I’m writing this on the train on the way home from the CILIP 2016 Conference in Brighton. I don’t know if I’ll actually post it, but I’ve got a lot of thoughts swarming round my head, and I’m hoping writing some of them down will help me start making sense of them.
A conference that challenged
CILIP 2016 Conference has been the best conference I’ve been to in terms of my own CPD. It has challenged me to an extent that I am questioning some of my core beliefs about what it is to be a librarian, how I see myself professionally and how I see the library and information profession. This post is about only one of those questions. The one that is currently threatening an existential crisis [blimey, it’s a long time since I had one of those!].
In Lauren Smith’s closing keynote she said “We’re not in the business of making money, we’re in the business of helping people”. This made me think. One of my primary reasons for joining the profession was that I enjoy, want to, and gain huge satisfaction from helping people. Much of my day-to-day role is helping people. I see helping people, both in my professional and personal life, as an important component of who I am.
However, I do not work for an organisation whose purpose is to help people, at least not as a primary function. I work for a nature conservation organisation. [Well, actually, a collaboration of nature organisations.]
“In the business of …”
I think it must have been the words Lauren used – “we’re in the business of” – that made me stop and think. I see myself as part of the information profession, but in the business of nature conservation. I’m not disagreeing with Lauren here, I believe she meant that as librarians and information professionals our role and service is about helping people. [Lauren, if you’re reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong.] It is just that her words got me thinking.
What is your organisation “in the business of”?
In some way, the parent bodies of public libraries, school libraries, FE libraries, university libraries and health libraries are all, in some way, in the business of helping people. But what about corporate libraries? Government libraries? Learned society libraries? What about me and my library? Corporate libraries have parent bodies who are in the business of making money. How does that fundamentally different purpose of the parent organisation of a library affect the library and its staff? Is there a clash between our professional ethics as librarians and our organisations’ missions?
**Edit added 21 July 2016**
Out of the echo chamber
Regardless of our sector, maybe there are positives to feeling strongly connected to two different “businesses” or professions. We talk a lot in libraryland (well, I do) about getting out of the echo chamber. I’ve just posted in a conservation-related group I’m part of on Facebook and it hit me – this is how I’m reaching out and taking our libraryland issues and concerns out of the echo chamber and into the community I serve. I often come across things posted on library blogs, or tweeted by library acquaintances, that I share with my conservation network. These are often things we talk about a lot in libraryland, but aren’t exactly high up on the conservation community network. It gets those ideas out there and getting the message across just seems to “work” so much better than in other roles I’ve had. Maybe, that’s because I’m sharing with people in their networks, or because I see myself as one of them and therefore they see me as one of them?
Now over to you
If you’ve read this far, thank you. But now I’m going to ask for some audience participation. Regardless of your sector or role, I’m interested in your answer to (or thoughts arising from) any of these questions:
- Do you identify as being in the business of helping people?
- Do you identify as being in the business of your parent organisation? e.g. nature conservation for me
- If you answered yes to both the above, do you feel that those businesses are in some way at odds with each other?
- Do you feel your professional ethics conflict with your organisation’s mission/goal/purpose?
- Do you have a library mission statement? And if so, does it mention helping people?
Feel free to send responses via comments on this blog or via Twitter, openly or in a direct message to @library_lizzie. Or, if you want to be anonymous, umm … via carrier pigeon? Actually, I’m pretty sure you can comment anonymously on WordPress blogs. I really am interested in your thoughts!
P.S. If you were wondering, I did find writing all this down very useful and the impending existential crisis has been averted.