What if you don’t get back what you put in?

I am, as you may know, a member of CILIP, the professional body for information professionals. There are two main reasons I’m a member.

  1. I am a Chartered librarian, and I take my commitment to maintaining this visible badge of my professionalism seriously. I have revalidated my Chartership within the previous assessment system, and I have submitted my Revalidation within the new system. To continue being a Chartered librarian, I must be a member of CILIP (although currently the commitment to continue to revalidate my Chartership is voluntary, and has been so for the length of my membership since approximately 2001). So I continue to be a member.
  2. I am a registered CILIP Mentor, and I help to guide those information professionals who are keen to be professionally qualified through the Chartership/professional qualifications process. I could not abandon midway through that process the people who are looking to me for guidance in their professional development. So I continue to be a member.

In fact – those two reasons I’ve outlined above are the only reasons I’m a CILIP member. As I demonstrated last year, I am perfectly capable of finding or creating my own CPD opportunities, whether I am supported in this by an employer or not, so I do not need to be a member of CILIP in order to develop my professional skills. As I am not a public or academic librarian, and as I am not based in London, any potential benefits CILIP may offer are pretty much non-existent for me, as I am based in Scotland, and a special librarian.*

I volunteer a lot of my own time to support the Chartership process through mentoring candidates – I give up evenings and weekends to read the portfolio materials of my mentees, I give feedback on their materials, I meet them in person if possible, and recently, in order to get to grips with the new professional qualifications structure, I have attended events (during the working day, which my employers generously allowed me to attend without taking annual leave), and I have spent time reading about and discussing with others the new professional qualifications structure. Last year, I estimate I spent between 30-40 hours on these types of mentoring activities alone. Others are likely to be giving a similar amount of time to the same type of activities, and others are involved in other areas, such as working on committees and acting as Candidate Support officers.

I pay £200 per year to be a member of CILIP, and in return…I work for them for free.

I am not trying to claim that I am alone in giving my own time to CILIP at all – I know there are a lot of people involved at Group level: running events and giving training to members, and sacrificing their own free time to do so. I can only speak from my own experiences of “working” for CILIP, but I really don’t know how the Branches or Groups or the Qualifications Board would work without this donation of their time by CILIPs members.

For the whole time that I’ve been a member of CILIP, whenever I have seen or engaged in discussions about what benefits it offers to members, the popular response to any complaint that CILIP doesn’t give enough back to its members is “you get back what you put in”, i.e. you have to give more to CILIP in order to get more back. But what happens if what you put in isn’t getting a comparable benefit value back? Is 30-40 hours of an annual time donation (or effectively a full working week) to my professional body worth me giving them £200 a year for? Why am I paying my professional body a substantial sum annually, for the privilege of them allowing me to work on their behalf? There also doesn’t seem to be a centralised policy on reimbursing the costs of volunteers on Committees and Groups (e.g travel expenses), so in effect some people could actually be paying over £200 a year, to volunteer for the benefit of their fellow professionals!

Therefore, this is my thought – if you are a membership body, and your members work to support you in the aims of your body by giving up their own free time, surely there must be some way of recognising and rewarding that? And isn’t the simplest way of doing this to offer a discount to those members working on your behalf?

So, my question now is – why doesn’t CILIP offer such a discount as standard to those members who work on its behalf? They know centrally from their systems who is a registered mentor, who is a Committee member etc – why can discounts not be offered to these members automatically?

Now, this isn’t (altogether) about money, although money is obviously a big factor, especially when CILIPs membership fees are so high (of the 4 professional bodies I’m a member of, CILIP is almost £100 more than the next most expensive annual fee), it is about recognising what your members are doing for you, and rewarding it. Could the Chartership system run if mentors, Candidate Support Officers and the Professional Qualifications assessors didn’t give up their time to do it, voluntarily? And what about the professional events that are run by the Groups – if those Committees didn’t organise events, what would CILIP be able to say were its benefits?

I do wonder too do other professional bodies rely on members volunteering to do some of their core functions, while charging high membership fees and not recognising those volunteers in any way? Do architects, accountants, pharmacists and surveyors rely on their members to give up their time for free in order for those bodies to run?

*Disclaimer – last year I won an award from CILIP, which came with a cash prize. This award was related to my mentoring activities, and was based on a written nomination from my mentee, judged by a panel. I did not expect this award, nor has it affected how I view my engagement with CILIP.

