto commitments to support our community. And that is what we will do. But I also need to ask you to do more. And I know you already do a very great deal. I need to ask you to consider some other acts of solidarity.

The first is between all library and information professionals and people working in publicly-funded libraries – public libraries, schools, colleges and the NHS. To paraphrase, “because I am part of society, the loss of any library diminishes me”.  Whether you call yourself a librarian, or a data scientist or a knowledge architect or an information manager – we are united by our skills, our ethics and our professionalism. Too often in recent months I have heard that it is too much to ask for unity between library, knowledge and information professionals. I completely disagree.

“because I am part of society, the loss of any library diminishes me”

We are stronger when we stand together and advocate for our skills, ethics and professionalism – in industry, in universities, law firms or classrooms. Our future strategy – currently open for consultation – is all about how we move forward together in unity and solidarity. So I would ask you to support your colleagues, wherever they work.

The second is between young and old. Looking around the room, I would guess that some of you have enjoyed long and distinguished careers in libraries. You’ll have seen austerity, recession and recovery and so you’ll know that these cycles happen again and again. You’ll also know the truth of the expression “this, too, shall pass”.  Some of you will be just embarking on your careers – whether in the public sector, in companies or even just looking for work or studying.

“You’ll also know the truth of the expression “this, too, shall pass”.  “

I would like to assure you that, despite the tempestuous times in which we live, this is still in my view the best career you could choose. You will be surrounded by passionate, committed people with a vital skillset. You will have opportunities to help companies grow, to help people help themselves, to build your own skills. The old guard need to be patient with those of you that are defining new kinds of service for a changing society. Together, young and old, we must be optimistic about the possible future for our sector.

 And finally, I need to ask you for solidarity with CILIP as your professional body. Our Royal Charter is a recognition of the status and esteem of our profession. Being a chartered professional means that you have overcome barriers, made a commitment to your own development and to a code of practice which places the user at the heart of everything we do.

I am in charge of the survey responses to our consultation. And from these I know that many people want us to be a campaigner. You want us to man the barricades and march arm-in-arm with you. Others want us to be a Union – defending individuals as they go through what is often an unpleasant and distressing process.   We cannot man the barricades and we aren’t a Union, but it is not good enough to be defined by what we aren’t, or by what we can’t do. We know that we need to step up and be defined by what we can do.

So this is what we will do.

On the 25th November, we will launch a campaign of support and solidarity for the library and information professions.  Our aim with this campaign is to raise national awareness of the value and impact of library and information professionals and to lobby for policy to protect and promote their interests.

The key elements of this campaign will include:

  • A visible campaign of PR, media and promotional activity to raise the profile of our members and their skills while also raising awareness of the huge threats they face. A much more vocal campaign – although always operating constructively, independently and with respect;
  • A proactive campaign – which we have already begun – of writing directly to portfolio holders and local MP’s calling on them to abide by their statutory and civic duty toward their library services and the people who use them;
  • A suite of supporting materials, evidence, information and statistics for use by our members when articulating the value and impact of their services for the public;
  • Direct support for our members who find themselves at risk of redundancy – including an advice line, financial support through the benevolent fund, access to careers information and CV clinics;
  • Direct engagement with English Ministers across Whitehall as well as support for colleagues in CILIPS and CILIP in Wales and Northern Ireland in their political advocacy;
  • Published legal advice from a leading human rights Barrister clarifying the definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’ under the 1964 Act and the duty of improvement it places on the Secretary of State;
  • Support for a national SUFL lobby to bring these messages directly to elected members and officials in Westminster;
  • Engagement with the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to push for large-scale solutions and supporting policies endorsed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport;
  •  Direct support, advice and help for members who find themselves making a career transition

This campaign will launch on the 25th November to coincide with the announcement of the initial 2015 Spending Review for England, and will continue throughout 2016 as departmental budgets and budgets in devolved nations are released.

We have lost a great deal already, and we stand to lose more. I want to look back on this period and see a CILIP that stood in solidarity with our community, a CILIP that made a real and lasting difference, a CILIP that demonstrated leadership when it was needed most.

So welcome to today’s Speak up for Libraries. This is an important moment – the last opportunity to bring together our fragmented community under a common banner and a common purpose before the Autumn Budget statement. I hope that we use it well.

For the time being, thank you for your attention.

“We have lost a great deal already, and we stand to lose more. I want to look back on this period and see a CILIP that stood in solidarity with our community, a CILIP that made a real and lasting difference, a CILIP that demonstrated leadership when it was needed most.”

 

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