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December 12, 2010

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Sarah

Yes I still call myself a librarian even though I didn't renew my membership of CILIP this year for the first time in 30? years. I may no longer be able to call myself a chartered librarian but I still have my BA Lib.
I would love to have your imaginary professional body representing me.

DJ

"The people with non professional qualifications 'who like books'? "

God, this has just made me so furious that I am taking a good few moments to compose my response. Yes, I'm one of them. I got into the profession because "I like books" So shoot me. I have no "official" library qualifications. Sorry but I've not had time what with gaining my BA (hons) and self-funding my MA. I've not been to library school. I'm not a member of CILIP. And I don't see why I should be. Sorry.

I am damn good at what I do. I do it equally or if not better than many of the librarians I've met. And I can't stand this thought process that says if X has a library qualification, then he's automatically better than Y.

It's talking like this that makes me so reluctant and unwilling to join CILIP. I'm not going to shell money to join an organisation that seems damn well convinced that people like me don't exist.

Phil Bradley

Sarah - one of the points that I'm trying to make is how are we going to be able to define 'librarian' in the future in any meaningful way? More to the point, if there was to be no professional body that we could point to how is an employer going to work out what a librarian is, other than by making up the rules themselves?

DJ - thanks for your comments. If you just 'liked books' I wonder why you're not working in a bookshop. I suspect that there's a lot more to why you like working in a library than because you like books. And if you're that angry with me or with CILIP that's great - I admire your passion (truly - I'm not being sarcastic), why don't you join CILIP and help turn it into an organisation that you feel does represent you?

Katie Mc

I would argue that this article hinges upon the definition of a ‘professional.’ You argue that with no professional body there would be no professional courses and thus no professional librarians. Surely this argument assumes that the power of the professional body is such that its existence alone is enough to spark the courses themselves as well as the staff motivated to enrol and finance themselves upon these courses. This seems, to me, untrue in itself however it is an argument that flounders in the light of those qualifications that are created, sought and obtained despite their lack of accreditation by the professional body. The argument follows then that a person, upon completion of an unaccredited qualification, remains unqualified in the eyes of the profession. This seems to me severely damaging to the freedom of academic institutions as well as to Library staff; the assumed omniscience of the professional body, central to your argument, makes me uneasy.

I believe strongly that a professional body can and is used as a source to unite Librarians. To centralise it and suggest that this is the sole criteria by which to define and distinguish a librarian seems as over-simplistic as it is elitist. If libraries and librarianship, as a discipline and career, are to move forward, rigid definitions will only reign us back.

Without a professional body, I have faith that the passion of those who work within libraries would keep up the demand for library qualifications. I agree with you that the professional body goes a long way towards developing and enhancing the profession, however I think it is patronising to employers and library staff to suggest that the profession would grind to a halt without it.

Phil Bradley

Katie - thanks for your thoughtful response, which I found very interesting indeed. So, given that this is a thought experiment - how would you strengthen the profession - if you think that it needs strengthening? Do you think a better answer is several different bodies? Do you think specific qualifications are necessary? How would you define the profession of 'librarianship'? What are your key criteria, and how would you see them being kept up to date and current?

Sarah

Schools are already making up the rules themselves Phil, and have been for years, but nobody seemed overly worried about it then. We're already competing in a world where our qualifications count for nothing, because so many excellent school librarians have no library qualifications. What seems to have brought things to a head, is the prospect of this spreading to public libraries.

Nicola Franklin

As well as schools 'making up the rules themselves' as Sarah points out, business information professionals (researchers in banks/accountancy / consultancy / law firms, intranet content managers in commerce & industry, etc) have also not felt they've had a professional body for many years Phil. Nevertheless they gather, collate, organise, retrieve and disseminate information perfectly effectively and would, I'm sure, be deeply insulted to be told they are not professionals.

CILIP has for many years repeated 'if you don't like what we do, join and change things from the inside' - this however comes across as quite a patronising and insulting attitude. Why should those people pay good money to join a body that barely admits they exist, doesn't understand (or appear to want to make any effort to understand) what they do, never mind extending them any respect?

This stand off has led to the plethora of other special interest groups and associations (from BIALL to SLA Europe to LIKE and NetIKX), resulting in the 'information profession' not having one coherent voice or face for the 'outside world'.

Perhaps if CILIP were prepared to say 'sorry if we came over that way in the past, we do value what you do, and we won't insist that you must be called something starting with a big 'L' (Corporate Librarian, anyone?)' - then more corporate info pros, knowledge managers and content managers might see a reason to join.

