Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Advocacy: The importance of professional associations

Dateline: Thursday, July 23, 2015
Place: The Barbican Public Library
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Temperature: 23° C
Song of the day: Respect by Aretha Franklin 

Librarians in North America and the United Kingdom have a long history of belonging to professional associations but not always happily. Out of our visit to the Barbican Public Library emerged the fact that some British librarians are displeased with the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP) to the point of refusing to be members any longer. I wonder if this contradicts or demonstrates the professionalism of the profession?

Library associations have been around a long time: the ALA was formed in 1876, the Library Association (of the UK) began in 1877, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) came on the scene in 1900 and the Canadian Library Association (CLA) was formed in 1946. 

Advocacy for the profession is a traditional responsibility for each of these organizations and has been achieved with varying degrees of success. The work of ALA has ensured that there are professional training standards and accredited more than sixty library schools in Canada and the US while CILIP has accredited more than fifteen programs. 
Melvil Dewey, founder of the ALA
Dr. Freda Waldon, first president of the CLA
(Hamilton Public Library)
The Canadian Library Association, pushed for a National Library, which was created in Canada in 1950. 

The Barbican Centre is located on the north side of the Thames, near St. Paul's Cathedral and the Museum of London, both of which we visited earlier in the month (Google Maps).
However, while these organizations are described as "national voices," they are not always successful in advocating for the professions or libraries. Currently, the work of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has changed: it no longer is the main collector of Canadian materials nor does it offer interlibrary loan services. 

Despite these fundamental changes to the LAC mandate, advocacy campaigns by library associations such as CLA and OLA have not been successful in reversing what many see as a trend towards less access to information nationally. The CLA is mounted one advocacy campaign but Canadian librarians don't necessarily see the organization as having a strong enough voice to mobilize public opinion for a change public policy. Likewise, Barbican librarian Jonathan Gibbs is discouraged by the lack of support given to public libraries by CILIP.
The Barbican Library is one of the organizations housed in the Barbican Centre. The day we were there, so was Benedict Cumberbatch--rehearsing for Hamlet!
The library entrance is tucked away on the second floor and librarians would prefer greater visibility.
As Johnathon explained during our visit, public libraries in the UK have undergone major budget cuts since the last stock market crash in 2008, despite the important role these institutions play in so many communities. The Barbican, for example, offers not only basic lending services but also has a vibrant children's library as well as a well respected and popular music library that services the community, students at the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama and visiting professional musicians. 

When cuts started happening, "CILIP did not have a critical voice," says Johnathon and thus did not advocate on public policy. As a result, he has withdrawn his membership and is much more supportive of organizations such as the Association of London Chief Librarians because he believes that these organizations are doing a better job of advocating for changes to public policy. This advocacy is important at a time when further austerity measures are being introduced in the UK.
Librarian Johnathon Gibbs (left) and a display in the Music Library--a jewel in the Barbican crown--featuring the BBC Proms, a seasonal smash hit.
This raises some interesting questions: Is it professional to be political? Should we take sides and be radical or are we just biting the hand that feeds us i.e., local, provincial and/or federal governments? And, if so, how do we do this?

I think the answer is yes, we need to be political and that we can do so, in part, by supporting the organizations that we think best represent us. In Ontario, the OLA is a well organized group and I have been active in the Ontario College and Academic Libraries (OCULA) division for six years. OCULA is the academic library division of OLA. This group keeps its "ear to the ground" and is very responsive to provincial and national issues, such as the censorship of academic librarians by publishers. I will continue to support this organization, although as I wrote in an earlier post, I am considering how to get involved with CLA given that I live in Ottawa, where CLA has its office.

But I also think that other groups, like unions are critical. Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug Ford, backed off from making cuts to the Toronto Public Library in part because the staff unions mounted a very successful campaign to fight against the proposed changes. Being professional can also include belonging to a labour organization.

Dr. Freda Farrell Waldon. (n.d.) Hamilton Public Library. Retrieved August 11, 2015 from

Google Maps. (2015). [Barbican Centre]. Retrieved from,-0.093263,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x48761b56fb64b275:0xc756e26675d21f40

Melvil Dewey. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 12, 2015 from

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