What has excited me most about returning to run the National Association for Literature Development - the organisation for everyone involved in developing writers, readers and audiences – is how the operating environment is now totally different.
Technology has changed the way membership organisations communicate and who they communicate with. Information is no longer collected, stored, ordered, distributed, it is immediate, fluid, motile. Information used to be our currency, but now feels more like the energy that powers the organisation, not just something we do, it has become the way we do things.
And there is so much information flying about. Back in the early part of the century, NALD's Elatest was the first literature specific electronic newsletter, but now we get the same piece of information from five or six sources within a few hours. NALD's role has changed, from being the information source, to contextualising that information, providing both the longer- and the over- view.
NALD has always been a virtual organisation, active wherever our staff and members happen to be. Previously that was pretty clearly defined within the borders of England, Scotland and Wales. Now we sit in a web through which we are as likely to get enquiries from Uganda and the Philippines as we are from Ormskirk and Perth.
I don't quite know what this means yet, but we are going to have change the way we face internationally, and develop what we offer. I suspect that, rather than just responding to incoming interest, we will be better shaping ourselves to reflect the international interests and activities of our members.
The other exciting change in the landscape is that the literature development world is much more asset rich. There's Literature Training for a start, which we set up with NAWE, and there is now a network of regional and subregional literature agencies developing writers and readers. There are many more freelancers and organisations springing up with specialisms in everything from bibliotherapy to literature touring, from playing around with technology, text and transmission to literature and regeneration.
The fact that there is so much more practice, so much more expertise out there, will change NALD's role. We will still seek to identify gaps and commission research and professional development where there seems to be a need for thinking. But rather than being the sole provider we are much more likely to be working in collaboration with existing organisations to help them develop their thinking and resources, and rather than drawing attention to ourselves, will raise their profile by putting their work in a national and international space.
The part of the job I was screwing my eyes up and pretending might not be there to have to do again was CPD/PPP/OPD whatever PD professional development you care to imagine. Last time round the field had been occupied by professional training providers ensuring everything was linked with FE of HE the DFE and accrediting anything that moved in a way that involved translating perfectly good English into Alien. It has been refreshing to find that curious mixture of intellectual bureaucracy has blown through. People seem interested in the kind of peer to peer support and mentoring, professional talking to professional, a mixture of professional and life skills. Just the kind of things that, largely through the patient and intelligent work of Anne Caldwell, NALD always excelled in.
NALD has always been an advocate for literature development. Has the value of literature been recognised by opinion formers and funders? Are we a confident sector? There is such a concentration on reorganisation, the economy, the imminent election I am finding it difficult to tell. But what has impressed me since I have been back is that there are so many bright, committed articulate advocates working locally and regionally, that the problem seems less about getting recognition, more about ensuring the system responds differently in different regions and to different strands of literature development. Maybe a different kind of localism from what the Tories have in mind, but certainly not the Grand Unitary Theory of the bureaucrat.
So what hasn't changed? Well, meetings. I forgot how many people there are who just have meetings, and seeing that's all they do, how bad they are at making best use of the time. I'd forgot that dread feeling I used to get when salaried people turn up obviously intending to make a long afternoon of what, to a freelance state of mind, should take no more than half an hour!
This article appeared as the first of a regular column in Writing in Education, the magazine of the National Association for Writers in Education.