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Career Strategies for Librarians
Leaving Information Management to the Professionals: Why You Can’t Start Too Early
by Tim Buckley Owen

Tim Buckley Owen explains why a fully qualified library and information profession is more important
than ever, and shows how CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is
helping to bring this about in the UK.

If you don’t manage your investments properly, their value goes down.  If you don’t maintain your
buildings, they crumble and become dangerous.  So you use professionals to do it.  Why should your
most important asset – your information – be any different?

That’s the message we give out to the employers we deal with – the people who advertise jobs in our
two-weekly Gazette magazine or on our lisjobnet.com website, and the people who approach our
INFOmatch recruitment agency looking to fill their library and information posts.  If they didn’t get the
people they wanted, they’d stop advertising with us and refuse to pay our recruitment fees.  Fortunately,
they don’t stop.  Business is good.

Why?  Because CILIP’s job is to make sure that its members remain informed and employable
throughout their careers, and so stay competitive in the job market.  We start even before a member gets
his or her first job, and we go on beyond formal retirement, supporting members who swap full time
salaried employment for consultancies and special projects.

You might think that it all starts at university, when aspiring library and information professionals embark
on their academic education.  And, in a way, it does.  We accredit degree and postgraduate courses in
library and information studies at 18 universities throughout the United Kingdom.  Our assessors visit
each institution in turn, evaluating the relevance of each course to current and developing practice in
librarianship and information science, whether in a general or a very specialist area of the discipline.  

Accreditations may last for up to five years, but we will review an accreditation if there are substantial
changes to either the content of the course or within the academic institution.  It’s all part of the constant
task of making sure that new professionals emerge from higher education with the skills and
awareness that employers need.

Why we can’t afford an unqualified profession

But that’s just the start.  This is a very practical profession, and a degree or postgraduate diploma only
demonstrates aptitude.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can actually do the job.  That’s where
professional qualifications come in.

CILIP and its predecessor bodies have been formally recognising professional achievement since the
end of the nineteenth century.  We were granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1898, authorising
us to award professional qualifications in library and information science.  It may seem pretty archaic to
anyone on the American side of the Atlantic, but you have to remember that all this happened at the
height of the Industrial Revolution, when Britain was known as the workshop of the world, and
recognition was growing rapidly that the country needed a properly qualified workforce if we were to
maintain our dominant position.  

We’ve kept up the momentum throughout the twentieth century, through the two world wars and the code
breaking that led to the world’s first viable computer, right up to the broadband era of the twenty-first.  
Britain is now one of the largest economies in the world, and much of that wealth is built on information.  
So the need for properly qualified people to manage it is as great as ever.

New qualifications for a new millennium

Up to April of this year, we offered two qualifications – Membership (MCLIP) and Fellowship (FCLIP).  
Chartered Membership is the first level of professional qualification that we award. Most members gain it
two or three years after graduating. As well as holding academic qualifications in librarianship and
information management that are approved by CILIP, they also need to have been in membership for at
least a year, and to have had a period of practical professional experience on which to base their
application.

The award of Chartered Membership is based on evidence of continuing professional development in
practice, and on the ability to learn from experience. It’s not a re-examination of the theoretical knowledge
acquired on an information studies course. Instead, candidates are seeking to demonstrate how that
knowledge has been applied, and what they have learned as an outcome of that application. Gaining
Chartered Membership provides concrete evidence of professional development and progression since
completion of their academic studies.

Five years on in his or her career, any Chartered Member can apply for the highest qualification CILIP
offers – Fellowship.  Fellowship signifies that a member has applied an increasing level of
professionalism to his or her work.  He’s developed the ability to carry out demanding tasks and handle
complex professional issues, and made a contribution to the profession as a whole.  At this level, the
material that candidates select for submission is really important.  Work presented for the award of
Fellowship will almost invariably contain an element of originality, demonstrating intellectual and
professional development.

All that may seem a long way off when a CILIP member first embarks on a career – and, in a world
where a properly qualified matters workforce matters at every level, there are other areas of activity that
we need to assess and acknowledge.  That’s why we’ve has introduced, from April 2005, a whole new
Framework of Qualifications.  The new Framework not only embraces the existing qualifications – MCLIP
and FCLIP – but also introduces two more: Certification and Revalidation.

Certification is the recognition of the contribution made to library and information work by para-
professionals, and it will lead to a brand new qualification of Affiliated Membership or ACLIP.  Certified
Affiliates maintain and manage many aspects of library and information services.  They may be
responsible for practical or technical work and may also be involved in the management and
development of staff and services.  Candidates who apply for Certification will have to show that they
know how to evaluate both personal and service performance, that they understand the importance of
continuing professional development, and that they appreciate the role and contribution of library and
information services in the wider community.