Phil Bradley

Thanks Nicola - the interesting thing with something like this is that you can try out a whole range of ideas without particular constraint. How would you define 'professional' in the business environment situation you describe? What criteria would make one person a professional and not another? How would you like to see CILIP working with corporate librarians? In your own thought experiment, what would that look like to you? What specific changes in CILIP would get you to consider joining it? How could CILIP extend respect to them? How - in your opinion - has it not done so in the past? As another question - do you feel that a variety of special interest groups work effectively? Better than one voice? Worse?

Sorry - lots of questions, but I'm really interested to know what people think!

Nicola Franklin

First small point, I am already a member of CILIP :)

How to define 'professional' - wow that is a big question! I would firstly argue with your conclusion that without a professional body the masters-level qualifications would disappear; records management qualifications appeared and grew without accreditation, and many people gain the MSc in Info Studies (or similar) without being concerned whether it is accredited by CILIP or not, since they see (rightly or wrongly) that CILIP is concerned about whether qualifications are fit for librarians, not researchers or knowledge managers or intranet content managers.

If someone starts work, gains a year or two of experience as an information or records assistant, then get a Masters level qualification in the field, then returns to a 'professional level' post, and joins SLA or BIALL or other group(s) (which have codes of ethics, CPD programmes, etc) and goes to networking and other CPD events - wouldn't you call them a professional? Just because they don't happen to belong to one particular group doesn't make them 'unprofessional' - unless of course all the groups merge as per your original thought experiment, and there is only one :P

How would I like to see CILIP working with corporate info pros (outside of law firms, almost none of them call themselves 'librarians') - well a recognition of that simple fact would be a start. I can only report on what I hear business researchers, content managers, etc, etc, saying to me since I don't work as a practitioner myself.

Over and over I hear people from information officer to head of research or KM saying that they feel / their perception is that CILIP has very little understanding of what 'information management' (let alone 'knowledge management') involves when it doesn't include any sort of physical collection - where 'acquisition' means negotiating with Thomson, Lexis, et al to acquire licenced access to online databases, or where 'cataloguing' means a devising (and getting reluctant end users to use) a taxonomy on an intranet or Sharepoint.

These people value networking opportunities, whether these are round-table discussions over breakfast, or evening networking over drinks and nibbles (with or without a speaker), to share their experiences and learn with peers. The perception of many is that CILIP doesn't provide these opportunities.

In terms of the many different groups, my view is that individually they find it hard to break out of the 'echo chamber' (to borrow Ned's phrase). It is too confusing for the media, politicians, employers and the public to make sense of 'the profession' when there are 10 ... 20... more(?) different groups purporting to speak for it.

The public and politicians are clearly very aware of and concerned about data breaches, information overload, etc - but what has that got to do with a body apparently mostly concerned with public (and academic) libraries? CILIP certainly doesn't have seemed to have thought it was its job to make press statements on any of these incidents as they've occurred over the last few years, or to promote the use of information managers or records managers to mitigate against future problems.

Whereas together the various groups might make a louder, more visible, more credible voice on these and other issues (including the current threat to the public library service). I think any sort of merger is unlikely (both in popularity and in practical terms) but closer collaboration and cooperation is I think imperative.

Sam

I agree with a lot of what you are saying here Phil, and can also relate to some of the other comments made here too. I do feel that a single professional body that all librarians are a member of would be the ideal scenario, having significantly more influence and power, and in the current climate we do need to be more united as a profession. From my own personal perspective...i used to be a member of CILIP until a couple of years ago. My reason for leaving was purely financial, and i know quite a few colleagues of mine left for the same reason. I think the membership fee scale needs to be reviewed as it is very unfair that i should have to pay the same annual fee (£189) as my boss, who earns £23,000 a year more than i do!! As it stands i also feel that CILIP members get very little for their money compared to other professional bodies.

Phil Bradley

Sam - thanks for that. I think the option of changing membership fees isn't going to be a starter, since it's been agreed and voted on at the AGM, so instead my question back to you would be to ask what would you like to get for your subscription money? Do you have any examples of what other professional bodies give their members which would encourage you to rejoin?

Ute

As regards value for money, I find that the CPD courses CILIP run are for the most part and in particular in the current economic climate unaffordable.
I would have sometimes quite liked to do one of these courses and appreciate the range of different topics covered there, but the course fees just make it impossible - and it doesn't help that currently libraries have either no or hardly any money allocated any longer for staff training. This means you either afford going to such a course yourself (which I can't) or you miss the opportunity.

I am by the way a CILIP member, would just like to see improvements being made.

