Why is there only one Monopolies Commission, wits used to write on lavatory walls. In a similar vein, Leon Bolton, in a thoughtful blog post, suggests that the lack of competition may be a cause of CILIP's difficulties. I'm not sure I agree. There is competition. To take my own case, I am a member of CILIP, but also of EAHIL and the Medical Library Association; I have in the past been a member of the Special Library Association too. I've worked with, and been part of many networks of information professionals, some of which have had links with CILIP and its predecessor organisations, and some of which have not. For the young library and information professional, there's no shortage of choice of organisations and platforms to join in order to learn and develop.
What then is special, or could be special, about CILIP? I'd suggest the following:
- CILIP members are bound by the organisation's Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice. Someone who uses my services knows that I am bound to act at all times in accordance with these. if I fall short, my fitness to practice may be called into question and I may face disciplinary sanctions every profession has members who practice in a variety of fields or specialisms.
- A professional organisation unites us around a common, shared body of knowledge that we develop and pass on to new generations.
- 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,' as Santayana observed. We have a history, the Library Association having been founded in 1877 (put 2027 in your diary now for the 150th anniversary). It's remarkable how people in the past have had to tackle the same issues as we now face.
When I look at the professional organisations of the doctors, nurses and others I work with, I don't see anyone propose that the medical royal colleges, for example, should be replaced by an unconference. I wonder why we are so prone to self-doubt? Is it another manifestation of that traditional curse of our profession, a lack of belief in ourselves?
I can think of nothing that would gladden Ed Vaizey more than if CILIP were to dissolve itself into a loose, informal network. I know very well that CILIP has its faults, but better to bring a sense of purpose back to the organisation back than to abandon it. If we tackle the decline in membership and if we assert our professional values against their enemies in government and elsewhere, we have a future.