CILIP 2018: encouraging and engaging
Senior Information Assistant (Metadata and Discovery) for
Royal Holloway, University of London
Day first of the conference: From the heart of government to the Scottish islands
Penny Young (House of Commons Library)
Following an introduction from CILIP President Ayub Khan, Penny Young spoke about her role as House of Commons Librarian. She is the 15th person and third woman in the role, and 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the library. Research and information are integral to our democracy – her team answer around 30,000 enquiries from MPs and publish 900 publicly available briefing papers each year. MPs and journalists see the library as an impartial, trusted source of information. Enquiries to the library often give ‘early warning’ of major issues.
Penny’s three years in the role so far have been action-packed, with major developments including the library’s increasing involvement in online information, making its work more easily available to the public through its website and social media; curating data including a new statistics database for constituencies; managing demand and encouraging self-help through effective discovery tools and changing the culture of parliamentary researchers. The biggest challenge is the upcoming restoration of the Palace of Westminster, which will require the entire service to be moved elsewhere. This will provide an opportunity to re-invent the service for the future.
She concluded by encouraging the audience to visit the Houses of Parliament and the current ‘Voice and vote’ exhibition and to follow the Library and Parliament on Twitter.
Sally Walker (Orkney Library & Archive)
Sally is Orkney’s Children’s Librarian. She started by summarising her career, noting that she felt like an imposter despite a series of key roles in school and university libraries. She started following Orkney Library’s well-known Twitter feed and saw the role advertised around four years ago.
She described the programmes with which she is involved, including ‘Bookbug’ storytelling groups, distributing bags of books to schools and nurseries, ‘intergenerational sessions’ in residential and care homes, working with Home-Start Orkney (a charity supporting vulnerable families with small children), introducing Minecraft and Code Club to the library, the Summer Reading Challenge, tours for school groups, teddy sleepovers, treasure hunts and many more. This is despite Orkney being a small and remote local authority with limited resources.
When she was chosen as Scotland’s Library and Information Professional of the year for 2017, she finally felt that she had shaken off the ‘imposter syndrome’. The award gained her significant media exposure, mentions in the Scottish Parliament and the opportunity to speak at conferences.
Preserving the past for the future
A series of three short talks, chaired by Danielle Westerhof (Newsletter Editor for the CILIP Library & Information History Group.
Nick Barrett (Director of Senate House Library) described several projects with which he had been involved which sought to take collections to the community beyond the library and make a difference. In one example, prisoners becoming eligible for parole at Cornton Vale Prison were given the opportunity to study family history – this inspired many of them to take training courses and re-offending rates dropped to almost nothing.
Richard Davies (Head of the British Library’s Qatar Foundation Partnership) described his role in making heritage digital and transforming access to the British Library’s collections. The partnership programme aims to put 2½ million images relating to Gulf history online, concentrating on Arabic scientific manuscripts and India Office records. The resulting Qatar Digital Library is bilingual (Arabic and English) free to use, encourages re-use of images where possible and format-neutral (working equally well on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers). The project involved everything from building works at the British Library to social media posts highlighting bizarre translation errors. Access to the collections has been transformed, from 6500 reading room requests in 15 years to up to 8000 online users per day.
Suzanna Joy (Trustee of UK Blue Shield) talked about the organisation’s role in protecting cultural property in the event of armed conflict. In 2017, the UK finally ratified the 1954 Hague Convention. Blue Shield International and its national committees work with international organisations, national governments and armed forces to protect sites and artefacts of historic or cultural importance from armed conflict and natural disasters. The Ministry of Defence is setting up special units dedicated to this work. Blue Shield is working with NATO on policy development. There is still a lot of work to do in this area, as crime against cultural heritage has never been greater.
John Chrastka and Patrick Sweeney (Everylibrary)
Everylibrary is dedicated to securing the future of funding for public libraries in the United States. Since 2012, they have raised over $250 million. They negotiate with voters and elected officials at every level of government to influence values and attitudes. The positive image of public libraries has increased in recent years, but the willingness to vote in support of them has decreased. They are working out how to close that disconnect. Demographics, political affiliation, possession of a library card and whether or not people actually use the library seem to make no difference to the level of support. This is not about convincing people to become users – campaigning to this end could alienate non-users who still value libraries and what they do.
They focus on people’s relationship with librarians rather than the library – do they trust the staff to be good stewards of their tax money. Their aim is to build a base of supporters through messages relevant to them, and to activate support quickly when crises occur – each crisis is an opportunity to spread advocacy for libraries.
Their concluding message was ‘support libraries and invest in them’. They aim to become ‘the NRA for libraries’ in terms of power as a lobbying force. They figured that the British library community needed to hear this message so badly that they were willing to present it on 4 July (American Independence Day).
