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.


There’s been all sorts of publicity about Wikipedia since it first appeared, and opinion among the librarians I know has swung from “that’s potentially useful” to “that’s a bit dodgy, I don’t think I can trust it”, and finally on to “that’s a good start for finding information on all sorts of stuff, but I need to be aware of its shortcomings”.

So, I know Wikipedia’s handy, and I know I have to be wary of certain stuff (it’s notorious for being maliciously edited on pages covering contentious topics, and amusingly Wikipedia has a page on malicious edits/vandalism on Wikipedia), but I don’t know how to look into the workings of it and assess it properly. I know the editors are volunteers, but how do they become volunteers, and how exactly do they edit pages? And what are the systems in place to stop or flag up unreliable edits? If I’m going to explain to my service users why they should or shouldn’t rely on a Wikipedia page to inform them, I really should be able to check for myself in order to explain why that page is or isn’t reliable. But I don’t really have the time to spare to teach myself about the detailed workings of Wikipedia – I’ve had a quick look before, but it seemed such a cliquey thing that I really didn’t feel I wanted to invest the time to get involved. I know there’s also an issue with a gender imbalance towards males in the editors (and content), which makes me a bit leery of getting involved in what seems to be yet another boys club.

All of this means that I’m going to be going along to the SLA Europe event at the National Library of Scotland on Tuesday 4th March, “Do you have the facts on Wikipedia?”* I’m hoping that it’ll give me the sort of information that I need to use it more effectively, and perhaps make getting involved in the background workings of Wikipedia seem a bit less intimidating!

*Disclaimer: I will be helping to run this event, but I’d be going anyway – this looks interesting!

CPD overload

Last year, I accumulated almost 230 hours of Continuing Professional Development, or CPD, hours.

This total includes:

  • The time spent attending professional events
  • The time spent managing the development of the Informed website
  • The time spent creating content for Informed, my blog, and other locations
  • The time spent providing professional training to others
  • Time spent mentoring Chartership candidates

While I was doing this stuff, I also:

  • Lost one job suddenly
  • Started two new jobs
  • Applied for 100 jobs
  • Prepared for and attended multiple interviews
  • Completed the time consuming renovations of my house
  • Read 67 books

This isn’t a humblebrag, it’s just an example of what’s actually achievable in terms of professional activity and involvement, with a bit of motivation and organisation. My total is well in excess of the average professional body CPD requirement of 20 hours annually (prospectively, 20 hours annual CPD will be a requirement for Chartered CILIP members, to Revalidate and maintain a Chartership). If I could fit in that level of professional activity, while my whole life was in chaos, then the lower 20 hours target is likely to be achievable for most. To be engaged with your profession, you don’t have to give up your personal life, you just have to want to develop your professional life