What’s so civil about war anyway? Or CILIP and MLA

Tim Coates blogs excitedly about secret mails and the civil war between CILIP and MLA.

In essence, CILIP aren’t impressed with MLA’s Blueprint– a view I share.

From this springboard, Coates goes on to argue for the dissolution of CILIP and removal of its accreditiation rights. Oddly, CILIP doesn’t have those ‘rights’; they keep the Chartered Librarians list, but cannot compel public libraries to only employ Chartered Librarians. Much less can they do so in schools, who don’t have to employ a librarian at all; they don’t have to have a library, come to that.

Now, I agree with some of Coates’ views on libraries. And I’m no ra-ra fan of CILIP; they can often lack drive and communicate very poorly. However, I would rather improve it than get rid of it.

Calling for CILIP’s demise is of a piece with one plank of Caotes’ argument; you don’t need qualified librarians. To me he seems to argue for employing people in libraries, because they like books and are good at public service. Not bad things, but a bit limited. And what of CPD (where p = personal)? CILIP at least make some effort at providing a framework for this.

If no CILIP then what? Can we trust ‘the market’ to provide for a framework to produce the library staff of the future? In public library terms, do we need local trusts to manage libraries including staff development? What of other libraries?

Answers on a postcard…

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be averse to Apprenticeship/ work-based training models, but I still believe there is a place for trained, qualified librarians. You can be too focused on the ‘front line’; losing the back office will ultimately lead to worse service.

I think the underlying issue is that people can see the reason for trained doctors, lawyers etc, if only because if they screw up, the consequences can be dire. And, anyone can do a librarian’s job right? What’s so hard? I get this a lot from my academic colleagues, but having been a teacher I can ask the same question of teaching with some base in experience 😉 And what is the basis for a profession of librarians? I think there’s at least as good a case for Chartered Librarians as there is for Chartered Marketers…

In libraries there is perhaps a need to recognise a wide range of qualifications as professional, from IT to librarians to marketers etc.

The petition calling for an end to cuts in Hampshire makes a good argument; go look at it. And if such things bother you, sign it.

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4 Responses to What’s so civil about war anyway? Or CILIP and MLA

  1. Tim Coates says:

    Hi- I’ve just come across this, so please forgive me for the late posting. My argument isn’t that people who work in public libraries shouldn’t be properly trained to do so. On the contrary I call for better and more appropriate training. I also call for an end to the demarcation between “professional” and other staff. I say that all staff should be called librarians and be trained to offer the service to the public of the highest quality. Of course, some will be more experienced than others.

    My objection to CILIP is that the training and qualifiaction they provide is not sufficiently relevant and my evidence is the state of the service.

    I have often offered to talk to library schools about this and some have entered into a discussion.

    I am not alone in saying these things. The Culture Select Committee of 2005 called for professional training to be more relevant- and so far as I know nothing serious has been done to address that recommendation- and nobody seems to have accepted responsibilty for doing so. I think it is among the most important recommendations of their excellent report

  2. Pete says:

    Tim,
    welcome. All comments are welcome and this one is still timely.
    I myself think library training needs an overhaul, with a better mix of theory and practice.
    The trouble is that librarians work in a range of places, so there is no one size fits all training scheme which would work. In this regard there is a place, I think, for on-the-job training allied to a more reflective study based approach.
    In terms of calling all staff ‘librarians’, that is nice and egalitarian but doesn’t do much beyond giving people a warm fuzzy glow. There is still a place for people whose job is not rooted to the ‘frontline’ and brings with it greater expectations. How this is matched to quals is another matter, but a library is not just about the desk and the needs of now. Even a bookshop has people thinking about the future I am sure.
    I never minded being a ‘library assistant’ to be honest, but then maybe I’m just too balanced for my own good… I think there is a place for a graded set of qualifications to match a graded set of activities and expectations.
    I think where we differ is in our understanding of what it is that libraries and librarians can- should indeed- do in addition to providing a front of house book issuing service. I don’t think libraries should be doing everything, as I’ve said elsewhere.

  3. Tom says:

    I’ve just come across this too. I generally agree with Tim Coates in that I believe

    1. that the line between professional/unprofessional librarians should be done away with
    2. that CILIP could be dismantled with little ill effect
    3. that the qualification system should be overhauled. This perhaps would be one role that CILIP should be doing.

    The professional/non-professional distinction is needless, except in terms of status and self-esteem. There should surely be more substance to it than that. There are many talented library assistants who can and who have been trained to do professional work. Why make them jump through hoops to attain professional status? If they can do a particular job well, then they can do it well. That is what the interview process is for. The divide can also have ill-effects in denying tasks to those who could otherwise do them perfectly well do on the grounds that they are “professional”. Does it matter?

    The qualification system is my particular bone of contention. It doesn’t qualify anyone to do anything. If someone comes up to you and says they have it, what tasks could you set them to do with any confidence? They all differ so much, some courses skipping over quite traditional areas of librarianship. My MA was very useful for teaching me cataloguing, which is now my job, but that is only a taster compared to the training you get from actually doing it. I would have been better served, I believe, by a short intensive course in cataloguing rather than two years of part-time slog (or the alternative of risking job security and financial problems by dropping out for a year to do a full-time course). A series of such short courses (eg one on circulation, one on children’s/school librarianship, one on subject support, etc.) would be much better, if we are prepared to do without the apparent status of an MA. This would also better suit those wanting to change the direction of their career. An apprenticeship model would be excellent for cataloguing (a backroom job) as, even if a cataloguer is trained, they need some kind of supervised work-training anyway.

    I have many problems with CILIP but I will stick to the training issue. The training that CILIP provides, outside of the library schools, is so unspecialised that most of it could be undertaken by a non-specialist organisation. As a cataloguer, its courses are generally only really useful for beginners. I have never seen a course in MeSH, for example, or a rigorous introduction to MARC authority format, both of which would have been extremely useful in the last couple of years. It’s hard for cataloguers to undertake CPD without branching out into areas not particularly relevant or to look to other sources. I have what is probably a rather old-fashioned idea that training is for acquisition of skills to do a job, not the accumulation of qualifications and certificates for their own sakes. CILIP doesn’t provide these skills; the qualifications it accredits cannot guarantee them.

  4. Pete says:

    Tom, welcome again.

    I think the issue is one of others esteem, not self-esteem.

    I would be happy to see a work based apprenticeship model for librarianship, with task specific training to go with it.

    To do away with ‘professionals’ as a whole is a rather simplisitc approach I feel. Status is key, not just for self-esteem but for position and influence in an organisation.

    I don’t have the answer, but one question is: if you are so talented, why not take a structured course and prove it? Why should people have to?- because its a fairly standard thing.

    Training for skills to do a job is indeed important- but we could be training to fight the last war, to borrow an image. Alonsgide practical training there needs to be some reflective and forward thinking study.

    As for CILIP, I have often felt it could usefully be slimmed down to a CPD only body- which might allow it to provide more in depth courses.

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