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Diversity within the Profession


Diversity within the Profession – speech to CILIP West Midlands Members Day

While I am delighted to be here, I have to admit that I thought long and hard about whether to accept the invitation to speak today. I am aware that we’ve heard a lot of voices like mine, that voices like mine can drown out other people's voices, and that really it is time for me, for us at CILIP to stop speaking and start listening.

But we also have to be accountable, to our members, to the profession, to society at large. We have to explain ourselves – not to dictate terms but to set out a commitment to change and to learn, and to listen.

Because all of us that hold leadership positions in this sector have to confront the fact that we are where we are because of a system of unseen privilege – a system which lifts some of us up while holding others down. The basis of that privilege is rightly being challenged. We are being challenged, rightly, to reflect on that privilege critically and to think about the impact it has on other people’s right to shape our profession.

As a profession, we aspire to universality – but we have to be critical about what ‘universal’ really means. I don’t want to be complicit in a system that promotes some voices at the expense of others.

I want to lead an activist CILIP, a critical CILIP that reflects on our own role and impact on the profession and that responds to and empowers our members’ thirst for positive change. I don’t want the word ‘professional’ to be an empty badge – I want it to stand for the values that we hold dear as a profession - for human rights, equalities and diversity, preservation of access to knowledge, public benefit, intellectual freedom, impartiality & confidentiality.

I want people to know when they meet a librarian that they are dealing with someone who has made a lifelong commitment to fighting inequality and injustice and to securing universal freedom of thought and expression. I want people to know when they encounter CILIP that they are dealing with an organisation that champions and lives those values. That defends and speaks out for those librarians. And we have to be honest that this is not the CILIP of today.

When I first came to this discourse nearly 20 years ago, I thought diversity and inclusion was about being nice. I thought if we could just be nice to everyone, then universality will find a way. But niceness doesn’t undo unconscious bias. It doesn’t bring down systems of oppression or marginalisation. Niceness doesn’t level the playing field, it papers over it.

So I have been trying to listen instead. To talk to people who are tired of having to educate their colleagues about how to be more inclusive, or who are made to feel that they are personally to blame for a systematic problem. In the words of one academic last week “we must never allow ambition to be thwarted by discrimination”.

And I wanted to share some of the things people have told me.

The first is – be angry. Be angry about inequality, injustice and privilege in our world and then decide to change them.

There is so much going on in our world right now that stands in opposition to our values as librarians and information professionals.

I spent Monday afternoon working with a journalist on an article about whether the UK is ready for an additional 2m people claiming Universal Credit in 2019. About whether it is right for Government to say “go to the library, they’ll help process your application” and then systematically underfund our national public library network and promote the transfer of libraries to people who are not professional librarians.

About the fact that we have 4m people living in food poverty in the UK. That we have a society in which black, Asian or minority ethnic people are more than twice as likely to be overlooked in a job application or promotion process than their equally qualified white counterparts. That disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as people who do not have a disability. That gender inequality in the UK today is exactly as bad as it was a decade ago, and among the worst in the European Union.

That we have a Member of Parliament in Shrewsbury who knowingly tweeted misinformation about brexit and the Marshall Plan, and who has point-blank refused to correct his tweet because he knows a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth has put its boots on.

That we live in a world in which there is a real risk of new forms of poverty and marginalisation – information poverty, the inequity of access to learning and knowledge. A world in which the information resilience of every citizen is being put to the test.

That despite being among the richest nations in the world, the number of people living through the devastating, dangerous and isolating experience of homelessness has risen by 15% since 2017.

Because the real story of austerity and libraries isn't about the definition of “comprehensive and efficient”. It’s a story of inequality. We cannot accept that people living in wealthy Councils with revenue from Council Tax and Business Rates deserve a higher standard of service than people living in areas of deprivation. That a child going to an independent school has a statistically far higher chance of being able to access a quality library with a professional librarian than a child in state education. That a prisoner committed to self-improvement is denied their statutory right to use the library because there aren't enough staff to get them there. We cannot, and will not, accept a 2-tier library service.

Faced with this inequality, if we truly want to live by the values we espouse, then as a profession and as a professional association, we have no choice but to become activists. We have to lend our voices to support those who are seeking to achieve real, permanent change. We have to ally ourselves with people and organisations that share our values and to join them in their fight for a better world.

