This blog post was contributed by Ian Clark from the Informed team and Lauren Smith, a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde.
The news that libraries may be forced to hand over personal data to the security services raises serious ethical questions regarding the confidentiality of what people choose to read. A fundamental ethical principle of the library and information profession is the freedom of individuals to access information and read whatever they choose in confidence. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) is very clear on the obligations to library users. Its ethical principles state the need to demonstrate:
Commitment to the defence, and the advancement, of access to information, ideas and works of the imagination.
Such a principle is undermined if the government is known to be able to access data on the “information, ideas and works of the imagination” that individuals access. The chilling effect of such a move would inhibit individuals from accessing whatever they want without fear of reprisals from the state.
1.2 It is the responsibility of individuals using Public Access Points to decide for themselves what they should, or should not, access.
1.3 Those providing Public Access Points should respect the privacy of users and treat knowledge of what they have accessed or wish to access as confidential.
The proposals laid out by Theresa May seriously threaten these basic ethical principles. If the state is able to access data on what individuals have been reading in public libraries their freedom to read and access what they choose is seriously compromised.
Ironically, these proposals come at a time when libraries and librarians in other parts of the world are emphasising the importance of ensuring that individuals can access what they wish in confidence. In December last year, librarians were in uproar when Haruki Murakami’s borrowing record was published in a Japanese newspaper. In response, the Japan Librarian Association re-affirmed that:
“Disclosing the records of what books were read by a user, without the individual’s consent, violates the person’s privacy.”
In the face of similarly intrusive legislation (the PATRIOT Act) in the United States, some libraries have begun purging records of inter-library loan requests to protect users’ privacy. As yet we have not seen comparable moves by the profession in the UK, but the increasingly aggressive rhetoric from the government regarding what and how individuals seek out information is clearly in conflict with the values we espouse as a profession.
Libraries should not distinguish between books and web activity. What individuals read and access online should be as private and as confidential as their book borrowing habits. Although we do not have the constitutional protections to intellectual liberty that American library users are afforded under the First Amendment, both professional organisations (such as CILIP) and political bodies (Council of Europe) are very clear that what a user accesses in a library should remain confidential. The proposals put forward by Theresa May threaten these basic principles of intellectual freedom and liberty and will put intolerable pressure on public libraries. Our government’s desire to undermine these principles is not only dangerous, but will also seriously undermine the bond of trust between public libraries and their users.
Jennie Findlay and Lorna Robertson are both experienced information professionals, working in the legal sector, and have been active members of CILIP for a substantial period of time.
As background to this post we are both Chartered and revalidated members of CILIP, active mentors and one of us volunteered with the Career Development Group for 10 years.
One of us wrote a blog post on the problems they had encountered with using the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment in December 2013. In February 2014, they wrote another post about the issues they felt are caused by a professional qualification system being run almost entirely by volunteers. In March, we both attended an “exchange of experience” session, discussing the VLE and the mentoring system with other mentors. Following on from that event, we have continued to have worries about how the new Body of Professional Knowledge systems are being run and supported, and we are not alone. Our concerns are shared by other information professionals, and this concern has motivated us to co-write this post.
A core purpose of a professional body is enabling its members to act as competent and ethical professionals, and to do this it means that the body should be providing professional training to those members to fulfil those needs. However, at present most training provided by CILIP is carried out by volunteers in the branches and groups.It may be that CILIP members are often not aware that the people running training events in their local areas are not actually paid CILIP staff, but volunteers, usually fitting in these commitments around their own jobs. The expectations of attendees are that communications relating to events will be prioritised, and our experience is that they can often become annoyed when they do not get what they perceive to be an efficient or rapid response. There can also be issues when the training is being provided by inexperienced staff: the information being given can be inaccurate, and confusing. We ourselves have experienced this recently, when attending a demonstration of the VLE, given by volunteers. The information given at this event was inaccurate, or conflicted with the information given in the formal training provided directly by CILIP via a WebEx demonstration.
Participation in the Certification/Chartership/Revalidation/Fellowship system is currently voluntary. If and when involvement becomes obligatory (as is proposed), this will be an even greater burden on the current mentors, trainers, support officers and assessors. Can a system such as this, which will be a core component of the benefit of CILIP membership, be implemented effectively by volunteers when every member is expected to participate in it?
