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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.



Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, librarians gotta charter?

July 22nd, 2009

There was an interesting conversation happening on Twitter this week about whether or not to charter. I understand completely that many people feel rather disenfranchised from CILIP, and don’t feel like they get their money’s worth from the organisation. Chartership, similarly, is an aid to professional development, but not the only way to expand ones knowledge and self-awareness (and I’m sure there are some who (whisper it) cannot be bothered… although I’ve never met any self-proclaimed non-bother-ers).

My background is in psychology, and there a completely different conversation is happening: whether the unchartered should even be allowed to call themselves psychologists. It is understandable that people are more worried about ensuring a certain level of training from someone playing with their minds than someone fetching them a book. As Joeyanne Libraryanne pointed out the equivalent conversation in librarianship is whether a qualification is needed at all. However, isn’t the whole point of calling us a profession to point out that librarians do more than just fetch books? I really hope we do, as I get bored of fetching books quite quickly.

For me, CILIP membership and chartership is a complete no-brainer. I have been indoctrinated somewhere along the line to believe that professional organisations are a good thing and CILIP does seem to have given back to me for everything I’ve put in. I’m a CILIP blogger, which has given me incentive to keep on blogging, I’ve been sponsored to attend the Mashed Library Conference via CILIP, and I’m a member of the CDG Yorkshire and Humberside committee where I’ve helped organise events which gave me experience and information. I even read the Gazette and Update on the train. Oh yes, I’m one of those.

For me, the process of chartership is the unimportant part of the equation. I’ve not gone through it, and the stories I’ve heard indicate that it may not be the most well-developed programme in the world. But idealistically, the idea of chartership is important to me. If librarians really are a profession – if there’s some benefit to shared training and continuing professional development – then we need to have a chartership process to reflect and validate our professional activities. My thinly veiled opinion is that there is a benefit. Now, how do we make that benefit more evident, CILIP?

Note: photograph shows view across the lake, University Park, University of Nottingham.

6 Responses to “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, librarians gotta charter?”

  1. Joy Palmer says:

    This is an interesting conversation to me as a library-interloper. I am not a librarian and also not a CILIP member so it doesn't affect me directly (though it does a number of my staff, who have to find those fees lest they want to work in 'actual library' again). Like you, I am a great believer in the benefits of professional societies, especially in terms of professional/personal development. I see CILIP doing many valuable things for the community and investing in new and aspiring librarians. For me the crux of the issue is whether membership (and fees payment) is mandated in order to retain chartership; it's hard to see the benefits when in the end it's about whether you want to take that chance and give up chartership (i.e. not pay CILIP) and also hard not to see this as a bit of a coercive approach.

    I also wonder how much longer this type 'library centric' model is tenable or sustainable as we move to different cross-domain models that break down the boundaries. (Models where dilitantes like me with a very different background and perspective can end up running 'library' services).

  2. Owen says:

    It seems clear that many individuals get benefit from chartership and CILIP membership. Where this happens this is great.

    I'm not a member of CILIP and I've never chartered. I have had a long standing objection to the relationship between payment of fees and chartered status, although I believe the conditions have improved slightly since I first qualified.

    However, if I'm honest with myself this objection is only a small part of the reason I'm not chartered or a member. The truth is that after I did my postgraduate qualification and started working, I found it difficult to find the time to also charter. Alongside this, I'd just spent a year exclusively studying issues of librarianship – chartership seemed like an odd add-on at that point. In fact the reasons I didn't charter probably overlap a lot with the reasons I didn't convert my PG Diploma into an MA – time and energy. Is this saying "I couldn't be bothered" – I guess it is, although I wouldn't put it like that.

    Over the next few years I worked in a few different jobs, and suddenly found myself at a point in my career where chartering seemed an irrelevance – I was engaged with my profession, through my job I was engaged with some cutting edge work, and I generally felt both professionally competent and fulfilled. So the question when chartership came up was 'why would I bother now'.

    So, where does this leave me. I can't say I feel not chartering has had a negative impact on my career or on my professional development although it's hard to know exactly what the impact has been. I strongly believe (perhaps self-interestedly) that you don't need to be chartered or a CILIP member to be engaged with the profession in an active way. I would also say that the correlation between chartership/membership and professional engagement is a weak one – I come across chartered librarians who are very unengaged as well as ones who are at the heart of the profession.

    I strongly believe that the skills librarians have, and that are part of our 'profession' are extremely valuable in the 'information economy' – but I see that driving the change that Joy mentions – as the value of these skills is realised, more people develop the skills, and most will not be members of CILIP. CILIP needs to react to this, and have a strategy moving forward to allow it to engage with all those who are engaging in 'librarianship' is some way, shape or form. I don't personally believe chartership is the answer.

    I think Andy Powell also has a very good point when he asks "what is the role of an organisation like CILIP in a Web 2.0 world?" at http://efoundations.typepad.com/efoundations/2009/05/the-role-of-universities-in-a-web-20-world.html. Many of the roles that CILIP plays are challenged now – information I might once have relied on CILIP disseminating now comes to me via many routes, job opportunities are advertised online, and it is much easier for groups to self-organise using various social media.

