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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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February 2008 Volume 6(1)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland


100 years – and still going strong

Kicking off celebrations for the Scottish Library Association/CILIPS Centenary, Brian Osborne explores the history of the organisations, in the first of six articles.

CILIPS, through its predecessor the Scottish Library Association, can trace its origins back to October 1908 when a meeting was held in Edinburgh and 65 names of librarians and assistants were given in and a committee was formed. Dr Hew Morrison of Edinburgh Public Library and Francis T. Barrett of Glasgow were among its members. The Library Association was well established by 1908 and the Scots had to consider what their relationship would be with the older body. Many members of the SLA would also be members of the LA and in the first annual report of the SLA is the comment: “Especially it is desired to consult the wishes of the members on the subject of Affiliation with the Library Association.”

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once memorably described his country’s relationship with the United States as like being in bed with an elephant – and it is certainly possible to see the relationship between the SLA and the LA in such terms down the years.

By the time of the 1910 AGM, held in Dunfermline in June, discussions had taken place with the LA about affiliation and papers were shortly to be circulated to members. However, in the event the Council of the SLA felt that affiliation under the then prevailing LA rules would be inappropriate. They were concerned that the subscription level, 10/6 (52p), would be unaffordable by junior assistants; there were worries that becoming a local branch of the LA would prevent the SLA retaining as members several Scots working in England; and as an LA branch the SLA would have been unable to appoint Honorary Members.

Although affiliation was not progressed for many years the relations between the two bodies were generally positive. Discussions took place on matters of common interest such as a Library Training School and in 1927 the SLA suspended its Autumn School of Library Practice as the LA Jubilee Conference was to be held in Edinburgh and the LA was asked to allow SLA members who were not LA members the privilege of attending this conference – and 21 members took advantage of this opportunity.
Although many prominent figures in the SLA were active in the Library Association – for example Ernest A. Savage of Edinburgh (below), who was SLA President in 1930-32, was LA Secretary from 1928 to 1934 and LA President in 1936 – union or affiliation still proved difficult. A proposal from the LA that the SLA should become a branch of the Library Association was rejected but a more acceptable affiliation scheme was approved by members by a ballot with 174 votes for and 8 against.

This came into effect on 1 January 1931 and allowed the SLA to retain its own constitution and provided an exit clause from the agreement, allowing the SLA to resume its independence on 12 months notice. After affiliation, the SLA had a total membership of 414 including “transitional members” who were defined as those SLA members who were not already LA members.

We shall return to the question of relationships with London in a later article but we need now to return to the early days of the SLA to look at the way it served its members. As early as 1912 the idea of District Meetings had emerged and in the winter of 1912-13 meetings were held in Edinburgh, Motherwell and Dundee and many new members were enrolled in the SLA as a result of this local activity.

By 1914 the Association had grown to 138 members and the sixth AGM, held in Glasgow, was attended by 75 members – a creditable 54% of the membership. This AGM gave the Council the thorny task of considering “the further extension of the Association’s influence among libraries and librarians”, which has surely been a preoccupation of Council ever since, even if not articulated in quite that way.

With the outbreak of the First World War district meetings were suspended and the 1915 AGM would be a utilitarian affair without the usual civic hospitality. Council, however, recommended the formation of four sub-committees to report on library construction & architecture, latest methods and appliances, bibliographical aids and publications and the economic position of librarians and assistants – the latter being another recurring concern.

A conference in 1919 looked at the role libraries might play in post-war reconstruction and that year a new branch structure was introduced with the creation of a Glasgow and West of Scotland, an Edinburgh and East of Scotland and a branch covering Dundee, Aberdeen and the North.

The post-war period and its austerities proved to be difficult – the 1921 Annual Report noted that: “It has not been found possible to arrange meetings of the Association during the past year, owing to the fact that in most libraries efforts were being made to recuperate and re-organise after the years of penury. There was a general and natural desire that visits from the Association should be withheld until the effects of the restrictions of the war period were removed.”

The Association however maintained its progressive ambitions; R. D. MacLeod and Robert Bain urged on it the need to develop publicity work in the interests of the Scottish Library Movement. In 1923, without much fanfare, the first woman was elected to the Council of the Scottish Library Association in the person of Miss Maud S. Best, sub-librarian at Aberdeen University. In the same year the Association flexed its muscles over staffing matters. The Chief Librarian’s post at Paisley had been advertised and candidates had been asked to state the salary they desired. Council felt this Dutch auction procedure was not in the best interests of the public or the service and communicated their views to the Paisley Library Committee.

The SLA has always looked beyond Scotland’s frontiers and forged links with librarians in other countries. The earliest example of this probably comes in the summer schools that the Association ran from the late 1930s – the first of these in 1937 attracted delegates from England and Ireland, which was perhaps predictable, but also from the less probable Iceland and Sweden.

In 1954 a party of 14 Scottish librarians went on a study tour of Denmark. In 1961 the IFLA Conference was held in Edinburgh and the SLA told the Library Association that it would like to be associated with this event. One hundred delegates from 25 countries attended IFLA that year – slightly more attended the Glasgow IFLA in 2002! Scottish Librarians ventured overseas for their Annual Conference in 1968 for a Scottish/Irish Conference at Portrush.

In the Association’s 75th Anniversary year the foundations were laid for a still wider approach to internationalism – one of the guests at the conference dinner was Jean Gattegno, Directeur du Livre et de la Lecture at the French Ministry of Culture. Links with French libraries and librarians were forged with the assistance of Frances Salinié of the British Council, which resulted in exchanges culminating in a joint conference of the SLA and the Association de Bibliothécaires de France and a joint mobile meet being held at Peebles in 1992.

Strangely enough for an Association dealing so closely with the written word the SLA had to wait until the 1950s for it to produce a magazine. A newssheet was called for at the 1949 AGM and one duly emerged in October 1950 under the editorship of A. G. Hepburn who was replaced as editor by Robert Walker in 1956. That year the News Sheet changed its name to SLA News and flourished under a series of honorary editors including such prominent figures in the profession as Peter Grant, Alan White, Alex Howson, Alice MacKenzie and Alistair Campbell, all of whom moved on from the Editorial Chair to the Presidential one.

SLA News and its successor Scottish Libraries, with a professional editor from 1992, continued as perhaps the most visible evidence of the Association to members until, with the creation of CILIPS, the old title became seen as inappropriate and Information Scotland was launched under the editorship of Debby Raven.

Brian D Osborne e:

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Information Scotland Vol. 6(1) February 2008

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Last updated: 16-Jul-2008