That is why I am pleased to announce that we are planning a new cross-sector campaign for 2019 and beyond which brings together a number of strands of our campaign work - on public libraries, school and college libraries, information literacy and the prohibitive cost of access to knowledge - to focus on the huge challenge of Information Poverty in the UK – the deep and long-lasting social and economic impact of unequal access to technology, to learning, to knowledge, to libraries. We want to highlight the real damage of growing up “information poor” in one of the world's leading digital economies.

The second is – we have to have some uncomfortable conversations with ourselves as a profession and as a professional association.

We have to ask ourselves questions like:

  • To what extent do our actions as a professional association contribute to or perpetuate structural inequality in our profession?
  • To what extent do aspiring, new and existing professionals see themselves reflected in our work, or more importantly, to what extent do they feel empowered to take ownership of CILIP as their professional association?
  • What would it mean for CILIP to embrace dissent, to resist, to stand up for what is right and not tacitly to endorse what is not?
  • What is the role of a professional association in promoting inclusion, diversity and representation?
  • What is our role in highlighting and calling out structures which oppress and marginalise people on the basis of their identity?
  • How do we live our values – “Human rights, equalities and diversity, preservation of access to knowledge, public benefit, intellectual freedom, impartiality & confidentiality” – as an organisation and as a profession?
  • What is our role in enabling our members to resist systems, structures and cultures, which perpetuate inequality or disempower information users?

Since 2016, we have been working to an Diversity and Equality Action Plan, based on the findings of the 2015 ARA/CILIP Workforce Mapping.

You’ll know the headlines of those findings already – a workforce that is 97% white, compared to a UK population that is 88% white. Predominantly female, except in leadership roles. Predominantly older. A high academic barrier to entry. A high proportion of people who remain in one role for 15-20 years.

The plan has been a good start, it has helped us to take some action to address these issues. But it isn’t delivering the kind of change we want to see – that we have to see. So at the last Board meeting two weeks ago, we began an important conversation about putting inclusion, diversity and equality right at the forefront of what we are. We have proposed a new vision of “Inclusive, participatory and socially-engaged information services and libraries at the heart of their communities”.

We have put forward a proposed new mission statement for CILIP to become an activist organisation, inspiring librarians and information professionals to change lives.

We have committed to the values of librarianship as defined by the new Ethical Principles - “Human rights, equalities and diversity, preservation of access to knowledge, public benefit, intellectual freedom, impartiality & confidentiality”.

We have set out the ambition to publish a manifesto - building on the work of CDEG and Libraries Change Lives – sharing and celebrating the multiplicity of ways in which all types of library and information service can support diverse communities. We will publish this manifesto for a new role for CILIP as an activist organisation at the beginning of April.

As part of this work at CILIP we have begun the long process of critically examining every single part of CILIP to assess how it needs to change to reflect our ambitions for inclusivity, diversity and equality.

At our Board meeting, we began the difficult conversation about diversity and representation on our Board and Committees and how our current operating principles – the regulations and byelaws that we operate by - militate against being able to benefit from the insights of new professionals or people from diverse backgrounds. So in a fundamental sense, we need to recode CILIP and its operating principles to maximise inclusion rather than perpetuating exclusivity.

We have run through the CILIP Conference and looked at how we can refocus the entire event on equalities, diversity and inclusion. We have to learn from the recent experiences at the ALA Midwestern Conference and be honest about the fact that the same racist prejudice that April Hathcock experienced there could happen at a CILIP event.

We need to be accountable for that, to learn from it and to set in place measures to ensure that everyone is safe and included – which means being proactive about codes of conduct while also being clear about tackling the systemic issues which lead to people being exposed to racist behaviours at professional events.

It also means intentionally changing the balance of who can be at conferences and who speaks. Which is why I am delighted to have been able to create new bursaries for BAME librarians and information professionals to be part of our conference and to have worked with the events team to make it easier for people to speak and be heard that are not part of the usual power structures of our sector. It’s also why we will be encouraging all delegates to engage with a Code of Conduct which reduces the risk of people feeling excluded.

