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Advocating for our profession

14 October 2019  
Posted by: Nick Poole
Advocating for our profession

As the Chartered body for library, information and knowledge workers, CILIP has an important responsibility to advocate for the value and impact of our profession locally, nationally across all four nations of the UK and internationally.

CILIP is working hard to build a long-term network of influence to secure the interests of our profession. This work is bigger than any one organisation. That is why we hope to enlist our partners, members and other stakeholders to come together in the months ahead to implement a sector-wide campaign of political lobbying and engagement based on our slogan “Build the future – invest in libraries”.

CILIP advocacy

Advocacy goals

CILIP has four connected advocacy goals which shape and drive all of our work with politicians and the media:

Goal 1: BETTER UNDERSTANDING Replace the limited understanding among policymakers (who often think that ‘library’ refers only to ‘public libraries’) with a much richer picture of the range of sectors and contexts in which librarians, information and knowledge professionals work, the range of work that they do and the value that this creates for users and stakeholders.
Goal 2: BETTER JOBS Lobby for policy, legislation and investment which will provide the conditions for employers to create more and better jobs for librarians, information and knowledge professionals.
Goal 3: BETTER POLICY & INVESTMENT Lobby for policy and investment which reflect the principles and values of our profession, as set out in our Ethical Framework and the position paper: Libraries, Information and Knowledge Change Lives.
Goal 4: FAIR LEGISLATION Seek to influence key elements of legislation and regulation which make it easier for librarians, information and knowledge professionals to do their work including (but not limited to) Copyright, Open Access, Information Governance and Data Protection.

We pursue these advocacy goals through eight priorities:

  • Clear values
  • Strong relationships
  • Compelling stories
  • Credible evidence
  • Public support
  • Proactive engagement
  • National and regional relevance
  • International solidarity

Clear values

An essential first step in any effective lobby is to know what you stand for. Securing political buy-in isn’t about bending your value proposition to accommodate the interests of the person you are seeking to influence. It is about getting them to buy-in to the value of what you are and the difference it makes.

CILIP has already taken an important first step in this process through the Ethics Review in 2018, implemented by the Ethics Committee led by Trustee and former President Dawn Finch. This important project created a new, revitalised and more relevant Ethical Framework which clarified and articulated the long-standing ethics of our profession.

More recently, we have sought to put ideas into action by announcing the launch of the new BAME Information Professionals Network, alongside new networks for LGBTQ+ professionals and people with Disabilities. We are also putting our values into practice by launching new initiatives to support women in the library, information and knowledge profession.

Building on this, we are about to launch a groundbreaking new Position Paper, Libraries, Information and Knowledge Change Lives, in partnership with the CILIP Community, Diversity and Equalities Group (CDEG), setting out our commitment to taking action on social justice, equality and diversity, poverty and climate change.

Strong relationships

We are living in complex and challenging times, with a shifting political agenda and policy priorities that can conflict with our objectives. In times like these, it is the relationships we build – with politicians, civil servants, the media, champions and supporters – that enable us to deliver a strong and clear message for our sector.

That is why a key priority for CILIP is to reach out and engage with as many individual politicians and journalists stakeholders as possible through a targeted engagement campaign. In the months ahead, we will be meeting with MP’s, Ministers, Peers and Civil Servants to share the demands of our new 10-point ‘Manifesto for Libraries’.

We have already laid the foundations, building cross-party support through the Libraries All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG Libraries) and meeting regularly with champions like Lord John Bird, Lord Graham Tope, Gill Furniss MP and other Members of Parliament. We have a database of politicians who have spoken out in support of libraries and seek to brief them regularly on our key messages.

We are developing a network of journalists, broadcasters and media contacts who are supportive of libraries. Broadcasters such as Stuart Linnell of BBC Radio Northamptonshire have helped us deliver well over 100 media interviews in the past 3 years and are vital in ensuring the voice of our profession is heard. We have been proud to support initiatives like the Daily Express Crusade for Libraries.

Alongside politicians and the media, we are also going to be developing a network of partner organisations who share our values and objectives for libraries. Fragmentation has been a huge challenge for the ‘library lobby’ in the past and we want to bring people together to ensure that as far as possible we are speaking with a single voice.

