Friday, 27 February 2009

NOT NICE NEWS

Problems in Birmingham have international impact

Two weeks ago a brief news item in a local paper (Dayani, 2008) revealed that the Foundation for Conductive Education, based in Birmingham, England, is experiencing financial difficulties. That was on Friday 13th. Unlucky for some. On Wednesday 25th, just two days ago now, further bad news followed. As part of a range of cost-cutting measures, the post of Librarian at the National Library of Conductive Education is to be made redundant.

There is as yet no news on how this Library is to continue to function. In very quick time, however, the world of Conductive Education is beginning to wake up to the fact that, without a Librarian, it might not be able to.

Gill Maguire

Without the Librarian…

Conductive Education is a small world and people know each other, as people. And if anyone has had personal contact with individuals around the world struggling to make sense of what is represented by the words Conductive Education, that person is has been Gill.

She is not the only one in CE who ‘knows everybody’ but, more rarely, she has probably never ruffled anyone's feathers. Of course she has disappointed people, probably by now in their thousands, by having again and again to point out firmly and clearly that the sort of answers that they are seeking just do not exist. She has gathered and guarded not simply a sum of knowledge but, a fairly rare attribute in Conductive Education, she has been sharp to indicate its limits…

Oh dear, despite my careful use of the perfect tense, this is beginning to sound like an obituary. It is not.

The National Library of Conductive Education

The Library was created in 1981, out of the collection of materials on Conductive Education that I had been accumulating for some ten years and was by then totally out of control. Gill came in to help, initially as a volunteer, to catalogue and process these materials, and soon became a salaried employee of the Foundation for Conductive Education. Despite the Foundation’s perennial inability to pay the rate for the job or direct sufficient funds to equip the Library as i should have been, she stayed (this verb I can properlwrite in the aorist!). She took up the task of extending and formalising access to the communicable knowledge base of Conductive Education, she simulated (nagged!) others to create new knowledge, and she took up her own publishing too. Although she hated the term, she was actively concerned in knowledge-management, this on a sector-defining scale.


Not every librarian would have been willing or able to do this, but many could. In recent years Gill has been increasingly concerned with the issue of succession and what would happen when her own turn would come to go on the shelf. She was determined that a new librarian taking over would from herself should inherit a going concern and could concentrate on acquiring the requisite subject knowledge.

The National Library developed into the technical library of choice for the whole Conductive Education world. All libraries complain about under-use but all technical fields have libraries, integral to their very being. Used or not, technical fields have to have such a facility without which their very status as a technical fields is called to question. Lack of funds over the years have limited what the National Library might have done in terms of getting out to users (and potential users) by way of super-duper, Gee-Whizz new informatic technologies, but the repository of knowledge has been accumulating, in umpteen different media and through umpty different languages (sorry, I can’t quantify these figures more specifically, as to do so I would have to check with the Librarian).

The Age of Transparency

So there are two issues here: the fate of Gill the person, and the question of a library suddenly cut off from life with no apparent succession in the offing. Both have been brought together rather publicly in Conductive Education’s first international public expression of common concern in the new Age of the Internet, an Internet petition.

This issue is still only a couple of days old. Once upon a time this would have taken ages to ‘leak out’ and probably most people would have heard about it, if at all, only when it was just history (usually in Conductive Education, undocumented and inaccessible history at that!). The humiliating public debacle over the dismissal of Ildikó Kozma as Director of the International Pető Institute, and the appointment of her successor, comprised a transitional phenomenon. Yes, it 'got on the Internet', but only through the online editions of newspapers plus three timorous little websites. Yes, all this was publicly accessible, but only if you knew to look, and only if you could read Hungarian.

Blogged

Now, in Conductive Education, as everywhere else, in politics and in commerce, in the military and in every corner of civil life, there is the blogosphere (and, still waiting in the wings as yet for CE to join it, social networking). The CE blogosphere is as yet small beans, but in a small word small beans stretch a long way.

In a couple of days, therefore, discussion threads have already begun on two CE blogs. Since this afternoon a posting on Gill‘s own blog (Maguire, 2008) may occasion a third. This item on Conductive World, may open a fourth. A fifth and a sixth have kicked off as I have been writing this item. A provocative aside on another might start a seventh. Emails are whizzing back and forth, airing people’s anger and sorrow, their own analyses and their calls for action (there are already two suggestions for public petitions).

