My proposal was not accepted so, for the sake of posterity, here it is. I wrote it just before I read Laura Woods’ blog post on a similar theme. For the full paper, I had vague ideas about examining how public library closures impact other information sectors, talking a little about the work of Voices for the Library, discussing Kant’s moral philosophy (his concept of moral duty and the categorical imperative), and generally arguing that keeping silent in these difficult times is the wrong thing for library workers to do. Hopefully I would have made it a little less preachy than this proposal comes across:
“First they came for the public libraries and I didn’t speak out...”
Is library activism a professional duty?
Public libraries face serious threats: closure, funding cuts, and deprofessionalisation in favour of volunteer-run libraries. In these difficult times, should each sector take care of itself or do professionals from other information sectors have a duty to come to the aid of their colleagues in the public sector?
Fragmentation of the profession became a talking point this year: in a discussion on the CILIP LinkedIn Group forum Mark Field wrote, “The information professions are highly networked but poorly integrated.” It makes sense for non-public library professionals – those working in academic, legal, health, or private sectors – to maintain their distance from public libraries which are suffering from increased scrutiny and political battles for survival. Is it logical to integrate fragmented sectors and risk painting all libraries with the same brush?
On the other hand, it can be argued that being part of a professional body means supporting one another. It means sharing the difficulties in the bad times as well as sharing help in the good times. Part of the founding ethos of the library campaign group, Voices for the Library, is that librarians from a range of sectors should speak out on behalf of public library staff who may be prevented from speaking against their council employers.
The CILIP Code of Professional Practice states that library and information professionals should “Act in ways that promote the profession positively, both to their colleagues and to the public at large.” I argue that in desperate times ‘promotion’ extends to activism on behalf of libraries and that for professionals of all sectors – including new professionals – entry into the profession confers a duty to fight, to the extent one is able to do so, alongside one’s colleagues.