Sunday, 22 September 2013

CILIP - Crisis in engagement?

This year's CILIP AGM was held in the new Library of Birmingham, on a Saturday. It was disappointing to note, therefore, that attendance was only marginally more that that for last year's AGM  held in Newcastle upon Tyne. Given the excitement generated by two controversial agenda items, does this continue to signal low levels of professional engagement by the membership?
John Dolan, Phil Bradley and Annie Maguer (all seated). The AGM commences.

In a professional membership association of more than 14000 members, isn't it alarming that only ca. 170 members  (<1.5%) attended the Annual General Meeting? (1).  Are we such an apathetic bunch that the lures of a new public library that  has received considerable media interest, and the excitement of votes on new name for the Association and of no confidence in the Minister for libraries in England, Ed Vaizey, that a trip to Birmingham is too difficult? Perhaps the costs of travel / accommodation, pressures of time, family or working commitments prevail? OK, so be it. But, if that is the case why did so few members register their proxy votes?

Fewer than 900 members registered their proxy votes, meaning that active engagement in voting at this year's AGM (those, in attendance, plus those voting by proxy) was barely over 1/14th  or 7% of membership. This is significantly below levels of participation experienced in UK general or local elections (2010 General Election turnout 65.1%. In local elections turnout is generally lower ca. 30% upwards (e.g. see 2013 Local Election results ).  Some time, and the price of a stamp, surely is warranted for full engagement in your professional membership association?

Of course failure to attend the AGM in person, or to register a proxy vote, might not always signal a member's apathy. A member may be ambivalent about the name change, or assume that a vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey, was deserved and guaranteed. However, I find these arguments to be weak. "Information and Library Professionals UK" (with the dreaded acronym ILPUK),  is surely little improvement on our current CILIP, which at least recognises that we are a chartered body, and is not fraught with problems if, in 2014, Scotland votes for independence, and the UK is no more. Further, is a vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey really such a good move? Won't this sour the future possibilities of helpful dialogue between CILIP and the Minister? Is a vote of no confidence, in this instance, a bit of a "toothless animal", with little prospect of positive impact or assistance? Yes, a vote may win us a few friends, but will our collective clout be any greater for this? I suspect not.

However, where CILIP has failed is in enabling more members to easily participate in this important democratic exercise, in moving with the times and investing in online or telephone voting. In an age of social media, online collaboration and remote working,  it is clearly time for CILIP to take the apathy and engagement bull by the horns, and enable all to exercise their association's democratic functions by using new technologies. If online and telephone voting were introduced should we then be looking to move to compulsory voting? But that's a whole new can of worms!

Footnote 1. It was also interesting to consider the age profile of those attending the AGM. As one colleague said to me, sotto voce, "CILIP needs to recruit some younger members - just look around you". Thank heavens then, that this AGM approved free student membership from 2014. We must all work hard to enthuse and retain these cohorts of student members. They are the future of our profession, and of our professional association.


  1. This debate is added to in comments raised in Tom Roper's excellent blog

    Definitely worth a look.

  2. A couple of comments received from colleagues on Twitter which add to the debate. Expecting members to submit proxy votes prior to hearing the full debate, in this day and age, just isn't on. CILIP could have engaged with members through social media to much greater effect on the re-naming motion. Very valid points made by @JFJ24 and thank you.
    A number of comments also circulated on Twitter about the absence of debate on the vote of non-confidence in Ed Vaizey. It was really staggering that no one spoke from, or on behalf of CILIP Presidential Team, or Council, on the disadvantages of approving the motion.