Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Are we professional?

This is the second of a series of posts to help me to think about CILIP in the year of the Big Conversation.

Is CILIP is fulfilling its role as a professional body? To answer this I want to find out more about what professional bodies are... what is their purpose and does CILIP fulfil this?

Like the truly lazy librarian I am, I started off by looking at the wikipedia entry for Professional Association . The headline definition is:

"A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) is a non-profit organization seeking to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession, and the public interest."

So, very unscientific, but we have 3 roles commonly accepted as being the remit of a professional body. The three elements of CILIP's mission statement are roughly aligned with this (see below) but how well do they do in practice?

1) Further the profession

"set, maintain, monitor and promote standards of excellence in the
creation, management, exploitation and sharing of information and
knowledge resources" (CILIP 2009a)

A few examples have led me to the opinion that CILIP has a way to go in this arena. Firstly, CILIP has been fairly slow to move with the development of social media. It is starting to engage now with CILIP communities and @CILIPInfo (Twitter enquiry service) but remember those frustrated blog posts and comments from last year from members imploring CILIP to get involved in social media? CILIP should be leading the way in this space, not just reacting to protests from forward looking members. In terms of its own information management I have issues as well. Following the recent change of CMS for the CILIP website, I think communication about the changes could have been better. I've also found it frustrating trying to get a sub-branch blog on communities - maybe I'm asking the wrong questions or the wrong people, but I've been frustrated by how difficult it seems to be to create a tool to better share information with our local members. An organisation of information professionals should get this stuff right first time and lead by example.

2) Further the interests of individuals engaged in the profession

"enable its Members to achieve and maintain the highest professional
standards in all aspects of delivering an information service, both for
the professional and the public good" (CILIP 2009a)

I guess this is the one that I hear most about from other librarians. There is a definite perception that CILIP is not active enough in protecting the interests of its members. As I said before I'm not sure how far CILIP should go into arbitration with employers and how much that is the role of unions (although clearly this is an area where the boundary between professional body and trade union is blurred). I see CILIP's role more about setting professional standards (for example in the framework of qualifications) and promoting those professional standards to employers. In an era when we all have to justify ourselves to the bean-counters CILIP does provide support in this area. Quality People Equals Quality Service is one example - a set of resources that outline (for managers who aren't necessarily librarians) why it is important to employ information professionals. CILIP provides this benchmarking and guidance - I think it's up to us as members (or our unions) to take this forwards with employers.

Linked to this (and I'm treading on eggshells here!) I think we, as individuals, have a responsibility develop ourselves professionally. Controversial, but I'm actually in favour of compulsory revalidation. At present, it's quite possible to charter, then engage in zero professional development for the rest of your career and still call yourself a chartered librarian. If CILIP is to promote professionalism to employers it has to be sure that members are maintaining their knowledge and skills (especially in such a fast moving field). For me, revalidation is the only way CILIP has to maintain the value of its qualifications.

What's not so good is the way CILIP is bringing this about. By the time we heard of the recent CPD consultation on revalidation in our sub-branch, the consultation had already closed. If consultation is not communicated effectively people start to feel disenfranchised and negative towards any findings. Maybe I'm being  too harsh. Was it communicated effectively? Try Googling it and make up your own mind :-)

3) Protect the public interest

"support the principle of equality of access to information, ideas and
works of the imagination which it affirms is fundamental to a thriving
economy, democracy, culture and civilisation" (CILIP 2009a)

I think this is pretty much what the ethical principles are all about (CILIP 2009b) but also CILIP is active in promoting these values. The recent open letter to the Prime Minister about the need for school libraries to be a statutory requirement are just one example - they also regularly consult on issues that affect the public interest.

So, in summary, I think CILIP does OK in setting professional values and protecting the public. Where I think it needs to improve is in communicating with members and in setting an example as far as its own information systems and management goes. I'd like it to lead the way with new technology and social media - which is why I believe it is falling down slightly on the first of it's mission statements.

This has turned into a monster post - if anyone's made it this far I'd be very surprised! But if you have, I'd love to hear comments on any of this...


CILIP, 2009a. CILIP charter, mission and goals. London: CILIP. Available from: http://www.cilip.org.uk/about-us/mission-goals/pages/default.aspx [Accessed 23 February 2010].

CILIP, 2009b. Ethical principles for library and information professionals. London: CILIP. Available from: http://www.cilip.org.uk/sitecollectiondocuments/PDFs/policyadvocacy/Ethicalprinciplesforlibraryandinformationprofessionals.pdf [Accessed 23 February 2010]


  1. Hi Neil,

    Excellent post. I agree with you on pretty much all of this - particularly the point about people expecting CILIP to fill the role of a trade union. I do think CILIP do quite well at providing the tools for us to use to promote ourselves to our employers - although I wonder how many CILIP members are actually aware of things like "Quality people equals quality service"? I also agree that compulsory CPD/revalidation is a Good Thing!

    I think you've hit the nail on the head with your points about CILIP needing to communicate better with members. I think that's where a lot of people's frustration with CILIP ultimately comes from - there's an impression that they're out of touch with their members. It's encouraging to see some efforts being made to engage with members (and disillusioned non/ex-members!) through things like the Twitter account. Definitely a step in the right direction!

    Really enjoying your posts on this so far btw, looking forward to the next one :)

  2. Working my way through these for #cilipfuture interest.

    I already commented around the trade union question on a later post.

    I have to agree on the need for more effective communication. The management of email lists has been an ongoing battle for some time. This does seem to be improving now as witnessed by the regular arrival of emails from CILIP tailored to my requests and interests.

    I also agree on the desirability for revalidation. I think nearly everyone is busily engaged in CPD so why people would object to being given tools to track it and hence prove their effort to employers (current and potential) is hard to understand.

    That said - there was a vote on it a while back and people did not go for it at that time.

    The new privacy guidelines are great but CILIP could go further in relating these to situations beyond the library domain.



  3. Hi
    I agree with the idea that we have a responsibility to develop ourselves as individuals. CILIP can offer us guidance to do this, but ultimately it's up to the individual to be the professional and provide as professional a service as is possible, given the resources we have at hand.

    The lack of interest and dismissiveness of Web based resources/tools by some librarians is frustrating, considering that they are often complaining about cuts in resources and funding. The Web can offer so many free things that will help them, but rather than making use of it, they'd prefer to cling on to the old ways.