Making foolish assumptions

There’s a saying about making foolish assumptions, and it certainly applies in this situation. CILIP, a leading professional body for the library sector has recently launched a new Virtual Learning Environment for members, which will provide an online method of tracking and submitting the evidence of members professional registration activities (e.g. Certification, Chartership etc). It should hold all the information we need to do those things, and the My Portfolio area is an add-on to the VLE, a virtual portfolio which allows logging and submission of evidence of your professional activities directly. It should be better than the old, paper based, “oh god, I think I just destroyed half the Amazon, and now I have to index tab it…in triplicate!” option, and simplify and speed up what had become rather time consuming, mainly because of the admin. However..it doesn’t appear that the changes, at this present moment, are much of an improvement. I initially went on yesterday to look for information about how my mentee should be tracking their professional activity using it. First though, I thought I should learn more about the VLE, so I went to the section “Getting started on the VLE”. There were two options available – one on getting started, and one on editing your profile. I went to read the getting started section…only to find it was a screencast. On YouTube. With audio. With no subtitling. There are a number of issues associated with the assumptions used with this approach to providing information. The assumption that everyone will have a learning style which works well with videos and audio. The assumption that everyone can access YouTube (one of the most popular sites for work filtering software to block). The assumption that everyone can see visuals when they access the site. The assumption that everyone can listen to audio when they access the site. The assumption that no subtitling is needed with an audio visual resource. And finally, and most importantly, the assumption that no users have visual or hearing impairments, which would mean that a video with no subtitling is completely inaccessible to them. I naturally thought that there would be a text based alternative. After all, given the issues listed above, you would expect there to be some alternative method for accessing these instructions available. However, surprisingly, this was not the case. There is virtually no text of any depth on the site: every section where you expect guidance and information has…a screencast. I cannot understand why anyone thought this was an appropriate or inclusive approach. Many people will be unwilling to sit in their lunch break at work and view time-consuming screencasts, when they could have read the same information in a fraction of the time if it was available as text. Even if they did want to learn in that way, many users couldn’t, and I am one of those people, with a workplace which blocks YouTube. Why is there no text-based guidance for anything? So, frustrated and dispirited, I left the VLE for the day. Then today, I thought I’d try to start logging my professional activities for Revalidation. I tried to look at the criteria for the Evaluative Statement for Revalidation – apparently it should be the same as the Chartership criteria, and can be found in the Chartership Handbook. However, it appears that you can’t see the Chartership Handbook, as clicking on the link to it within the Evaluative Statement tab in the Revalidation section, takes you to a page that requires entry of the enrolment key. However, I do not have an enrolment key as I’m not registered for Chartership. So I decided to put that on hold, and start logging my professional activities. 
My professional activities are meant to be tracked in the My Portfolio area but I’ve never used the My Portfolio area before. When I followed the link within the VLE to My Portfolio, and saw that I needed to log in, I assumed it was a new registration that I needed to do with My Portfolio, so I tried to register myself with my email address. It appears though that this email address is already registered with My Portfolio. So if my email address was already registered, then I assumed it must require my CILIP website password (as I entered via the CILIP VLE, which I had logged in to via the website) to let me log in, but it wasn’t accepting that password.

I reset my CILIP website password, just to be sure I was putting in the right password, and tried again: still no access.
Then, I used the button to ask for a password reset, since nothing else so far had worked. I know the email address I asked for the reminder to be sent to is correct, since it’s already told me I’m registered.
Bad idea – I get this nonsense in response: 


The user you requested uses an external authentication method. Ask your administrator for help with changing your password. Or provide another username or email address.


Finally though, I have accidentally found out how to access My Portfolio! 

Attempting access through the link within the Revalidation “course” page doesn’t work (the route I was trying above): the only way I have found to access it is through the Home page of the VLE (but not the “My Home” page, which is a sub-page of the home page, confusingly). In the top right corner is a reference to Network Servers, and CILIP Portfolio sits within that area. Clicking on that link will take you straight into the My Portfolio. But only that link, on that specific page, because as soon as you move into any of the VLE areas to actually use them, that area disappears. This whole process has been extremely dispiriting. I’m not sure if any user testing was done before its launch or whether it was rushed out for a deadline. Either way, it would have been better to delay the launch, than to release something that is far from user-friendly. Like others I was enthusiastic about its launch and was eager to engage with it and document my professional activities. Unfortunately, my experience has been less than positive and all that initial enthusiasm has ebbed away. And I’m not alone – other people are encountering the same issues and frustrations with the site. What concerns me is that somebody was paid to do this, and my membership fees contributed towards it. Myself and other CILIP members partly funded it. Yet it’s currently in a state where it is of limited practical use to myself and other members and, as a result, I am unlikely to use it again until these issues have been ironed out. I hope CILIP resolve these issues as soon as possible. The development of the VLE has been one that has been broadly welcomed and greeted with enthusiasm. It will be a shame for this initial enthusiasm to turn to widespread disillusionment with something that could be a useful and valuable tool.

