Tag Archives: professional bodies

Investigatory powers bill and libraries

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.

Furthermore, CILIP has also endorsed the Council of Europe’s “Public access to and freedom of expression in networked information: Guidelines for a European cultural policy”. These guidelines are very clear that what users choose to access should be treated as confidential and that the privacy of users should be paramount:

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.

What could an EU review mean for librarians?

Could librarians soon no longer be recognised by the EU as ‘professionals’? (Image c/o Open Democracy on Flickr.)

On the 15th of November, the Council of the European Union issued a press release on the Adoption of the Professional Qualifications Directive, where it is proposed that a “European Professional” card could be created, that will facilitate the recognition of the card holder as a professional in the new host country when they move between EU member states. The review also proposes reducing the number of regulated professions downwards from the current level of 800.

If you check the database which hosts the information on regulated professions in the EU, you won’t find “librarian” as a term for the profession in the UK. Somehow, there’s been an error, and instead of “librarian” being the regulated profession here, “Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – CILIP” is the term the database uses to define an information professional in the UK. There are 10 entries for the profession of “librarian” when I search for the generic term “librarian”, and having checked with speakers of some of the other languages, the other terms are definitely are national names for librarians, or librarian specialists. I’ve looked for some way to contact the database managers to have this error corrected, but the front page has this disclaimer:

Each country is responsible for updating information on its regulated professions, competent authorities and statistics. The Commission can not be held responsible for any missing or outdated information.

I’m not sure which part of “the country” is responsible for giving corrected information to the database administrators! Within the Competent Authorities information for the librarian/CILIP entry, there are no “contact persons” for this profession, but the link for contact points leads to a list of national contact points.The national contact point information for the UK seems to be some group called ECCTIS Ltd, so when I get a chance I’ll get in touch with them, and see if they can get the entry amended.

In the meantime, this brings to mind a few questions, which I think are worth exploring in more detail. This is all new to me, so I’d be happy to get input from those involved in these activities.

  • Does the current Directive/database information mean that the EU regard CILIP as the only professional body (or in the terms of the Directive, “competent authority”) for regulating librarians in the UK?
  • As stated in the press release, ”a regulated profession means that access to the profession is subject to a person holding a specific qualification, such as a university diploma, and that activities are reserved to holders of such qualifications.” Does CILIP hold the regulator role due to their involvement in accrediting UK university courses for information professionals?
  • If so, are other bodies that represent librarians eligible to become recognised as a competent authority to regulate librarians in the UK, by also accrediting UK university courses, or by some other method?
  • Is there a risk that this review will remove “librarian” from the category of professionals which are recognised as a profession within the EU?
  • If “librarian” was no longer recognised as a regulated profession, and librarians could not apply for the proposed European Professional Card, what impact would this have in a wider context for librarians, both in the UK and across the EU? Would it make emigration harder if librarians were no longer viewed as skilled professionals?
  • Does CILIP’s current revamp of their Professional Registration process work to demonstrate that participants in that scheme have the level of professionalism required to remain defined as a regulated profession?
  • What can current information professional bodies and individuals do to ensure that “librarian” remains recognised as a profession?

Hopefully there are some people out there that know more than me about how professional bodies are regulated in the EU, who can share their knowledge and answer some of those questions.

By Jennie Findlay

Have you got something to say on a current information issue? Concerned about something affecting the profession? Why not submit an article? See our guidelines for further details or contact us at contact@theinformed.org.uk if you want to find out more about writing for Informed.