Compelling stories

It is vitally important that our ‘library lobby’ is built around value for end-users, rather than simply being seen to protect our jobs. The best way to do this is through stories which highlight the transformative impact of librarians, information and knowledge workers on the lives of their users.

Campaigns like the successful CILIP/Health Education England #AMillionDecisions are built around good stories. In the case of #AMillionDecisions, the CILIP Health Libraries Group and HEE are able to tell real-life stories from patients and clinical staff about how librarians and knowledge specialists are transforming healthcare. We need to be able to do the same in every sector.

That is why we have begun to pull together short, compelling stories about the transformative impact of our profession on the lives of our user communities, which we will use to shape the understanding of funders and stakeholders.

Credible evidence

Despite the strong commitment in our profession to evidence-based policy and practice, we are not good at developing credible evidence that illuminates and reinforces the story we want to tell about the value and impact of our work.

CILIP believes that an important connection between academic research in Library and Information Science and the practice of our profession has worn thin and is at risk of breaking entirely. We need to work together as a professional community to ensure that our future development is built on a strong foundation of evidence and research.

In 2017, several CILIP Special Interest Groups collaborated to develop proposals for a Library, Information and Knowledge Sector Research and Evidence Base. Sadly, despite strong sector support, we have not yet been able to secure funding to make this a reality.

Nevertheless, we have been able to make some progress. The new School Libraries Survey, implemented jointly by CILIP, the School Library Association and CILIP's School Libraries Group for the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign, has provided the first truly comprehensive overview of library provision in schools across the UK – throwing new light on the risk of serious inequality in access to knowledge and learning.

CILIP and The Big Issue have collaborated to publish Public Libraries: The Case for Support. This important report brings together all of the best and most current evidence in support of the wide-ranging and far-reaching impact of public libraries and will provide vital insight to support our lobby for future investment.

Public support

We know that public support is crucial to convincing sceptical (or actively hostile) politicians to change their minds and support better policy, legislation and investment in libraries.

Our partnership with the EveryLibrary Institute to develop the Arts Council-funded Libraries Deliver is an essential first step. Built on the same NationBuilder platform used by political movements around the world, Libraries Deliver is already achieving real success in building up a database of library supporters. Using the platform’s tools, we are now in a position to target messaging to library supporters right down to ‘street level’ – enabling us to galvanise their support for local public libraries.

But the real issue is wider than this. Securing the long-term interests of our sector means finding new ways to encourage the public to demand better-quality information in their lives. We know already that media and information literacy are the essential antidotes to fake news and misinformation. We know that health literacy is set to be a key determinant of public health and social care. We need to do much more to work with the media and policymakers to ensure that people everywhere are actively fighting for their rights as empowered information-literate citizens.

Proactive engagement

In the words of Stephen Wyber, Policy and Advocacy Manager at IFLA, “we need to ensure that the people making decisions about libraries, like libraries”. In our advocacy work, we are often confronted with decision-makers who either don’t know or don’t care about the value and impact of our profession, or who actively believe that our skills are no longer required in a digital age.

While we do engage with stakeholders in sectors where libraries and librarians are at risk – such as our ongoing engagement with Councils who are proposing cuts to library services, Head teachers who advertise professional school librarian roles on very low pay and Universities that are implementing cuts to staffing – we need to try and move from a reactive mode to a more proactive one, helping them to see the value of our profession before the cuts are proposed.

And yes, we do still go in directly to speak with Councils that are putting libraries at risk to seek a better outcome. We don’t always publicise these discussions, but our aim is to make a clear and compelling case for professionally-staffed public libraries at the heart of their communities, building on the guidance we worked on with the Local Government Association.

CILIP is in regular dialogue with other sector organisations and the Libraries Team at DCMS about proposed cuts and closures, and it has been good to see Councils taking a pre-emptive approach in approaching us to discuss changes to services before they are announced publicly.

