CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, recently had a look around and noticed that since its creation over a decade ago from the merger of the Library Association and the Institute of Information Scientists it had failed to become a household name. Although a cleaning product with an almost identical nomenclature has succeeded in hammering its brand into the minds of the British, CILIP has concluded that it is not its actions, its strategies or its Byzantine organisational structure that are to blame for its ghostly media presence, but its name. The way forward, CILIP concluded, was to rebrand, and to this end members and anyone else who happened to be passing were invited by means of a survey to vote for a new name.
The public controversy around the rebranding began when CILIP announced that consultants had been appointed to lead the process at the impressive price of £35,000. Loud objections were raised by members against both the cost and the time invested in what many saw as a marginal and profitless distraction when public libraries in particular are facing an unprecedented existential crisis. The embers of dissent were fanned into flame when it was revealed that the list of new names for CILIP offered in the consultants’ survey featured neither the word “Library”, nor “Librarian”. Angry librarians rallied to a call by Tom Roper to demand a general meeting of CILIP members. Tom’s motion presented at this meeting on 8th July 2013 was a request to CILIP to stop the rebrand and – I paraphrase here – stick to the knitting.
By email, website and magazine centre-spread delivered to every member’s home, CILIP urged rejection of the motion on the grounds that if members chose to stop the rebrand and focus instead on more important issues (such as widespread Library services redundancies in Bury) – they would be choosing not to have a choice, which, although they would have chosen it, would not actually be a choice, as they had chosen it instead of choice. Which would be bad.
Despite their huge advantage in access to members, CILIP HQ won the ballot on Tom Roper’s motion with a rather less than crushing 51% of votes cast, amounting to a mighty 5%, 1 in 20, of the membership. The number of votes cast seems to have been smaller than the number of people voting, one of a number of curious aspects of the process. Another was the large gap between the number voting to change the name in the first web survey, 1556 (53% of 2936) and the number voting at the general meeting to continue the rebrand, 804. Enthusiasm for rebranding seems to have dwindled with remarkable speed.
Online derision was aimed by commentators such as Frances Hendrix at the first (or, to put it more accurately, least hated) choice in the consultants survey, ‘Information Professionals UK’. Frances pointed out that the acronym for this name, if pronounced as two words, had unpleasant connotations. This had not occurred to the denizens of CILIP, who even claimed that IPUK reflected authority and gravitas (one could suppose a fresh pool of IPUK could reflect just about anything, as for MIPUK…).
A fellow library and information professional (FLIP) has pointed out that the PUK is one of the main parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, noted for a robust approach to competitors (e.g. when a rival party (the KDP) were forced to call upon Saddam Hussein’s army to save them from a rampant PUK militia in 1996), and the head of the PUK is now President of Iraq, so perhaps further comment on this aspect would be imprudent. Moving on…
The consultants’ research was deeply flawed. The most obvious methodological error in the survey is that it didn’t ask respondents what they thought of the current name, ‘Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’. Instead it asked how well the acronym represented the aims and ambitions of the organisation (which it doesn’t as it is just an acronym). Even so 47% chose “well”, “very well”, or “OK” for CILIP.
Given that 22% of identified respondents (818 of 3712) were non-members and CILIP has said that non-members in particular favoured change, this 47% may well represent a substantial majority of the members voting. Although non-members’ views matter because CILIP wants more members, an organisation which cares more about non-members than members is likely to end up with more of the former and fewer of the latter. It’s a shame that the raw data has been withheld so that the member/non-member balance of voting is obscured.
I refer to “identified respondents” because the voter type figures don’t add up, i.e. 68% members, 6% branch activists (also members, or does this include co-optees?) and 21% non-members adds up to 95%. Who were the rest, the 216 unidentified voters? If the consultants didn’t have a reliable method of determining who were members and who were not, all the voter type breakdowns must be inaccurate.
The scale of this mistake, i.e. failing to ask about the current name and just the acronym, is illustrated by the results of the alternative name poll. Here on p13 the moderately awful “Information Professionals UK” is the clear winner, while a shortened version of the same name – Info Pro UK – comes last…
And on p14 the winner of the alternative names vote comes last in the most preferred alternative name vote. That level of contradiction reveals a survey so badly designed its results are meaningless. Calling the middle response “OK” is one of its weaknesses. I would rate OK as a positive response, but it might be intended to be neutral. Perhaps this should have been labelled “no opinion”, or “neither well nor badly”.
The question of voter authentication remains unanswered. A commenter on the CILIP President’s blog alleges that multiple voting was possible in Survey 1. I’m not aware of any response from CILIP, but if true this on its own would of course invalidate the results. In the second survey, authentication seems to have been by IP address, so I could probably have voted from work as well as home if I had wanted, but I didn’t so I’m not sure. It does at least give a clear result and one I’d be happy to support, in favour of a return to the name ‘Library Association’, although it is just a name and matters far less than CILIP’s aversion to being noticed. On the twitter feed covering the debate at Tom Roper’s general meeting, #CILIPGM, CILIP trustee Nicholas Poole bewailed the failure of so many people to see the great work CILIP was doing, a classic example of CILIP failing to understand with an almost heroic obtusity that for advocacy to succeed, it has to be visible.
Finally, a self-selected sample is not a random sample, so you cannot generalise from it to the whole population. The voters in the rebranding surveys don’t represent the membership or anyone else, they only represent themselves. What happens next is far from clear. Although there will be a vote at this year’s AGM whether to change to a new name that has been chosen by the CILIP Council (so far a closely guarded secret) or keep the current name, John Briggs has pointed out that a name change requires a change to the Royal Charter, and that can only be done with a two thirds majority at a general meeting called for that purpose.
Meanwhile the librarians of Bury are about to be thrown on the scrap heap by their Labour local authority to save money in case we need to help more bankers. Will CILIP finally take a stand and condemn, loud and clear, the wanton destruction of a century and a half of cultural heritage by people elected to serve the public? This is the case against “Library’s” made by one commenter on the story in the Manchester Evening News, quoted verbatim:
“You have to look at the bigger view in 25 years time will there be an need for so many library`s as we just dont know what going to happen with E books. it not right to tie tax payers into a 25 year bill to save a few job`s that will go at some point as self service is the way it going. give the Library`s to local groups or rent out space to costa coffee to fund the staff.”
Can CILIP spot the weakness in this man’s position, and counter it, perhaps, by suggesting that with such a poor grasp of his native tongue, he needs a library more than most? If not, I fear that they have more to worry about than the timbre of their acronym.
Aran Lewis is Senior Cataloguer and Repository Manager at Middlesex University. As a UNISON activist in Lambeth and Middlesex he has, with occasional success, supported campaigns against public service cuts, acts of managerial genius such as locking the fire exit in the children’s library in West Norwood after a serious fire in the adjacent room, and public library closures.