Things have moved on quickly since I first drafted bits of this post (I’ve been away from home) but its still useful for my own reflections on what is happening…
Back at the start of the year there were a number of events which considered the future of the ‘information profession’. I had planned to blog my thoughts on the topic at the time but did not get around to it. However, the recent CILIP survey related to a proposed re-branding and the resulting outrage/discussion got me thinking about it again.
Firstly, some personal background:
When I first joined a (law sector) information team the suggestion was largely that CILIP would be irrelevant to me. When I completed my MA, the lecturers were far more positive about the organization, the message I took away was very much “you get out what you put in”. As a result, once I was in a ‘professional’ post, I was keen to get involved and volunteered for the local professional development group’s committee. That committee was not short of members so I eventually joined the local branch committee instead. After a couple of years I then stepped down as I could not commit the time due to starting an MSc course. When on the committee I performed the “communications officer” role and can testify to problems with the current CILIP brand, website, typeface, etc from that role in setting up new web pages, Twitter feeds, etc.
Therefore, within a relatively short space of time, I had gone from graduate post, to postgrad student, to active member and through to completing another course and being a lurker. Partly due to my work, the changing workplace and that second postgrad course I now have a quite complex work profile, as mentioned in previous posts CILIP (even though it is an umbrella organization aiming to cover a wide array of roles) is only one of a number of organizations that relate to my professional identify.
Thoughts on professional futures and CILIP’s rebranding:
The CILIP president’s blog post on the rebrand hints at some major issues with the organization:
One of my responsibilities as CILIP President is to act as a conduit between members and CILIP Council and senior staff…in the interests of transparency that the first I knew of the contents of the survey was when it was presented to me last Friday afternoon
A lack of harmony between members, staff and the complex setup of groups, branches and council seems to foster a lack of genuine collaboration within the organization. The second point, on the President not having seen the survey in advance, seems particularly odd and indicative in that a person who holds that position is not involved from the offset. Yet that would be wrong too, CILIP should be as strong as its members – not offering them a longer list of suggestions for something as important as the organization’s name seems odd at best and against the membership at worst. The one thing I do hope for is that any new tagline recognizes what the organization represents “members of the information community” not representing “for the information community”. Whilst advocacy is a key part of CILIP’s role it should not be seen as distinct from its members/staff. I know there are legacy issues about not being a trade union but the gap between CILIP HQ and members threatens the organization, in my opinion, more than downsizing in public libraries, off-shoring in corporate libraries, Higher Education budget cuts or any other challenge.
The President’s blog post later mentions that the current governance review will hopefully resolve some of these issues. However, I don’t see why the idea of the re-brand has had to come so out of the blue. Yes, the world and the CILIP organization are changing, yes the CILIP brand has always been questionable and, yes, it will continue to be so. My main concern really is that, as a professional organization, crowd sourcing possible names would have been just one example of making it more democratic, as the organization should be, than a survey on suggested names. Although it is important to point out that the difference between ‘survey’ and ‘vote’/’election’ seems to be lost of some members.
So, overall, I’m not against a rebrand but I do not think it is the correct time economically (the £35,000 budget being at least 180 members annual fees if my lazy maths is correct) and it certainly has not been handled in the correct way even though there are not a lack of good examples in related sectors. JISC, for example, has a lot of shared interests but whilst it has improved itself they have been a mix of internal improvements (better website, etc), crowd sourcing (which services could be stopped) and funder/owner led (HEFCE changes, etc). JISC has not always done this perfectly, but better than CILIP seem to have managed at least, and JISC was/is a more complex beast. CIPD, for example, has a very clear voice and has its opinions voiced through the media, by those in positions agreed with the membership, more efficiently than CILIP seems to manage.
What for professional futures? The point which has concerned many is that the survey’s proposed names all drop the ‘library’ word with “information” staying or both replaced by “knowledge”. This seems a mistake, surely any future proofing of the, once, ‘Library Association’ brand has to maintain the L word or it loses its relevance/grounding? Also the suggested names were awful and I did comment to this effect on the survey before the Twitterati backlash – ‘The Knowledge People’ sounds like a recruitment agency, ‘Information UK’ like a government agency or freedom of information watchdog [apologies if I’ve got those names wrong]. The President acknowledges this so, again, why bother with the survey step before crowdsourcing? This said, the term ‘library’ is far from popular, as pointed out by the President. Indeed at the CLSIG event earlier in the year an information scientist made it clear in the Q&A they didn’t feel associated with CILIP and disappointed that a ‘future of the profession’ evening was a talk about CILIP’s future (and I am pretty sure Francis did not mention a rebrand). There remain questions here over the original foundation (i.e. it wasn’t just the Library Association) and as such the original purpose of CILIP is still being questioned, as such it doesn’t fill you with any confidence that a rebranded CILIP will be any better than the current.
Back a few months (around the same time as the CLSIG event) and AIIM was running a webinar to report that its members had completed surveys saying they chose a preference for the title “Information Professional”. Now this is ‘CILIPs territory’ so to speak and you could well say that with today’s specializations the ‘library’ component is all that keeps CILIP unique from AIIM, BCS, etc. Indeed there was an interesting suggestion in the AIIM session that effectively IT professionals want a rebrand and that rebrand is some BCS/CILIP hybrid in terms of UK organizations. Personally I fear that, in the globalized workplace, CILIP should be branching out to the international groups it already has relations with or risk losing relevance for those within the changing workplace.
Finally, for now at least, is the point about CILIP dropping the ‘chartered’ tag. I suggested in the survey that this is a clear mistake, it is the one thing which keeps an organization above an informal learning and networking organization. Any dropping of this would, I fear, suggests a deprofessionalization. If you deprofessionalize CILIP then there is far less value in it is an umbrella organization and there would be fewer reasons for keeping the expense of the parent organization and not simply branching off the special interest groups into their own organizations.
Overall, it is difficult to reposition an organization, especially one that arguably is not needed, but considering the predictable feedback it is odd that the exercise has been conducted in such a way. There is also a risk of underplaying the public’s understanding of the ‘librarian’ role – I hold that title in my job title, partly because my employer still associates it with a certain skill set. ‘Information professional’ may be a professionals’ identity but I would doubt it holds such a sway. Ultimately the answer may be for CILIP to be far less inward looking in preparing rebrands and future advocacy and instead ask the likes of the BBC and major employers what make sense to them. This would be a sensible suggestion to other groups too, for example, and to show I’m not just picking on information professionals, ‘Instructional Designers’ disagree over their identity too.
A Future For CILIP?
One thing that does seem to be emerging from this is a re-invigoration of CILIP as the training/accreditation body – their own website release stresses some of the things in the pipeline:
some new offers have been launched, including the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and others will follow – such as a new qualifications scheme, new accreditation of courses and a new virtual learning environment on a refreshed website.
This might work provided the organization recognizes the potential for members, and their employers, to influence the agenda and the PKSB, training, etc. keeps up with change.
Another key item, for me, would be to move Umbrella from its biannual setup to something different. A free event with paid for sections would be best – especially considering the success of CIPD, Learning and Skills, etc. in this regard.