We were informed during the recent event that we attended that CILIP is trying to sell the PKSB “package” to other professional bodies. This in itself is not an issue: it is obviously going to be a priority of CILIP to get the maximum value for the members from its assets. However, it would be interesting to know whether they are selling the PKSB system as one which will need salaried staff to run, or whether they are promoting it as a volunteer based system?
Volunteers are not compensated or recognised for their contributions to the running of their professional body. There are many people involved in the activities that CILIP provide: people running social events, training events, providing mentoring support, and assessing professional qualification submissions. We were quoted a figure of 650 people who were currently registered as mentors – that is a LOT of people supporting the mentoring system alone. It seems unfair that those people are having to pay one of the highest membership fees in the information professional field, in order to give their time and skills to run core CILIP services and member benefits.
There is currently also a worryingly high level of confusion in communications coming from CILIP. It can be hard to differentiate between emails from groups, branches and CILIP, and the different areas don’t always give the same advice. Information which comes from volunteers in the groups can be inconsistent, for example information on what areas in the VLE mentors should be able to access, from MSOs. Or are just wrong – one author recently got an email telling them to select a new group as the Career Development Group no longer exists but they had already changed groups in December so they were no longer in the CDG. This confusion and inconsistency in the provision of basic information undermines members confidence in their professional body.
Other Professional Bodies
So, are the professional qualifications schemes of other professional bodies run by volunteers too? We had a quick (non-comprehensive) look to see who else expects their members to volunteer to provide CPD opportunities or run core events for other members.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) system. The APC appears to be a work based, long-term qualification similar to an apprenticeship, which expects an applicant’s line manager to oversee the process. They have an event management team to run training. There appear to be no volunteers involved in events.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants has a CA qualification system. Similar to RICS, it’s a modern type of apprenticeship, with skills being developed and assessed within a role. There is a virtual mentoring system being introduced, but with no element of professional assessment. It appears that they have a “Member Engagement” team.
It’s quite hard to compare systems, as CILIP needs to have a wide-ranging professional qualification system in order to encompass the wide variety of membership sectors, rather than the very specific and often intensive employment-based qualifications system some other bodies run. Also, most professional bodies tend to protect information by placing it within member-only areas, so some materials such as the specific details of training provision by the body are inaccessible to non-members.However, it appears from looking at CILIP’s website in a comparable way, that a significant proportion of events and professional visits/CPD are currently being provided by volunteers. In May, there are 3 official CILIP events, and 13 branch/group events (http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/events-calendar), and in June, there are 2 CILIP events, and 14 branch/group events. Knowing from personal experience that group events are run by volunteers and branch events may have support from local volunteers, this means that volunteers are providing five to six times the number of professional events that CILIP as a body provides. It also appears that the professional training that CILIP provides beyond this is organised by CILIP staff, although it is unclear if this is at an additional cost to recipients. In terms of the mentoring system, the website shows that the Professional Registration system requires the involvement of mentors/Candidate Support Officers, but does not explicitly state that those individuals are volunteers.
There needs to be greater clarity and publicity from CILIP around the fact that most of its member benefits are actually being provided by volunteers, and as such, the expectations of participants in such events must be lowered. This includes in respect of the time the organisers have available to respond to them, and the speed at which any queries can be dealt with.
Event organisation and management should rely less heavily on the work of volunteers. For a professional body to expect people to pay membership fees, and then to have events which should be a core membership benefit being run by people who have effectively paid for the privilege of providing a service to their professional body, is not acceptable.
If CILIP is going to introduce a compulsory element to the professional qualifications system, they need to assess whether continuing to run it through the efforts of volunteers is still appropriate, or whether they need to recruit for a level of staffing which will make it possible to support the system full time. If providing staffing to run the system is unachievable, they need to take a closer look at the role of volunteers within the system, and how to maintain their engagement and involvement with it.