Paul Catherall

CILIP now represents a dwindling number of members, there was a contraversial fee rise a year or two back and folks were already wondering what CILIP's purpse was now, with employers taking on 'non qualified' staff for a wide range of hybrid roles and commercial backgrounds for one-stop-shops and merged information centres (certainly in University & some local libraries).
Having been involved in CDG I know there is also a decline in recruitment for library degrees and in traditional library posts being advertized.
However I notice a lot of other groups are filling in the niche of increasingly digital and hybrid roles, and there is admittedly a lot of fragmentation now.
I think there are parallels with trade unions, it's a combination of changing job markets and roles and disconnect from the old well-defined professions. Perhaps in another 30 years some organisation will emerge to support the "infromation worker", but it seems more likely everyone will spliter into thier own increasingly specialist zones, such as e-learning & technologies.
I think one solution would be an organization without fees, because CILIP is already volunteer led and it is very hard to see why they need subs at all, when attendance at seminars can cost £50-£80 a time, indeed many of the new smaller bodies springing up are voulunteer led, this is an issue at odds with CILIPs corporate mandate.

Phil Bradley

I got an email from a reader who was unable to post directly to the blog as their employer doesn't allow it, and they have requested to remain anon. which I'm happy to do for them. The following are their words:


Firstly, I am a Cilip member, as stipulated by my JD. I wrote my JD; I wanted to future-proof the professionalism of my post. I also think I ought to set an example to my team; and I pay for this myself!

However, I agree with Nicola's comments. I have every sympathy with DJ, too. If you're not public/academic, for Cilip you barely exist. I was a proud member of IIS (qualification gained after a biblical 7 years apprenticeship - so am I a professional? you tell me!), and warned then that the 'new' organisation would revert back to its LA ways given time. So it's proved.

I do not think Cilip membership offers value for money. Retired members (who seem to be the most active members at AGMs) pay only £65 p.a.! Could members not have one course, or book, of their choice as a 'bonus'? Nearly 200 smackers a year, & all I get is a monthly magazine? I get better value from BBC Music Magazine! Why not a CD/DVD 4 x pa, with seminars on 'hot' topics? Why not free drop-in seminars,in various locations,to familiarise ourselves with new technology like smartphones & tablets?

I also think every major professional organisation has an Information Department for members..

As for changing from the inside - well, I have beaten my head against enough brick walls in my time to know that this takes an incredible amount of energy; and a very tough skin. My skin's no longer tough; and my energy's for my pleasures, not Cilip's needs.

Phil Bradley

Another emailed post - I'm not sure if the individual wants to be anon. but I'll take that course, just in case.


Lots to think about here and not much time so a quick response is that I would define "professional" using criteria including working at a level which requires at least graduate level education in a relevant area backed up by on-going CPD; I would not include any mention of a
professional body in my definition. If CILIP did not exist, I would pursue CPD and networking opportunities through other groups of like-minded professionals e.g. BCS, Information and Records Management Society, UKeiG.

Thanks for making me think!

Emma Davidson

This is an interesting and provocative post - thanks Phil. In my version of this thought experiment, CILIP (or its equivalent) would become an organisation which manages to reconcile the various branches of the information professionals - so that those who work in all the manifestations of our wonderfully diverse sector can feel adequately represented by it.

I've also been considering scenarios in which CILIP splits up - with different sectors catered for by distinct (though ideally affiliated) groups. In some ways I think this would be an easier solution than trying to make the current organisation be all things to all people, but I think ultimately I believe that we are stronger as a united body.

I've been interested by many of the issues raised in the comments above. I especially agree with the point about the top band of CILIP membership being too expensive for those at the bottom (and arguably not expensive enough for those at more senior levels...), as I've only recently rejoined CILIP myself after a few years post-degree when I wasn't earning enough to be able to justify the fees.

How CILIP can provide better value for money is also an interesting question - and will likely be another contributing factor in whether or not it can succeed going forward, especially (as already mentioned) there are a lot of smaller groups offering as much practical support for less (or no) money. I have to admit that although I feel that my membership is expensive, I'm not sure what else CILIP could offer me. In terms of the current benefits, I also think that the courses offered are prohibitively expensive for many (myself and my organisation included). My one attempt to purchase a discounted book from Facet was a huge hassle which I'm reluctant to repeat. My own experience demonstrates that several of the special interest groups make little or no attempt to engage with, or even acknowledge, their new members. I think my main justification for handing over my cash is a belief that a united professional front is crucial, and that CILIP is currently the best vehicle to deliver this.