It's why we have also approached colleagues at Museum Detox to work with us to run ‘Check your privilege’ workshops at conference, to help us as a profession to explore issues of unconscious bias and privilege. Why we are actively asking our speakers to focus on how their work – whether it is in school libraries or cataloguing, Knowledge or Information Management or Data Science – addresses issues of inclusion, diversity and equality. We want to look at the diversification of collections, about how libraries can create more inclusive spaces and services and how we can do more to open up and diversify the leadership of the profession. Our keynotes will address issues around ethics, inclusion and the impact of the digital agenda on participation.

We will also be using conference to work with partners such as the fantastic and innovative Booklove – the travelling multi-cultural book festival – to put this commitment to diversity into practical action.

And I think there is a great opportunity for our fantastic networks to help us drive this agenda forward.

CILIP is home to 43 Special Interest Groups and Regional Member Networks across the length and breadth of the UK – a UK where regional and national devolution means that it is more important than ever to be able to provide support and networking that is local, accessible and relevant for our members. In any given week there are between 3-4 events, conferences, webinars and meetings all over the UK. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring people together to promote a more inclusive and diverse sector.

We have committed to moving away from the old centrist model of coordination to establish a Collaborative Framework between CILIP and our networks in the Nations and Regions – a genuinely inclusive and participatory approach, allowing us to work together to benefit from the wisdom and insight of the whole network in defining our common plans and priorities for the future. We have committed to moving away from the old rules-based approach to one that really makes the most of our strength as a network of networks.

And I would love to encourage every Member Network to do what you are doing here today – to bring people together to debate and to learn, focused on those principles of diversity, equality and inclusion. The work of becoming an activist organisation, an organisation that campaigns for and celebrates social justice, belongs to us all.

We have to review our entire approach to professionalism – what it means, who it is for, and its role in perpetuating the lack of diversity in our profession. Even the language we use – information professionals, library workers – manifests concepts of ownership, of being ‘in’ or ‘out’, of being a club to which people do or do not belong. Which means we also need to be a better friend to networks such as DILON that are already making real change in our sector.

We have to address this word – ‘professional’, which is used in so many different ways in our sector, often to exclude. My vision of professionalism is open and inclusive – that you are what makes you a professional, your skills and ethics and commitment. Not your employment contract. We can support you in your professional life and recognise your professionalism through Professional Registration. But we want everyone to see themselves included in the idea of a ‘profession’, whatever their seniority or identity.

In Australia, informal networks of librarians and information professionals meet regularly to discuss and debate what it means to be a profession. Professionalism is nothing without critical reflection and I would love to see us adopting similar practices here.

That is why I am delighted that CILIP is working with a network of BAME members to support them in setting up a BAME Information Professionals Network, to be Chaired by our new CILIP Trustee Shirley Yearwood-Jackman - not to educate the CILIP community about diversity, but to provide a supportive platform for networking and sharing common experiences.

Some people say that the very idea of a professional association is inherently exclusive. Obviously, I disagree. But we have to be honest about the fact that we at CILIP are part of an establishment that is part of the problem. What a professional association ought to be is the amplifier of our collective voice as a profession – we belong to our members, and so we have continuously to evolve and adapt to meet the needs and expectations of people coming into the profession.

I was asked recently what I want my legacy to be from my time as Chief Executive of CILIP, and my answer was that I will consider my job well done if I leave a CILIP that has been transformed from the Victorian association of the past to a truly agile and effective organisation which shares the values of its members and is an activist for social change.

As part of this more open and inclusive definition of professionalism, we are looking at how people find their way into this profession – at the pathways and barriers to entry which contribute to our lack of diversity. One of the projects of which I am most proud over the past 2-3 years is CILIP’s leadership of the creation of a Level 3 Apprenticeship qualification, providing opportunities for library and information sector employers to create new opportunities for people to become part of this sector.

We will now be turning to see whether we can both establish CILIP as an End Point Assessment Organisation – a vital part of the infrastructure of a healthy and sustainable approach to apprenticeships in our sector and an opportunity to help the library and information sector diversify its workforce. But for Apprenticeships to work, we also know that we must all do more to make being a librarian or information professional a truly aspirational career choice – we must share the range and diversity of roles and opportunities for our professional skills and values.

We have made some good solid progress already.