CILIP rebrand – an addition

Since my earlier post (multitasking lunch breaks R Us!), I’ve had some more feedback on peoples feelings about the proposed names for CILIP, and it seems that a lot of people are unhappy that the words “library” or “librarian” aren’t included in the options.

Now, it may just be because of my recent job hunting experiences, but I don’t see that the skills of an information professional are tied to the words library or librarian. If I had restricted my job search to only those sectors, I would never have found a job (there have been a grand total of 3 library roles advertised in 3 months). I have looked at roles with terms like: data, knowledge, information, management, administrator, researcher, project co-ordinator, digital, policy. Those terms are all related to dealing with information professionally, and to me, the core skills of an information professional lie in their ability to effectively manage information, in whatever format it may come in. Historically, that information was laid down in written texts, and held within libraries. The word “library” comes from the Latin for book, but these days, it’s not just books that librarians deal with. And it’s not just libraries that information professionals work in either: they can be in any setting, from industrial workplaces to working with the public. In any role, an information professional may deal with books, journals, databases, spreadsheets, intranets, websites, DVDs, memory sticks, Powerpoints, or CD…librarians are constantly working with information, in all its physical and digital formats.

To the mind of the general public though, libraries = books. And that’s a hindrance for a profession that wants to be regarded as cutting-edge experts in knowledge and information management, and the first people to go to for input on topics relating to them. It feels similar to accountants having “abacus operators” in their professional titles: yes, it’s a thing that did once describe their whole profession, but now it looks outdated, and would be laughed at if suggested as a way forward now. If this exercise is about creating a name and brand that the public will recognise, and positioning the body as the leading group for information management issues, that term “information” has to be there, and visible. And the term “library” is one that today, holds the group back. That’s why I am perfectly happy not to be in a “Library” professional body.

Losing the professionalism

So, recently, CILIP apparently sent out an email regarding a consultation on a change of brand image, and name. I say apparently, as despite being a member, I never got this email. When I went to the website to log in and check why it wasn’t sent to me, it didn’t let me log in. I tried a password reset, and that email came through, so it *can* send emails to me…but the password it sent won’t let me log in. I’m losing the will to keep trying. Overall, this is kind of symptomatic of how I feel about CILIP, and how useless its IT systems are….

Anyway, the consultation is on changing CILIP’s currently, clunky and meaningless name (picked as the best of a previous bad lot, as David McMenemy showed with this link to the 2000 consultation results ) to something more meaningful and relevant is open. If you want to take part, it’s here. I was a good girl, and pootled over yesterday to take part, and after filling in all the bumph, I got to view the glorious options.

Oh.
My.
God.

This is what they’ve given us as options:

Information UK
Information Professionals UK
Info Pro UK
The Information Association
The Knowledge People
Information Matters UK

Really? REALLY?!?! Did CILIP actually pay someone for this nonsense? It looks like they had a hard day in the office, it was late on a Friday afternoon, they managed to force out one or two vaguely OK ideas, and then threw in a few others just to bulk up the list. As someone online has already pointed out, at least one of the names is already (or was) a registered company, so probably couldn’t even be used. Info Pro UK looks like someone couldn’t even be bothered to write out words in full. The Knowledge People sounds like a spin-off from The Tomorrow People TV series. Information Matters is a statement, not an organisation name. And why the obsession with using UK in the name? Are people likely to get confused with The Knowledge People USA or Info Pro USA when they make comments on UK library matters??

And all of these options completely disregard one important aspect of the name: CILIP is a body which awards and regulates the professional qualification of a Charter. A Chartership is recognised through many professions as the mark of an advanced and skilled professional in that field. Would any other Chartership awarding body ever consider dropping that aspect from its title? Could we have The Institute of Architects of Scotland, rather than ICAS? Or The Royal Institute of Surveyors rather than RICS? It’s unlikely. Yet our own professional body is considering dropping the most visible element of its name that identifies its members as professionals. It seems like a huge step backwards to me, and so, I spent a whole 3.5 minutes thinking of other names, which include the word Chartered in them:

Chartered Information Professionals Association (CIPA)
Chartered Information Management Association (CIMA)
Institute of Chartered Information Managers (ICIM)
Chartered Information and Knowledge Management Association (CIKMA)

Look, it’s not hard, is it? If you’re a professional body, and have powers that the general public know relate to professionalism, you should really try and retain that signifier somewhere visible. Like…within your name?