CILIP has achieved real progress in our proactive engagement with employers to secure better awareness and recognition of the value of our professional skills. The new Employer Partners Scheme provides an ongoing platform for dialogue which enables us to build support, challenge outmoded ideas and share insights and best practice from employers in all sectors, while also learning from them about their current and future skills needs. We have already seen this work bear fruit in sectors from public libraries to healthcare, corporate library and information services to Government.

National and regional relevance

We are living in an age in which increased devolution means that libraries are more often directly affected by developments in their nation or region than they are by UK-wide policy. With many policy areas now fully or partly devolved in Scotland and greater autonomy in Wales and Northern Ireland, we need to ensure that our activity is fine-tuned to the national context.

CILIP’s great strength is in its distributed structure, with National Committees in Wales and Northern Ireland and an affiliated relationship with CILIP in Scotland as an independently-registered Scottish Charity (with whom CILIP works under a joint Service Level Agreement). This structure enables us to address national priorities while also remaining in ongoing dialogue about agendas affecting all four nations.

In England, regional devolution is again driving increased autonomy and regional decision-making. It is increasingly difficult to discern an ‘England-only’ agenda, while regions are becoming increasingly imporant. The CILIP Board has set the ambition to decentralise CILIP’s support for our members, with a particular focus on continuing to ensure that members have equal access to benefits, networking and engagement outside London and the South East. The existing structure of Regional Member Networks is a vital part of this, and we are looking forward to working with them to strengthen their member engagement this year.

This ‘Regions and Nations’ structure is a vital part of future-proofing CILIP’s influence on behalf of the profession. It enables us to develop relationships, campaigns and other activities that are specific to the library community in different parts of the UK.

Lobbying in Scotland

In Scotland, CILIP works in affiliation with CILIP in Scotland, which is an independently-registered Charity with its own Trustee Board and annual plan. This enables us to develop plans, activities and advocacy in Scotland that are tailored to their specific national political and legislative context.

CILIPS has two members of staff, based in Glasgow, which enables them to deliver a proactive representation for librarians and information professionals across the whole of Scotland. The team regularly respond to consultations over changes to public and school library services in Scotland, and to standalone issues in other sectors including Further and Higher Education.

CILIPS has run campaigns during both the recent Local Government and Scottish Parliamentary elections, highlighting the value of libraries, librarians and information professionals to decision-makers. They have also been very actively involved in the development of the National Strategy for School Libraries in Scotland, including meeting with the Deputy First Minister John Swinney about the ‘Save Scotland’s School Libraries’ campaign.

A real strength of the relationship between CILIP and CILIPS is the ability to develop campaigns with a shared objective but which are tailored to the Scottish national context. For example, the #AMillionDecisions campaign in England (which highlighted the million evidence-based decisions that are taken every day in the NHS) became a targeted ‘The Right Decision’ campaign for health libraries in Scotland.

This structure also allows CILIPS to work with national partners in Scotland to advance their policy objectives. For example, CILIPS has continued to support the work of SLIC in ensuring that libraries are a key part of the Scottish political agenda.

CILIP members in Scotland can benefit from a range of advocacy resources to support their own lobbying and campaigning available from

Representation in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, CILIP works in partnership with CILIP Ireland through an active National Committee, supported by Relationship Manager Gerardine Blee.

Unfortunately, despite an active programme, the continued suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly has hampered CILIP Ireland’s advocacy work and the momentum which had already been generated. In the absence of the devolved Executive and Assembly, CILIP Ireland continues actively to seek opportunities to engage and build strong relationships with local government Departments as well as key employers in Ireland such as Libraries NI, leading Universities and others.

CILIP Ireland’s busy programme includes ongoing relations with Departments, inviting key representatives to events and representing librarians, information and knowledge professionals at key stakeholder events. During the last Westminster and Northern Irish Assembly elections, CILIP Ireland was able to run targeted campaigns to engage political stakeholders in the value of libraries.

In addition to ensuring that the interests of our sector are reflected in all relevant policy and legislative consultations, CILIP Ireland is able to take a coordinated approach to supporting and promoting advocacy activities and campaigns including Libraries Week, Book Week NI, and Library Ireland Week.

