On Saturday, 21st September, the Cilip Annual General Meeting was held at the recently opened Library of Birmingham. I spoke in support of item 9 on the agenda - the motion of no confidence in Ed Vaizey. It read:
“In view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of Cilip has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services”
The motion was carried. 669 people voted in favour. Less that a third voted against (200) whilst 103 people abstained.
I prepared for debate. I prepared myself for some vocal objections, but was rather surprised that, other than an objection to the wording, and clarification over the spirit of the motion (Were we asking Cilip not to work with Ed Vaizey. No. That was not our intention), there were no objections raised.
I admit to being a little disappointed. The AGM hosted a passionate discussion about the potential name change. And whilst it's nice to have folk nod in agreement and vote it through, I'm aware that not everyone agreed - some disagreed quite vocally on Twitter or via other blogs. And that's OK. But what a shame that discussion couldn't have been had at the AGM.
I'm not the first to have a strong opinion on Vaizey. I certainly won't be the last. Others have expressed their disappointment much more elegantly that I ever could. (This one, from Gary Green is a particular favourite).
For what it's worth, the text of my speech is below, which was mostly read as written. I've removed identifying information.
"My name is [redacted]. I work for the [Government Agency] in a team called ‘Evidence’ which is a service responsible for creating, finding, managing and sharing data and information. I've previously worked in both public libraries and academic libraries in front-line roles and joined the Library Association shortly before it evolved into Cilip.
I want to start off with a quote from Ed Vaizey, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries. He’s talking here as shadow secretary about plans for 15 libraries to be closed in Wirral back in 2009. Vaizey said:
“Andy Burnham's refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities' responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary's door. If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless” [Bookseller]
If you were to swap a few names around, change the name of the library authority under threat then this could easily be the current shadow secretary, talking about Ed Vaizey. In this speech, Vaizey himself makes the point of his own ineffectiveness clearly.
When in opposition, Vaizey, described proposals to close public libraries in areas of deprivation in Wirral as "cost-driven vandalism". You only have to read headlines in Bookseller or take a quick glance at Public Libraries news to see how starkly that contrasts with his words and lack of action as current secretary.
He seems to have little sympathy or time for the libraries that are closing, libraries that are being removed from council responsibility through privatisation or outsourcing, or libraries that are being forced into community hands to run themselves, else live with the guilt that they somehow contributed to the loss of their local library services. That’s before we’ve even stopped to consider the libraries that are clinging on, hollowed out with little left in terms of staff, opening hours or resources.
Vaizey claims he is delighted that libraries continue to thrive, and at the recent select committee enquiry into library closures, he queried the crisis.
Crisis? What crisis?
All this against a backdrop of closures in Somerset, Gloucester, Lincolnshire, Sheffield, Sunderland, Moray, Herefordshire, Isle of White... It’s not the Secretary of State intervening in these closures. It is the local library campaigners.
According to Public Libraries News, compiled by Ian Anstice, since April 2013, 364 libraries, including mobile services have been closed or transferred out of Local Authority control or are under threat. That’s just in six months. The Library Campaign recently estimated that by 2016 we will have lost almost 1000 libraries.
Vaizey is quick to point to the successes of shiny new libraries, like the very library we are stood in today. But his silences on the closures that loom over the few that have opened, stand in dark contrast. [See: Ed Vaizey’s statements on public libraries]
During the passionate debates around what our professional body should call itself, the one message I heard time and again was: ‘It’s not what the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is called that matters. It is what it does’.
Cilip is perceived by campaigners to have very little to say about large-scale changes that are happening in our public libraries. We need to change that.
Few people working in public libraries are able to speak out in confidence about what is happening to their service – to their jobs. I read a letter recently from someone in my own local area, where the very library that inspired me to become a librarian is now under threat as plans to turn 1/3 of its space into classrooms for a local school dismiss it’s collections as ‘book storage’.
The passion and despair in that letter moved me to tears. A library worker’s whose voice is silenced because speaking out against changes means speaking out against her employer and all the risks associated with that.
A vote of no confidence in Vaizey, from Cilip members sends a powerful message to government and to those that are working in and campaigning to protect public libraries from further loss. This vote gives Cilip members the chance to drive the agenda. It says we value our public libraries and support our colleagues who work in them. I believe that no matter what our background, or in what kind of library or information service we use our skills, we have a professional obligation to stand together and express a vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey."
My thanks go to Tom Roper, who encouraged me to get involved, and who was the driver behind much of the work to make it happen. Please do read his blog post on the outcomes of the motion.
Thank you also to everyone who tweeted their support or engaged in debate (whether in agreement or otherwise) and gave me the confidence to stand up and speak. When it's the quiet one's that speak out at AGM, you know there's a problem in Library Land.