I realise that I've gone on for ages, but there's just one more thing I wanted to say. With regards to the professional-librarian-equals-Masters-graduate-and-CILIP-member issue, I very much hope to see this perception disappearing rapidly into the past. I've worked with excellent librarians who have gained their experience (and, in my view, the right to call themselves professional librarians) through work and dedication - just having a degree means nothing until you've actually put what you've learnt into practice. Equally I know several information professionals who aren't members of CILIP for whatever reason (myself included, until a few months ago) but who also rightly consider themselves professional. I think asserting that you can only call yourself a professional if you pay your fees to an organisation is unreasonable, particularly given the fact that there are so many routes into and through our profession.

AW

I have over 20 years experience of working in public libraries, I have no formal library qualifications and I am not a member of CILIP. I take my job very seriously and take great interest in new library developments and policy, so yes i would say that i am professional! We non-members have been told for years that we should join in order to change CILIP from the inside but it hasn't, it still appears to be elitist and still appears to be 'toothless' when it comes to fighting library closures and saving jobs. It also appears not to have taken a stance against the neo-liberal zeitgeist that has transformed libraries into retail-led leisure centres!
But hey ho when it comes to saving my job i'll turn to my union and when it comes to saving libraries i'll fight alongside library users.

Helen Westmancoat

Over the years the kind of thoughts and opinions Phil has caused to be expressed have surfaced when thinking about what CILIP, or indeed any professional organisation is for. I'm a chartered member of CILIP, lapsed for a while because I couldn't afford the fees, and also resented the fact that being married to a librarian we couldn't have some sort of joint membership, in particular to avoid have 2 copies of the LAR as it then was coming through the letter box each month! I agree that the current level of fees may put off the lower waged members of the profession.
However, now I'm involved with one of the special interest groups and a former CILIP assessment panel member and have learned a lot from that involvement, gaining from the networking opportunities both have afforded. Maybe I could have achieved the latter by other means, but I think not entirely. Continuing professional development is important to me personally and I like to think I can influence others through my involvement with my professional organisation, and encouraging them to apply for Associate or chartered status. My own view is why would I not want to be a member of my professional organisation, and to those who say what has that organisation done for me, try turning it around and saying what can I do for my professional organisation?

Jo Bryce

I would just like to agree with Nicola's comments above. I have considered myself an Information "professional" for a number of years now, including the apparently obligatory MSc. However I have never worked in a library and certainly do not consider myself a librarian. When I was studying I was told that CILIP was the institute I should join, and I duly did. After a few years of receiving a magazine that didn't interest me (and the address carrier can't even be shreded!)I gave up my membership. I could find the fee if I felt it was worth it, but I honestly cannot see where CILIP gave me any value. Yes I can see the pros of having a consolidated professional institute and voice, but until it acknowledges life outside of libraries I shan't be wasting my money.

Sarah

I am a qualified, and therefore (by CILIP's definition) a "Professional" librarian. I do feel I have got a fair amount out of my CILIP membership over the years, but that is because I put a fair amount in, mainly through my lengthy involvement with a Special Interst Group (YLG).

However, my biggest concern in recent years has been the lack of recognition and status afforded to those who may not have followed the academic route to Professional status as I did, but who are as committed to the role as many who have, as experienced in the profession as many who have, and (sometimes, sadly) rather more so. In recent years I have seen some glimmers of hope - the Framework of Qualifications, the admittance of "Affiliates" ... but they are just glimmers.

I would love to see CILIP reach out more and embrace these people. I don't mean everyone who takes a part-time job in a library for a year or two, but those who have committed themselves to work in the library or information sector and to their own CPD, and who are in every sense apart from the official definition, professional. A bigger, more inclusive CILIP will be a stronger CILIP - better equipped to speak out for and fight for the sector.

I recognise that the building blocks are now in place for that to happen but I don't see it happening. What more can our new CEO and new Trustees do in this respect? Do they agree with me that it's necessary, or should CILIP continue to portray itself, as I feel it does, as a rather exclusive club?

James Mullan

Phil excellent post but I have to agree with Nicola's comments and others who have said that if you don't work in a public or academic library you quite literally don't exist. You only have to flick through update to see that.

I know there have been efforts to address this and I myself have written several articles for update and yes we could get involved more with CILIP from the inside and I do to some degree. But let me put this to you, 4 out of the 6 Information Officers here aren't members of CILIP and have no plans to join CILIP, what could I say to them to encourage them to join CILIP when they have several other professional associations that represent them much more effectively?

As to myself I'm a qualified, chartered Librarian but I'm currently a Knowledge/Intranet Manager and CILIP goes nowhere near representing me. This is a real shame as there doesn't seem to be an organisation in the UK that does.

