Reflections on the CILIP Presidency
Sometimes, when I’ve been travelling for hours - but it feels like days - I have wondered why I ever wanted to be CILIP President. On top of a demanding day job and a young family, it has been a pretty punishing schedule of engagements, keynote speeches, and PowerPoint presentations - on a global scale. But my doubts have never lasted longer than a moment - because the rewards of the Presidency have far outweighed the inconveniences. To say it has been an honour and privilege is an understatement. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I have experienced libraries of all kinds - from small school and local libraries to the world-famous Bodleian and the new Qatar National Library. And, best of all, I’ve met the people who work in them. They say we all learn from each other - and I can certainly vouch for that.
The theme of my Presidential year was ‘international’. I would have totted up the miles I’ve travelled, around the home nations and abroad over the past 12 months, if I’d had the time. Various things have struck me: Libraries everywhere seem to face similar challenges and opportunities. Library professionals are, globally, great people - without exception totally committed to what they do. There is a huge amount of respect, around the world, for UK libraries and library professionals. And there is a genuine appetite to work across national boundaries, as part of a global network of library associations.
The willingness to work together is good news but inevitably there are questions about who we should be prepared to partner with. Members have mentioned this to me on several occasions - and their concerns are usually around human rights. I understand and share their qualms but personally feel that being part of something bigger - and being influenced by other, higher standards - is a force for good.
I’m sorry but I do have to mention Brexit in this context. We must not allow the UK’s departure from the European Union to lead to any kind of estrangement. We will still be part of Europe - and the wider global library community - when we leave, and must grasp every opportunity to reinforce our fellowship and strengthen international links.
I’ve been to places I never dreamed I’d visit - like the European Parliament in Brexit year - and met my counterparts from library associations worldwide. At times I felt like a diplomat - consciously staying ‘on message’. I’ve spoken on topics I knew little or nothing or about beforehand - like copyright law. Rapid research was very necessary on several occasions.
I am reluctant to talk about ‘highlights’ of my Presidential year, as it draws to a close. I can honestly say I’ve learned something at every single engagement, and been inspired by so many. In retrospect they all come together as one huge and heartening experience. I am more confident about the future for libraries than ever. Meeting new generations of library professionals, in particular, showed me that we really do have a bright future. Despite all the cuts and downsizing - which are certainly not unique to the UK - there is a steely determination to move forward. Librarians and Information professionals never seem to be downcast for long and, wherever I’ve been, I’ve seen plans to make progress, sometimes against all the odds. Resilience, ingenuity and innovation is how I’d sum it up.
I’m already wondering if I’ll feel a bit lost in the New Year, when I’m no longer President. Will I miss having too many dates in the diary? Probably. I can only say a massive thank you to CILIP members for electing me, and trusting me to represent them for a whole year. I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and having weekends at home - and I need to spend some time at the gym. All those breakfast meetings, Presidential lunches and gala dinners have taken their toll on my waistline. But the past 12 months have been exciting, illuminating and inspiring in equal measure. Would I recommend standing for election to a friend? Most definitely.