Let's try a brief thought experiment. Imagine for a moment if you will, that every librarian (information worker, call us what you will - it's your experiment as well) was a member of the same professional body. What would that get us? In the first instance that professional body (and again, call it what you want - your experiment etc) would have a good income derived from membership fees. That income would allow them to provide members with many facilities - I'd want a nice training room which had up to the minute computers, a fast broadband connection, webcams, and a few iPads, digital video cameras, voice recorders, ebook readers and smartphones for members to play with. In fact, that training resource could actually go on tour, as there would be money available for the staff member to to different parts of the country to let people play with the kit that we've heard of, but few have had an opportunity to use.
Since this body would have just about every librarian in the country as a member it would be able to co-ordinate things via a properly instituted series of regional groups, with lots of subject information groups as well. Each group would be able to see what every other group was doing, and via the use of sensible social media would be able to livestream events from one group to another. Each group could quickly tell every other group what interesting things they were doing, and everyone could learn from everyone else. Something blocked in one institution? Quickly find out from other colleagues how they were able to overcome it in their organisation. News could be spread extremely quickly - if one library was threatened with closure, every librarian in the country would know about it within moments. Librarians would be able to support their colleagues. We would all be able to plan campaigns which wouldn't just be local - they would be national. A simple example - if every librarian wore a badge saying 'Your library is endangered' visibly, on the same day, and had these badges available for library members to wear as well. I'm not saying that this by itself would change anything at all - even I am not that hopelessly innocent, but what I am saying is that with a single strike, librarians could - having agreed a message - get it out quickly.
This professional organisation could provide really good recruitment facilities, it would be able to represent librarians in their organisations, it would be able to be the voice that librarians scared for their jobs could listen speaking on their behalf. It would be able to talk to LIS schools, enthusing students, it could get into career seminars for children still at school. It could really assist and inform employers on what qualifications a 'professional librarian' should have, and it could help monitor them.
That's just a very brief idea of what a professional body that represented all librarians could do. It's a powerful picture as I hope that you'll agree - and I'm sure that you can come up with a whole bunch of other glaringly obvious things it could be doing as well. However, let us also look at the other extreme. Imagine a situation where we don't have a professional body at all. Zip, zilch, zero, gone.
If there isn't a professional body, which sets standards, qualifications, monitors those and fights for their upkeep, we cannot have professional librarians. We'll still have librarians of course - or at least, people who call themselves librarians, based on anything they want. They won't need to have any kind of qualification because no-one can advise an employer on what they should be asking for; 'a love of books and learning' will be appearing on all job adverts (and not just a few at the moment) and anyone can apply. Now of course, at the moment it's perfectly possible for an employer to get someone to look after their information centre without any qualifications - I think that's bad and I suspect you probably do as well - but that's the way that it's going to be. An obvious knockon effect is that academic courses in various aspects of librarianship are going to be less common - as there is no actual need for librarians any longer (because remember, and it's a point worth hammering home, no professional body = no professional librarians), no need for courses.
If there is no need for the academic aspect, I wonder how much work is going to be done in the field of librarianship and information science in the UK. Where is this stuff going to get published? Are we still going to have professional journals any longer? Will publishers see the value in them? Will foreign journals be interested in publishing material written in the UK from a UK perspective? 'Well, yes it's an interesting article but of course you're not a professional librarian are you, so we'll give it a miss thanks' is a phrase that I find scarily possible. The people in charge of academic librarians are going to have even less credence than perhaps some of them do now for the same reason.
There will be no single coherent voice for librarians. It's going to be down entirely to voluntary groups and local groups for that. The media will have no single organisation to approach. In this thought experiment I would encourage you to compare this bleak situation which doesn't exist - yet - with the rather more powerful one that I've previously described. Regional groups will - or perhaps not, spring up, based entirely on just how keen particular individuals are. They'll have to create their own rules, try and run their own training courses, and how's this for another scary line 'training? What do you want training for? You're not a professional!' No-one will know what's going on, because these groups will be created and will break up almost on a whim or because of personal disagreements since there won't be an overarching professional body to give them some backbone and consistency.
In short - there will be no profession. No professional librarians, no professional organisation. Let that sink in for a while. Nothing. That's a very scary thought. It's also a very possible situation as well. Are there any benefits to NOT having a professional organisation? I can't honestly think of any, can you? If you're reading this and you're not currently a member of a professional organisation do you think you can honestly call yourself a Librarian? If you can, that's great - I'd be interested in knowing how you justify it. I'm not having a go, and I'm well aware that until quite recently I wasn't a member either, so I'm so not in a position to throw stones and believe me, I won't. But do think about it - by using the term 'Librarian' you are defining what you do based on the work of a professional body, and you have a stick against which you can measure yourself. If that stick no longer exists, how are you going to measure yourself? How will newcomers to the non existent 'profession' gain entrance? And who is going to look after the information? The technical people, who are great at running services and keeping the computers going? The people with non professional qualifications 'who like books'? The academics who are experts in their areas, but not necessarily expert in looking after the information itself? The volunteers in public libraries who work out of the goodness of their hearts because 'they love books' but have no clue as to how any of it works?
So - that's my thought experiment. Sure, I've slanted it to say what I want it to say, that's because it's my experiment - but there's a comments box so feel free to use it to slant it your way instead - that's the fun of an experiment. I'm rather expecting that you're going to have to work really hard to get a positive out of the negative of no professional body.
(I should point out anything that I post to my blog is my own personal opinion, does not, and should not be taken to reflect the views, attitudes or opinions of any professional or voluntary organisations that I am associated with.)