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Friday, 9th March 2012 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By James Mullan


Most people accept that we live in a fragmented world. Social, political, economic and technological change seems to happen on a regular basis and at times it can be hard to keep up. Within the information profession, change might appear to occur more slowly.


Most people accept that we live in a fragmented world. Social, political, economic and technological change seems to happen on a regular basis and at times it can be hard to keep up. Within the information profession, change might appear to occur more slowly. However, if you look beneath the surface, you'll see information professionals across a number of sectors making significant changes both to the way they work and the services they provide to their users.

One of the key developments in recent years has been the way individuals and groups communicate and collaborate with each other. Tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yammer have made it possible for individuals to create, share and comment on content created by like-minded individuals: individuals who might not work in the same organisation or even sector but are committed to their own personal development, the development of the services they provide and to being a medium to promote and campaign for public libraries. Collaborative tools are also being used to bring together Library graduates and new information professionals who wouldn't otherwise have a space where they could discuss the courses they're considering undertaking and the work they're completing as part of their course.

This leads me nicely onto the subject of this article, which is the number and quality of the multitude of groups that currently represent information professionals in the UK. I'll start by saying that I'm fairly relaxed about the number of societies, organisations, groups and associations representing information professionals in the UK. Even within the sector, I work in the association representing British and Irish Law Librarians (BIALL), which is itself fragmented – with affiliated groups representing Academic Law Librarians, Solo Law Librarians, Irish Law Librarians, Scottish Law Librarians, Law Librarians based in Bristol, Central England, Manchester, the East Midlands and Liverpool, and Law Librarians who work in US Law firms.

These groups have existed for as long as I can remember and will continue to do so as they more accurately represent and promote the interests of individuals working within these specialised areas. They're also able to offer more specialised training to individuals, which BIALL would not be in a position to do given that it offers general training to all of its members. There are also a number of other organisations within the legal sector representing information professionals that are similar to BIALL.

Having a diverse number of groups representing information professionals is, in my mind, no bad thing as it means the opportunity to attend seminars, conferences and networking events that are directly relevant to the work an individual does are increased. There are also more opportunities for individuals to become involved with a group or association.

On a less positive note, having more choice in terms of the number of organisations representing information professionals means that individuals might have to make stark choices when it comes to the organisation with whom they renew their membership. In this regard, having a single association that provides training and represents an individual’s interests effectively, is more appealing then the large number of associations and groups that currently exist.

For an association or group to survive in the current climate, in my mind, it needs to demonstrate that it can successfully offer members true value. If it doesn't do so then, with the number of associations and groups representing information professionals, individuals have a number of different options. Having a choice in this situation is certainly a good thing. But to ensure their continued survival all associations and groups need to give careful consideration to the value they provide, the opportunities there are to become involved with the group and how they market themselves using both traditional and social media tools.


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James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is a Past President of BIALL and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian". You can follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6 or friend him on Facebook.

James can be reached at

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