Voice and vision: the importance of diverse representation in literature for young people
A panel discussion with author Juno Dawson, children’s book illustrator Nadia Shireen and Nikki Potter of Otter-Barry Books, chaired by Jake Hope, Chair of CILIP’s Youth Libraries Group. All agreed that diversity has so far been handled badly by the book trade. If you are a black child and only read books about white characters, that’s not a world to which you belong.
Librarian have a role to play in this – Juno argued that they know their audiences’ needs and we need them to put relevant books into the hands of people who might not want to be seen with them (such as her own work ‘This book is gay’, which is reported to be frequently stolen from libraries). Nikki noted that the loss of expertise in children’s book buying has made this more difficult, as libraries become more susceptible to publishers pushing a small number of mainstream titles. The quality of literature available is also an issue: Nadia remarked that books featuring non-white characters seem to be quite earnest and simplistic, and pleaded for authors to reference the full range of human experience. Jake mentioned the recent review of CILIP’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards, which has opened up all sorts of conversations in the book trade.
A culture change is needed in publishing. Nikki mentioned Quarto’s policy of ‘creative access’ to bring in interns from a diverse range of backgrounds. The industry is still very white and middle-class, as well as being London-centric (although this should matter less in a more connected world).
There was also some discussion of ‘The hate u give’ by Angie Thomas which has had a huge impact in America. Nikki also mentioned “Rising stars: new young voices in poetry” showcasing five debut poets from diverse backgrounds aged 25 and under.
The day concluded with a drinks reception and fish and chip supper on Brighton Pier.
Day Two: International, diverse and informed
Breakfast seminar: towards a new international policy for CILIP
Ayub Khan gave a presentation – the theme for his presidency is to refresh and refocus CILIP’s international policy and programmes. CILIP is the second-largest national library association in the world and well-respected internationally, despite the challenge of Brexit and limited resources for engaging with events overseas. CILIP was a founder member of EBLIDA (who have changed their rules to keep CILIP in membership) and is active in IFLA, particularly working to protect intellectual freedoms and developing the world library map. CILIP has over 700 international members; most sales for its subsidiary Facet Publishing are abroad; they provide accreditation for library schools abroad; they have many other international activities. A Presidential Commission has been established to develop CILIP’s international policy in the UK’s new situation, reporting back later in the year.
He asked for help in answering three questions:
- What type of activity do you think CILIP should prioritise?
- What do you think should be in an international policy?
- What would be the one thing you would like to come out of the Presidential Commission?
Samira Ahmed (journalist)
Samira’s keynote speech presented numerous examples of the importance of libraries and heritage collections and the role of organised information. Half the information on Wikipedia is wrong (including about her!). She was particularly exercised by the ‘Windrush’ scandal earlier this year – the UK is a nation obsessed with history and genealogy, yet the records relating to this group of immigrants were destroyed. These people will never get on ‘who do you think you are?’, they no longer have the evidence to back up their family history.
She is also interested in the impact of austerity on libraries, archives and museums, noting that the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, previously run by Cambridgeshire County Council, has been passed to a charity – as she discovered whilst researching Oliver Cromwell’s wife, Elizabeth. This theme was continued in a workshop where she gathered delegates’ evidence of the impact of austerity and how it has been treated in the media. Numerous delegates offered contributions, these will be written up in an article for ‘The new humanist’ magazine. Cuts were reported not just to public library services, but to academic libraries as well, with comments offered on the impacts on freedom of access to information, students’ attitudes to preserving the past and the widening digital divide. Darren Smart of Kent County Libraries summed up the value of his service by saying “Libraries are an enabling service, which enable many other services to run more efficiently.” CILIP Trustee Dawn Finch noted that there is nothing else in the community doing what public libraries do, they have so many impacts; library staff do a very important job but they have been making it look easy for too long.
Samira referenced the 70th anniversary of the NHS – the discussion about libraries needs to get onto the same level as the NHS, no-one wants to get rid of that! She appealed for further contributions on the subject – she can be contacted through her website.
Helen Dodd (Head of Data Governance, Cancer Research UK)
Helen’s talk was entitled “Driving cultures of information management through compliance programmes” and focused on the introduction of GDPR. The new regulations presented an opportunity to bring Cancer Research UK (CRUK) closer to their audiences by raising awareness of their rights and how their data is used (Yes, they have been fined for misuse of data in the past!). Data is a currency – personal information has never been more valuable. GDPR was a big step in reducing risk. Whist it is new, the skills involved in implementing it aren’t.