    Wow – I've rambled here. I've tried to be honest about my own motivations, and to be fair to CILIP – hopefully this is useful to the discussion.

  3. Katie says:

    Some interesting comments from Joy and Owen. I guess my belief in the importance of chartership is predicated on a belief in librarianship as a profession, and CILIP as a key player in that profession: take away those two things and it's just some pretty letters after your name and something you could have done anyway.

    I'm not sure to what extent CILIP regulates its chartered members? Certainly in the British Psychological Society there's (theoretically) a guarantee that a chartered member is of a certain professional standard. As a member one of the services that you're paying for is for the BPS to regulate chartered members, and it strips those who fail to meet ethical standards of their status. Doesn't sound like CILIP, I have to say.

  4. Jo Webb says:

    Though not a member of staff at Ridgmount Street (and thus not formally repsenting CILIP) I should note that:
    1. There will be ongoing review of Chartered status through revalidation.
    2. Part of the Body of Professional Knowledge relates to ethics and thus an appreciation of ethics must be clear in Chartership applciations.
    3.CILIP does regulate the activities of its members (including expelling people who do not adhere to the code of ethics)
    4. CILIP does encompass a wide range of knowledge and informatin domains – not just libraries.

    As someone who has engaged actively in CPD (I have teaching and management qualifications as well as academic and professional awards in LIS), I would automatically believe that accrediting your learning and development is a good thing, hence the value of Chartership. I also tend to believe it's fairer to assess achievements through impartial qualifications frameworks.

  5. multifaceted says:

    I'm a qualified member of CILIP but not chartered, and to be honest "I can't be bothered" is fairly close to my position, to my shame! I got as far as attending a CDG event on chartership, where they talked about the four main expertise areas you had to cover when preparing your portfolio, and I found them incredibly vague and overlapping to the point where I didn't really understand what they meant and it put me off totally.

    I contrast this with my husband, who recently completed a chartered public accountancy qualification – it was very hard work but at least even I as a lay-person understood what skills he needed to demonstrate in his final portfolio. His guidebook spelled everything out clearly and he only had to demonstrate a proportion of the listed skills (x per section) so there was still enough flexibility to accommodate those in non-traditional accountancy roles like him.

    I think the woolly CILIP skillset is partly because they're doing a one-size-fits-all thing and don't want to put off people who don't work in traditional library environments; however for those of us who do, mapping the points to specific, practical skills would be incredibly helpful. Has anyone done this?

    The other thing that's put me off before (apart from the obvious time commitment) is that you have to have a mentor. I think I'm probably a bit weird to be put off by this, and can't really quantify why it's an issue for me! I guess I prefer asking advice from different people depending on the situation. Maybe if I had a mentor they'd explain the CILIP jargon.

    I'm now beginning to approach Owen's current stance of 'why would I bother now?' as I'm finding my professional development ticking over nicely with blogs, Twitter, face to face events, involvement in other groups (e.g. IAML for music librarians) and interactions with my colleagues.

  6. Orangeaurochs says:

    There are some interesting comments here. I broadly share the experiences and views of Owen. The money involved was also a question when I first started working. CILIP didn't seem to care about the low wages entry-level librarians were getting (and they were advertising), but expected me to pay membership and I didn't see why I should. I admit I don't like the vague idea that CILIP is a good thing because it is and that I should join it just to vaguely support the profession. Instead I would like to see actual benefits from something before I hand over money. They don't have to be tangible, but I would, for instance, like to see CILIP really flying the flag for the profession and professionals and I haven't seen them do that. Ten years on, as Owen points out, many of the apparent benefits, e.g. awareness, jobs, and such like, are available free anyway, or available better elsewhere.

    I qualified because I could see I wasn't going to get anywhere without doing so: very little of the course has been useful to my working life compared with actual work experience. I never saw the need to charter- I work in an academic library- and so I don't see why I should pay lots of money to do so now. I have a CV which is a record of my professional development and activities. I can discuss and prove my skills at interview. CILIP courses would certainly not help me extend my cataloguing skills in any meaningful or deep manner, for instance.

    Multifaceted mentions the "woolly CILIP skillset" and I think this is a big problem. I don't think Jo Webb's attempt to be positive by saying "4. CILIP does encompass a wide range of knowledge and informatin domains – not just libraries" is helpful either. This is an admission of the woolyness of both the qualification and chartership. Neither enable you to go up to an employer and say "I can do this. I can do that. You can feel secure in paying me to do so." However, it takes me a minute to write "I have ten years' cataloguing experience in this that and the other standard; I have undertaken this project, supervised these staff." Until CILIP can offer something to trump that, I'm out.

    I've waffled elsewhere on the web that I would like to see library qualifications replaced by shorter courses teaching and validating particular skills more precisely and more rigorously, negating the need for a monolithic one year course with the precarious need to leave employment for a year or work part-time for two, enabling a librarian to add skills over time as needed or as interested, and guaranteeing competence in those individual skills (e.g. cataloguing, enquiry work, electronic resource administration) more effectively and positively.

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