By contrast, Revalidation is for members who are already professionally qualified – in other words, they
already have an MCLIP or FCLIP.  Now they need to demonstrate that they have kept up with
developments in this fast-moving profession, and that their skills remain equal to the new challenges
that the job market presents.  Revalidation of professional qualifications provides formal evidence that
they have consistently enhanced their knowledge, skills and expertise in their professional practice.  
Revalidation candidates have to demonstrate that they can evaluate critically their personal learning
outcomes from a range of training and development activities.  They need to show increased
competence in a range of professional and management skills, developed through professional
practice. And they need to provide evidence of continuous professional development through reading,
participation in professional affairs, and contribution to or attendance at courses or conferences.

No one will be expected to undertake this formidable programme of qualification unaided, of course.  In
parallel with the new Framework of Qualifications, CILIP is also introducing a revamped mentoring
scheme to support individual CILIP members going through the Framework of Qualifications
processes.  The benefits for the candidates are obvious, but the large numbers of existing CILIP
members who are currently volunteering to be mentors should also benefit.  They’ll have an opportunity
to give something back to the profession and, in the process, they’ll be developing new skills for
themselves in areas such as counselling, strategic thinking or people management – and, of course,
they’ll have the chance to spot the up-and-coming new talent.

Selling the benefits – sowing the seeds

Just as important are the benefits for employers.  Businesses and public sector organizations that invest
in their information staff in this way should enjoy improved staff motivation and retention as a result, as
well as enhanced creativity and commitment among their employees.  Mentoring is a highly cost-
effective method of staff development, leading to increased efficiency in the delivery of services,
development of leadership skills and benefits for the ‘learning organisation.’

Now, of course, we have to make it work – and the job of persuading employers that they can’t afford not
to employ properly qualified staff seems never-ending.  In the Google era, everyone’s an information
expert.  So we need to demonstrate to employers that qualified information professionals add value that
no amount of Google searching can replicate.  We’re working on ways to target employers in our
marketing drives – and to demonstrate to people who are thinking about membership of CILIP that this
is a good profession to be in.  And, where that’s concerned, you can’t start too early.

For the majority of people, their first-ever encounter with an information professional is likely to be the
children’s librarian in their local public or school library.  It may happen when they’re five or six, at story
time.  It may happen as early as two or three years old, when their Mum or Dad brings them along to look
at the picture books.  We don’t want them to forget that experience.  It will help them to understand not
only that books can be fun and enriching, but also that there’s a world of knowledge to be explored, and
that it comes in all media – online, video, audio, print.  And it can also introduce them to the idea that
there are people who can help them get the best out of what’s available.  

That’s why we put so much effort into another of our initiatives – the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway
Children’s Book Awards.  The Awards celebrate the best in children’s writing and illustration, and they’re
high profile.  They’re up there with other internationally famous literary awards like the Man Booker or the
Whitbread.  They’re restricted to UK publishers, but not to UK authors: last year (2004) the Carnegie was
won by an American, Jennifer Donnelly, for her novel A Gathering Light.   

The Awards are judged by children’s librarians, who pool their expertise to pick winners based not on
popularity but on pure quality.  But keeping a close eye on them are over 2,000 shadowing groups made
up of tens of thousands of children in schools and libraries throughout the UK.  They’re reading the
shortlisted titles, posting their own reviews on the special shadowing scheme website, and pitting their
opinion against those of the professionals.   

Heading each group is an adult leader.  Some are teachers, but many are school or children’s
librarians.  They have a tough job to do in organising the groups, sourcing the shortlisted titles, getting
them read and posting the reviews online.  They are thoroughgoing professionals – and the children
who’ve been on shadowing groups don’t forget them or the job they do.

Maybe a library and information career does start with university.  But the seeds can be sown much
earlier, in childhood.  As soon as they start to germinate, CILIP is there.

About the Author:

Tim Buckley Owen is Head of Membership, Marketing & Media at CILIP, the largest membership body for
library and information professionals in the UK, with upwards of 23,000 members.  Previously he was
Head of Policy & Communications for the Library & Information Commission, which advised government
on library and information policy.  That followed a long career actually doing it as a library and information
professional – in central London public libraries, in the City of London Business Library, and as Principal
Information Officer at the London Research Centre.  Visit www.cilip.org.uk for further information.

Article published April 2005

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