CRUK’s GDPR programme was very well-resourced, with a detailed best practice plan. Senior management were heavily involved. A timeline was drawn up, although it has slipped by about six months. A data processing review uncovered a wide range of practices and kickstarted a cultural change. The whole process aimed to move CRUK staff “from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence”, with a strong message of ‘championing data’.
As a result, staff confidence levels have improved. Helen claimed that “this is the start of a beautiful relationship with data within CRUK”. She has a plan to embed the new systems and procedures, which will continue until December. She concluded by saying that “facts and evidence are becoming more important because of the data they have available” and “the future is data”.
Guy Daines (Head of Policy, CILIP)
This was a ‘lighter’ session. As Guy approached retirement, he reflected on his career as a librarian and more recently as a member of CILIP staff, noting some of the changes that have taken place over the years. He concluded by noting that the 17 UN sustainable development goals all depend on information.
An open and inclusive future for the library profession
Before this session started, Ayub Khan announced the formation of a new BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) network, providing a networking and career development forum for sections of the population known to be under-represented in the profession. It is surely right that the profession should reflect the diversity of the society and communities it serves.
Neena Shulka Morris (Assistant Librarian at Ardingly College) chaired the session and introduced the three speakers.
Wanda Wyporska (Executive Director, The Equality Trust) opened by stating that “my one ambition in life was to write a book” – this involved spending years of her life in libraries. The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. We clearly value CEOs far more than teachers, nurses, etc. given what we pay them. More inequality means more health and social problems. Government policy makes things worse – BAME women seem to lose out most from recent changes to benefits. What can librarians do? Promote their profession, engage with schools, ensure there is a diverse workforce and diverse reading matter, provide help (e.g. with Universal Credit), provide a ‘safe space’, involve the local community and organise events of interest to diverse groups (e.g. around Black History Month). She concluded that there is such potential in libraries, but we need to hear more about it.
Russel Barrow (Principal Librarian: West, Hertfordshire) started by describing a graduation ceremony for two prisoners who had taken Open University courses. They were black, everyone else in the room apart from an OU official and Russel himself was white. Those two men valued him as a black man running the library service. If the people running the service don’t reflect the diversity of society, then they lose authenticity and people won’t think it is relevant to them. Library staff are generally good at reaching out to diverse communities, but why is the profession not more diverse? He doesn’t generally wish to be defined as a ‘black librarian’, and his advice to the audience was not to let anyone else define who you are: be your own voice, because we need diverse voices.
Shirley Yearwood-Jackson (Liaison Librarian, University of Liverpool) called out to the audience to stop talking and take action. There is still overt racism, there is also a lot of unconscious bias and institutional inertia. It feels like a long way to climb to improve the situation – the BAME attainment gap hasn’t closed in ten years. She offered some suggestions to improve recruitment of BAME staff, appealing to CILIP and others to appreciate the differences in experience of BAME communities, and to provide best practice guidance on raising awareness. She concluded by offering five things everyone could do: seek to understand the challenge at your organisation; be a voice advocating for equality wherever you are; act to eliminate barriers to recruitment in your organisation and sector; review recruitment policies at your organisation; and get involved in raising awareness and action for change.
A second session from John Chrastka and Patrick Sweeney of Everylibrary, building on the previous day’s talk. They started by describing library lobbying in the USA, and their strategy to build support by encouraging strong views, as “only radicalised individuals take action”. They noted that, around forty years ago, the National Rifle Association started to change from a gun club into the major lobbying body it is today. Libraries don’t have that much time!
They described a ‘ladder of engagement’ starting from a position of no awareness. The first step is to educate such people to a level where they can, for example, like something on Facebook. You can then build on that awareness gradually, starting to target them to donate, volunteer, sign petitions, etc. until they become supporters and finally advocates. It is necessary to educate audiences early so people care about something before a crisis happens. They also mentioned the importance of connecting the library to the issues people already care about.
They concluded by encouraging the audience to develop a vision for the future of library funding, emphasising the importance of identifying, cultivating and developing ‘super-supporters’ as well as empowering people by building communities such as friends’ groups. With a large enough mailing list, you can achieve great things!
The conference was supported by an extensive exhibition, with 35 stands for library-related businesses and groups. A special mention must be made of Book Love, whose eye-catching display showcasing diverse and culturally inclusive children’s books meant there was no contest for ‘best in show’!
I was very impressed with the scale and organisation of the conference. It even merited yellow AA road signs. A lot was packed into a short period of time, and there were optional seminars which looked interesting, but which I had to miss out on. There were many interesting speakers covering a wide range of topics, with a lot of important things to say. There was also ample time for networking during the breaks and at the evening reception. It was very encouraging to be part of such a large gathering of information workers, and to meet so many people from different places and sectors. I am very tempted to put Manchester 2019 in the diary already.