Sara Clarke

I am unfortunately coming to this debate a bit too late, as I am now living in Norway. While I was in the UK I always had serious reservations about being a member of CILIP, and felt I had achieved a high level of professionalism without the need for chartership. However I heard the mantra to 'try and change it from within', so I joined the committee of the Health Libraries Group as Assistant Treasurer. I had a terrible year there - felt completely left out of the group, felt like none of my views were listened to, there were just a few people who seemed to speak loudest and thus made all the decisions. It also seemed as though the majority of every meeting was spent discussing bureaucracy and things completely unrelated to the needs of Health Librarians. After my year there I stepped down as I felt that paperwork and admin were preventing the people on 'the inside' from making any positive changes either.

Following that time I took some further training which led me to become extremely interested in the issue of being a 'professional' health librarian - and I now feel quite strongly that what we really need is an american style medical library association and its equivalents, associations divided up by sector but perhaps linked in some way (I suppose in a way making the Special Interest Groups a much more integral part of the association itself).

I also feel that what health librarians need is evidence that they are competent at the skills that are required in their sector - and this is something that chartership is too vague to cover.

Incidentally, despite not being a member of CILIP in the UK, I joined the Norwegian Library Association within 3 weeks of arriving here, because I wanted to go to a conference and it was member only (one way of encouraging people to join!). Annual membership here costs around £60, with £20 on top for the medical group.

It could be worthwhile for CILIP to compare itself and its subscription rates to Library Associations in America or in other European countries to see how it compares.

Orangeaurochs

To me, your description of a world without a library professional body didn't sound that far off the truth. My decision not to join CILIP for the last 13 years or so has been based largely on there being no point in doing so. I don't think I've lost out personally although the standing of libarians perhaps has. Would I pay to join a political party I completely disagree with in order to change it? No. For the same reason, I don't see any point in joining CILIP in order to lead the charge for *complete* reform. Changing CILIP would have been practically the *only* reason for me to join, so it has never appealed.

I think trying to define what is professional and what is not is largely pointless and is barking up the wrong tree. It seems that librarians are trying to gain admission to the old Professions- doctor, lawyer, the church- which is merely a matter of status, and an old-fashioned concept status at that. Like several other commenters, I have known very good librarians who have no qualifications for whatever reason and I think that's fine. I always found the distinction frankly snobbish when I started working as a librarian. The most important thing for me is skills: can they do the job? Will CILIP give them the tools? Will it require them to take a year out of work to do so? I think it is sad that people are put off progressing in librarianship because of the hurdle of an MA that needs to be jumped, or think they are not proper librarians because they haven't yet jumped the hoop. I've also known people who are not fit to work in a library but have somehow gained an MA (i.e. I haven't seen much evidence of CILIP's rigour in enforcing standards).

In terms of the future, fine gradations of status and qualification will count for nothing when budgets are cut compared to indispensibility. Is computer science a profession? I don't know. Does anyone care? A professional body that gives people the skills and shouts about them would be a good start.

Neil Infield

Good on you Phil for triggering this debate, and for being genuinely open to comments.

I agree with pretty much everything Nicola has said. Especially, how Cilip has never really engaged with the non-public information professionals. As well as not really welcoming criticism from the outside (or inside).

In terms of value for money, if we started seeing Cilip representatives appearing in the media promoting libraries and information services in this period of cuts, that might persaude a few people to join.

Voices for the Library are setting a good example, but Cilip should have been doing this years ago.
http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/

Anon

I agree with Sam - I had to let my membership lapse as I could not afford it. Anyone earning over £17,501 pays the same rate and (apart from being unaffordable for me) I think this is unfair in principle that a library assistant struggling on a £17,000 p.a.salary, especially in London or another large expensive city, should pay the same amount as someone on £50,000 or £100,000. I find this extraordinary. Why is this a 'non-starter'? Could you please elaborate on this?

I think to ask hundreds of pounds on top of this for courses is simply extortionate and totally unaffordable for anyone on a low salary. You ask what we expect from our membership fees. I would expect if you are charging such a high membership fee, courses should be free of charge for low earners if not for everyone. We should not be expected to pay hundreds of extra £s for them. Like others here say, I found all I got for the £200 odd membership was a couple of slim magazines.

In the current climate where people in libraries are losing our jobs and struggling, afraid for the future, I believe CILIP has a responsibility to help us. You have to stand up for us. That means getting more members. And that in turn means making yourself affordable so people can join and enjoy the benefits. If it means adding more tiers so the better paid will be charged more, then so be it. Until then I believe your membership will continue to dwindle as more people as I did, look at their bills and decide £189 is too much for them. It is sad.

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