Many volunteers give up huge amounts of their own free time to CILIP to provide services to members (10 days+ of annual leave per year for a couple of years for one of the authors) but this is unsustainable for any length of time, especially without “reward” or thanks of some sort. A system of reducing the steep membership fees in relation to the time spent working for CILIP should be achievable, with a bit of effort, and would act as a reward for the voluntary contribution of time and energy of the member. Activities which should trigger a reduction could be: being a mentor; being on a committee/board (although there is difficulty involved with assessing the level of activity there – some people join committees but don’t actually contribute); being an assessor; being a Mentor Support Officer etc. Having a system to enable members to be recognised and rewarded for the time and effort they give to CILIP would encourage these volunteers to retain their enthusiasm to support the system, particularly when revalidation becomes obligatory in the near future. Otherwise, as the demands on volunteers increase, the number of those willing to participate in supporting the system may well drop.
The public position of CILIP on volunteers
Another element of CILIP’s reliance on volunteers to run its services is its effect on the public and political view of the body. CILIP is, as of June 2012, officially on record as being opposed to the use of volunteers to deliver core services in libraries: “We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery”. However, it could be argued that by using volunteers itself to deliver its own core services to paying members, it is undermining its own stated position on the role of volunteers in core service provision. If our professional body is content to deliver its main services by using volunteers, what authority has it to say that others shouldn’t use volunteers too.
In the library sector, public libraries aren’t the only game in town, with university libraries making up one of several different sectors employing information professionals. A necessary step for any budding librarian in the UK is to undertake a CILIP-accredited qualification, at undergraduate or postgraduate level, and/or CILIP Chartership. As a recent graduate of London Metropolitan University’s now-defunct MA Information Management, I was interested to see how many other UK universities have shut down their librarianship courses, and how that has intersected with policy introduced by the current government.
Aside from London Metropolitan University’s librarianship course, the University of Brighton has also frozen its information management courses, subject to a review of postgraduate teaching. These aren’t the only recent casualties though; a quick trawl of archived CILIP webpages in the Internet Archive revealed a drop from 17 to 13 in the number of UK Universities offering CILIP accredited courses (note: CILIP’s current qualifications page hasn’t been updated to include the withdrawal of the University of Brighton’s courses).
The other institutions to have withdrawn their librarianship courses since 2009 are the University of Central England, Edinburgh Napier University and Leeds Metropolitan University. In the meantime, two new UK course providers, Glyndŵr University and the University of Ulster, have been added to CILIP’s offer, along with one overseas provider, the Cologne University of Applied Sciences .
Even with the inclusion of Glyndŵr University and Ulster, the drop in CILIP accredited course providers in the UK still stands at 24% in just a little over three years. The start of the drop coincides almost exactly with the election of the coalition government in 2010.
The number of students undertaking information management courses is also on a downward course, with a 14% drop in numbers between 2007/2008 and 2011/2012 (source: HESA) There are no figures available for 2012/2013, but a drop from a high of 4560 students in the 2007/2008 academic year to 3920 in 2011/2012 represents a significant shrinkage of the student population studying on librarianship degree courses.
It seems that since then, librarianship courses have become less attractive to both students and to the university sector that provides them. From the available figures, applications for librarianship courses have recovered slightly from a 14% drop between 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, but on the whole student numbers for information management courses are decreasing at a greater rate than the current average for postgraduate (-3%) and undergraduate courses (+1%) in the UK.
The fall in student numbers can of course be partly attributed to a drop in the amount of equivalent course places, but it is unlikely that the withdrawal of three course providers would account for the 640 fewer students studying librarianship in 2011/2012 compared to four years previously.
Universities saw a £940 million pound cut to their government funding in 2011, compounding the impact of a £449 million pound cut under the previous Labour government. At the same time, post-Browne review undergraduate students began paying up to £9000 a year in tuition fees and postgraduates experienced an average 24% hike in prices.
In this context, it is easy to see how the pressure to concentrate on financially viable courses on the university’s side, and the pressure on students to apply for courses with a high level of post-degree employability and pay, has led to relatively niche courses like information management being dropped.
We’ve arrived, in the five post-recession years since 2008, at a situation where libraries across all sectors are threatened, where students are seemingly less keen on a career in librarianship, and where universities are less likely to facilitate that career through providing courses. By the next election in 2015, who knows which other aspects of the library sector will be plummeting off the graph?