Super valid, professional-istic, aren’t I precocious?

So, only three short months after submission*, and yet still many weeks before the next scheduled Board meeting on 12th September (CILIP moves in arcane ways), I got an Exciting Email on the 24th August – my Chartership Revalidation portfolio had been accepted, yaaaaaaaaaay!

So, I believe this makes me a Very Valid librarian. You may worship at my feet, and shower me with gifts and adoration now…

And it also possibly shows me to be reasonably masochistic, to have effectively put myself through the whole Chartership process all over again, four years** after I did it for the first time. Not to mention that fact that I’m going to be doing it again in another three years***.

So why did I do it? Well, to quote George Mallory, “because it’s there”. Also, because it works well within my workplace’s appraisal system. This system focusses on enabling staff to identify and address any deficiencies in either their own skills, or in the services that they provide to other staff, and allows them to set aside time to improve these areas, and set completion targets. So, it’s actually part of the structure of my job to regularly look at what needs improved, and work on it…much like the Chartership and Revalidation process.

And as bizarre as it sounds, the feeling of achievement (if you disregard the minor, last minute doubts and panic) as you package up those copies to send off for assessment, is one of the few times that you get to look at a Big Professional Thing and think “Yeah: I did all that stuff in there. You know, I’m actually pretty good at this librarianing lark after all”…

* Warning: sarcasm.

**Yes, it’s recommended that it be three years, but life happens.

*** Or so…dependent on workload/free time

Reluctantly professional

I try and pretend I’m not, and keep it well hidden, but actually, I can be quite Grown Up and Professional. So much so that I’m going to be Revalidating my Chartership this year – ohhh, get me, eh?

But…I am not-so-good at saying why I’m fabulous, or keeping up with collating my evidence of professional activity nice and accessible in a voluntary way, so I’ve got two things that are going to help me with Revalidation. The first is my employers internal appraisal system – as our Library service’s work is entirely internally focussed, it’s important to be able to demonstrate that we’re still maintaining a high standard of professionalism and awareness of activities and developments both in and outside our specialist fields. The appraisal system allows my boss and I to set realistic targets and activities, keep track of them, and update them as progress is achieved. All of which works nicely with the Revalidation process!

And second is teaming up with someone externally, to act as my informal mentor and Glamorous Cheerleader. The lovely Bethan Ruddock and I had been chatting online, and somehow the idea of us having a wiki to work together on to (initially) put our thoughts and writings into some sort of coherent order as good practice developed. We agreed on a wiki provider (PBWiki, my favourite one), and started cobbling together a vague plan for the layout – what were we doing this for / what did we want to get out of it / what had we done up to that point / what were we doing as we went along / what did we need to be doing. Then we started filling it with content (and occasional complaints), and working with each other to refine things.

A month or so into this, it was agreed that Revalidation was now an active appraisal goal for me this year, so suddenly the work on creating and populating the wiki that had just been Quite Useful was now Really Useful, and has continued to be so, as I’ve focussed my attention on Getting Things Done.

As a professional development tool, it’s been working really well for us – I get great feedback on the material I’m producing, help to refine ideas, suggestions on all sorts of stuff, and in return I get to pick on…erm….help Beth to organise her activities, focus on what she’s doing and why she’s doing it, and give feedback on her materials. Also…there may be a system of chocolate gifts for getting things done when they’re meant to be 😉

And, since we’re such nice, sharing gals, and Revalidation seems to be seen by quite a few people as quite a vague and woolly concept, we decided to create a publicly viewable version of our wiki, in the hope that it’ll maybe inspire people, and show that Revalidation’s not a Terrible Thing…especially not if you have a buddy to cheer you on in doing it. Of course, we removed any swear words or attached/sensitive documentation (it’s like Vegas – what happens on the wiki, stays on the wiki…)

So here it is, CPD For Manatees (so named by Beth because I am still firmly of the belief that the Chartering process involves a Manatee being overseen by a Mental).

It will be updated alongside our private wiki, so you can see how things come together…hopefully! And if you’re considering Chartership or Revalidation, I’d definitely recommend this as either a formal or informal mentoring tool – leave a comment or email me directly if you’d like to discuss anything about what Beth and I have been doing.