Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Social networking and CILIP

Biddy Fisher is speaking to SINTO tomorrow on the subject of Our Professional Journey. She will be speaking about CILIP and its future - indeed the future of the profession as a whole - and the Defining our professional future programme.

This will be a traditional face to face meeting. People will take time off, travel to a fixed location, and gather in a room with other librarians to hear directly what Biddy has to say and ask her questions. Such meetings are I believe, of value and enable participants to interact with the speaker in a way no other format can match. However it is for many an old-fashioned format. Why get together in person when you can achieve the same results in a virtual world.

For many people the Defining our professional future debate has been carried on through the medium of social networking.
An interesting example of this is the short podcast on the blog of Nicola McNee in which she gives 5 ideas on the future of CILIP. Now Nicola strikes me as the sort of person who is not seduced by technology for technology's sake. She is not interested in the latest gadget or gimmick just as something new. She uses social networking tools such as blogs and podcasts because she finds them to be useful for professional development and discussion.

What interests me is how CILIP in particular and the profession at large is responding to these new tools. In his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Clay Shirky argues that just as the printing press transformed society, the internet has 'removed the barrier to universal participation and revealed that human beings would rather be creating and sharing than passively consuming what a privileged elite think they should watch. Instead of lamenting the silliness of a lot of social online media, we should be thrilled by the spontaneous collective campaigns and social activism also emerging.'

How does this impact on CILIP? Does the fact that librarians such as Nicola and many others are now comfortable with social media mean that the whole structure and process of CILIP can and should change? Should decisions be made not by a Council but by the direct input of individuals? Can we envisage a Wikiorganisation?

These are not rhetorical questions. Perhaps the answers should be no! What would the profession loose if we moved to a new model? Would the old privileged elite be replaced by a new privileged elite. What about the digital divide in the profession? Will the professional silliness of a lot of professional social media swamp the voices of reason and intelligence? If we replace face-to-face debate with a babble of individual voices speaking in isolation don't we loose something of value?

These issues have to be considered. The recent speech by the Culture Minister Ed Vaisy on Re-modelling public libraries was made available by DCMS on the Write-to-reply website with an invitation for public comments. Is this a forum that CILIP and the profession should be using to get their message across to the Government or is it just for uninformed chit-chat? There may be other and better ways of lobbying the Government that CILIP can use. Could individual comments by librarians on Write-to-reply actually harm our case or is this the model for the future?

I seem to have used a lot of question marks! My point is that social media is not just a new way of communicating. It has the potential to change the way in which organisations operate and we need to be aware of that.


Niamh said...

I think we need both - an online presence alongside meeting in person. There's no replacement for being in the same room as a group of people, discussing an issue, but the social media options are required so that those who can't attend don't lose out entirely.

thewikiman said...

Great post! I think if you really COULD get everything from a social media 'event' that you could from a face-to-face, that would be brilliant - but often it's the chats in corridors as you walk between sessions at conferences that provide you with something really useful for your work, as well as the main presentations, so I think there's a way to go before virtual conferencing is an acceptable surrogate. But I agree it must be the coming thing, so I hope we can find ways of making it work.

With regards to the wikiorganisation thing - I get very worried when politicians generally, and the Tories in particular, start talking about how we're in charge (as in we the public) - run your own schools etc, it's madness. We need experts doing that, not just the people who can shout loudest. But with something like CILIP I think there's more scope. To shamlessly reproduce a phrase I was told at a conference yesterday, Member-driven, rather than member-led, sounds like a good compromise to me. I think and hope CILIP is moving in the right direction in that area, or will do soon...