Advocating for members in Wales

In Wales, CILIP works in partnership with CILIP Cymru Wales through an active National Committee, supported by Relationship Manager Dr Amy Staniforth (who also works as a Resource Discovery Team Leader at the University of Aberystwyth).

CILIP Cymru Wales’ lobbying and advocacy work is structured around the position document Librarians and Information Professionals: Building a Prosperous Wales for All, which highlights the value of our profession in delivering the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All paper.

Alongside this, CILIP Cymru Wales has worked with Wikipedia to produce an innovative interactive map of libraries in Wales, helping to visualise the sector for decision-makers, policymakers and other stakeholders.

The active CILIP Cymru Wales Committee has organised events including a national CILIP Cymru Wales Conference, at which Welsh Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM has spoken about his vision for the role of libraries in the wider cultural and creative landscape of Wales.

International solidarity

CILIP believes that librarians, information and knowledge workers are part of a global community – united by common challenges, shared values and a rapidly-evolving skillset. Last year, we established our International Strategy, focused on building connections, sharing UK know-how and learning from our international counterparts. We were delighted to receive a significant investment from the Arts Council England for Working Internationally, a 2-year programme which will enable us to fund librarians to develop international collaborations.

As part of this work, we are re-affirming our commitment to be a proactive partner with IFLA and to supporting them with their new strategy. We recently published a statement welcoming the strategy and setting out the main areas on which we will be able to collaborate with them. These include supporting the advocacy of libraries as a vital part of achieving the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and helping to support sector and workforce development initiatives worldwide.

At the recent World Libraries and Information Congress in Athens, we were delighted to see two UK librarians appointed to the IFLA Governing Board – Adjoa Boateng and Helen Vincent. CILIP will be reaching out to them both to develop a plan for our increased engagement with IFLA.

Libraries Week

Libraries Week is an annual celebration of the breadth and impact of the library, information and knowledge sector. It takes place in October each year, focused on a theme which connects to one of the ‘Universal Offers’ set out by Libraries Connected.

In 2019, the theme celebrated ‘Libraries in a Digital World’. It provided a perfect opportunity to bust some popular misconceptions that libraries have somehow missed out on digital transformation. 

Among other things, we worked with the BBC to promote their BBC VR initiative in public libraries and we held a UK-wide competition to encourage people to build their vision of the ‘Library of the Future’ out of LEGO! The winning entry won tickets to LEGOLAND, plus £500 to donate to a library of their choice. Check out #LibrariesWeek and #LEGOLibrary to see how millions of people engaged with the campaign over the week.

Next year, we’re proposing to focus on ‘Books and Reading’ as our theme, linking into our campaign Building a Nation of Readers, so watch out for more on that!

Bringing it all together

In a time of great change and opportunity, CILIP is dedicated to providing a strong and influential voice for the library, information and knowledge profession. We are able to represent the interests of our members across Government in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We already have a strong list of supportive MP’s and Peers and will be growing this in the next few weeks. We have a strong ongoing relationship with the press and media, securing balanced and informed coverage of the value and impact of our sector. Thanks to Libraries Deliver, we are starting to build real public support for our campaigns and advocacy.

But there is more to do. In the months ahead, we will be strengthening our coordination of the Parliamentary lobby for libraries, in collaboration with other sector organisations. Times of political turbulence are also times of opportunity and we want to ensure that if there is reinvestment in public services and education, libraries are at the front of the queue.

Working with our brilliant new Library Champion, Bobby Seagull, we have launched a 10-point Manifesto for Libraries’ which sets out our main ‘asks’ of Government. Whether the near future brings a Spending Review or a General Election, we have plans to take this Manifesto right to the heart of policy-making and prioritisation, to ensure that there is the money and political will to deliver a renaissance in libraries across the UK.

But we can’t do it alone. That is why in the next few weeks we will be calling on all CILIP members to use your voice to influence the political process. We will be providing a template email, talking points and a briefing and asking all members to write to their MP and to go and speak with them about why now is the time to build the future by investing in libraries.

Banner image: Photo pinboard from the 2019 CILIP Conference. Photo by Martyn Hicks.

Published: 14 October 2019

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