We live in interesting times: nothing can happen in yesterday’s ways, even the redundancy of a librarian in a small, specialist collection somewhere in Middle England. This is all uncharted territory in the little world of Conductive Education, but cutbacks and Internet access will presumably mean that such situations are common in every sector.

All this in a couple of days. No time yet for contrary positions, though surely there is a case to be stated there too. There’s place enough:

Don’t just read the postings, follow on through the Comments and pitch in to have your own say.

If Gill were still in post, doubtless she would already be busy cataloguing these, documenting the international development of Conductive Education for posterity.

A personal effect already…

Already today I have spotted an important document new paper on the Internet, in Portuguese, that I would have wanted to discuss with Gill. I have also had to disappoint someone preparing a conference presentation, because it would be hard for me to find in the Library what he needs to inform his presentation (this would have taken Gill about three minutes and she might also have been able personally to connect the enquirer to the author).

I laboriously give references for almost everything that I write. If I do not, then serious people (‘scholars’) cannot check what I say and, never mind that, go search for their own sources. When I came into CE in the early eighties the field was crippled (sorry if the word offends) by its total lack of scholarship. I’m no scholar myself but I pragmatically recognised the limits that this deficiency imposed and would continue to impose upon the development of CE and its acceptability. Initiating the Library, with the explicit and unattainable goal of assembling ‘everything there is on CE, of any kind, in any language, published or unpublished', was one line that I considered an essential step in solving this problem,

If something has come out of l‘affaire Maguire over this last couple of days, it is that I am not alone in understanding the fundamental nature of this problem. Unfortunately, this also comes with contradictory demonstration that ‘not a lot of people know that‘.

References

Dayani, A. (2008) Charity for disabled in cash plea as it faces cutting services, Birmingham Post, 13 February
http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/local-news/charity-disabled-cash-plea-faces-3950348

Maguire, G. (2008) Now is the time to say goodbye to an era, Conductive Education Library, 27 February
http://ce-library.blogspot.com/2009/02/now-is-time-to-say-goodbye-to-era.html

2 comments:

  1. Wake up people before its too late. There is no time to waste. Act before the weekend ends and share your feelings, your fears, your disappointements or your real concern. whether you are a parent or a person with CP, a student or a conductor, Director or a volunteer, express yourself by commenting in this blog and others. Don't just sit and wait, as you will probably find your self without the body of knowledge we all need in order to work, write, study and keep the state of the art of conductive education. Only few minutes of your time, no more.
    So please, join me in this call for action, I want to hear you clear and loud. The internet allows us to be vocal, to be heard, to be active and hopefully, to influence and convince.

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  2. hey...

    Just like everyone else in the conductive world i was very shocked to hear about Gill been made redundant. To be honest i was totally oblivious that this was even possible, even after the article about NICE being in financial troubles (once again). The implications for students and the rest of the conductive gaining and maintaining CE history and knowledge are hard and painful to imagine. Gill in my years at NICE helped me finding books and articles i did not even know to look for and I am truly thankful for that.
    Still this is not the first time NICE seemed to have gotten in serious financial trouble. A couple of month into my first year as a student especially newly joined conductors lost their jobs at nice. We at this time scared students fearing that this would effect our training or even existence of the course, have been reassured by the lectures of the course, that no matter what the foundation will make sure the training can carry on (NICE was estabilished for "... and training, thereof") And now I cannot stop wondering if its worst then it was three years ago(especially considering the current world financial situation) and NICE is trying desperatly saving the training course at all costs. However the cost cuts this time around might have a worst long term effect then last time.

    One of my fellow conductor friends asked on facebook if there is anything we can do. And yes, hearing different opinion and showing a collective awareness that without the library( and Gill) a lot of our professional knowledge might not get recorded and will disappear forever, is one way. But what more??? Its all about the money once again and now in financial crisies its even more important that we (collectively) will come up with a good plan on how to get conductive education widely recognized and/or government funded.

    Aenna

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