The Diversity Review of the Carnegie Greenaway Awards was an important step for us. We were rightly in my view called out for the fact that in the 80 year history of the Carnegie Award and the 60 year history of the Kate Greenaway Award, no BAME author or illustrator had ever won. We were asked to consider the whiteness of librarianship and the impact of unconscious bias on the process of nominations. As Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give said in a Guardian article the other day, "Books play a huge role in opening people’s eyes. They are a form of activism in their own right."

This prompted an important and occasionally difficult conversation about diversity and representation in the profession, about rules which were originally designed to promote quality and ended up perpetuating inequality, about the need for diversity both of authorship and of characterisation and of our influence on the overall publishing industry. It prompted us to reflect on implicit bias and the fact that awards are an opportunity to change and to do better. And as a result, working with the talented and committed judges and Working Party, we changed the entire basis of the awards to celebrate the fact that when it comes to books and reading, diversity and quality are synonymous. We brought organisations such as Inclusive Minds into the judging process and actively encouraged people to nominate from a wider pool of potential books.

At the same time, the Ethics Review, led by then President Dawn Finch, created an opportunity to revisit and restate who we are and our values as a profession. 1800 responses online and 100’s more participating in 14 workshop events, the Review was an opportunity to hear from both new and established professionals about how ethics impacts on their daily work.

The result is a simpler, more direct and more powerful statement of our shared values - Human rights, equalities and diversity, preservation of access to knowledge, public benefit, intellectual freedom, impartiality & confidentiality.

But the outcome was also a challenge to CILIP – to become an organisation which truly adopts, champions and lives those values, and which fights to create an environment in which librarians and information professionals can work ethically. So the refocusing of our mission to “become an activist organisation, inspiring librarians and information professionals to change lives” is about how we both work with employers and hold them to account for their engagement with the ethic of our profession.

I was recently in a conversation in which a group of senior library leaders were trying to pin down the concept of ‘libraryness’ – what it is that uniquely makes a library a library. But we know what ‘libraryness’ is – it is providing a service that empowers human rights, equalities and diversity, preservation of access to knowledge, public benefit, intellectual freedom, impartiality & confidentiality for its users. And honestly, I worry that parts of our sector have lost sight of those values and the public service ethos that goes with them.

Whatever the community they serve, libraries and information services are the ideal platform to promote diversity, equity, equality and inclusion for their users.

Projects like “A Square World” - the collaboration between Nottinghamshire Libraries, the Theatre Company Spark Arts and disabled artist Darryl Beeton helps to tell a story in the libraries about difference and the experience of exclusion.

Or the Proud to Read guide to LGBT themed collections in Birmingham Libraries. The Ipswich Libraries Chat and Chill project bringing together women from diverse international backgrounds.

Or the excellent work being done in Higher Education and Academic libraries to work with students to decolonise collections and the curriculum, initiatives such as the brilliant work by the UCL Institute of Education and UCL Library Services, addressing issues of representation in the sciences and social sciences, or the innovative Why is my curriculum white? display at the Sir Michael Cobham Library at the University of Bournemouth.

As a sector, we believe fundamentally in justice, equality and fairness. We have been looking, for example, at the way in which many library services have stepped up to provide 3rd Party Reporting Centres in Kirklees, Leicestershire, Norfolk and Derbyshire as part of moves to tackle hate crime in our society. So much of this work goes unnoticed, unrewarded and – critically – unpaid. CILIP is committed to doing much more to celebrate this kind of life-changing work and getting the message across to policymakers and funders.

Putting equality, diversity and inclusion right at the heart of what we are and what we aspire to be as an organisation has felt like coming home – like finally stepping up to do the job which we were always there to do. It strengthens our advocacy, our focus and our resolve both to fight for diversity and representation in the sector and to do more to champion the role of our sector in creating a better world.

We are learning, and will continue to learn. I believe that there is a powerful opportunity for us as information professionals in an information society to stand up for equality, to stand against injustice, to strive for equity in the representation of underrepresented voices, to correct the imbalance of power rather than tacitly to benefit from it and to strengthen the hand of the brilliant, diverse people in our profession who are underrepresented. That responsibility rests on all of us and I am committed to ensuring that CILIP does listen, does learn and does play its part in making positive change.

Nick Poole


Header photo shows BookLove being presented with best stand at the 2018 CILIP Conference in Brighton


Press release 

Published: 8 February 2019


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