I thought I would do a quick blog post about last night’s CILIP 2014 Election Hustings rather than try to pick it apart on Twitter as 140 characters can only provide so much.
I had a question answered that I had posted on Twitter about the current fees tiers and if they were linked to low membership levels.
All the candidates had a range of things to say, some of which I agreed with and some of which was rather disheartening and verging on frustrating. I will try to break these points out a little bit and explain what I mean because I think that this is a discussion that needs to continue. As a disclaimer, I am not a member of CILIP. The fees are a big sticking point for me. Hence this post.
Being a professional
David M opened his response with the statement that being a professional means that you should want to be a member of a professional body (i.e. CILIP). I found this response to be rather offensive. I do want to be a member of CILIP. I do want to be professional, hence why I just forked out the best part of £7000 to do a professional Masters. However, I simply cannot afford £200 a year for what doesn’t seem to be a lot in return. I do want to be a part of what is going on but if I can’t afford it, how is this going to happen? David also described people “moaning” about financial matters and that this shouldn’t dominate the conversation. I think the description of people moaning is rather unfair. While I haven’t seen all of the comments to which he was referring, people are obviously raising this on a frequent basis because it is a major concern and issue. If CILIP is to represent and support its members, and attract new members, surely making the actual joining process as easy and as accessible as possible should be the main priority, otherwise what is the point of it all?
David M also mentioned that the ALA is cheaper than CILIP to join and I think that this should be looked at more because, from an outsider’s perspective, the ALA is doing a lot more with its time.
Value for money
Many of the candidates mentioned that people need to be able to measure the value that they are getting for their money. I couldn’t agree more. One of my main gripes about the £200 price tag for CILIP membership is that, from what I can see, you mostly get a magazine and some occasional discounts. I realise that I’m probably being quite flippant here but as a non-member, what is there to attract me? As I have already said, I actually do want to be a member because I want to get involved in supporting my profession and developing as a professional librarian, but a lot of that is my input. What do I get for my money aside from (or in addition to) what I would get from me putting in a lot of time and effort?
“You get out what you put in”
This is something that I have heard a lot about CILIP and yes, I can understand this approach. I do want to put a lot in. I do want to take part. However, with the financial barrier, how can I do that? Also, where is the £200 of my membership money going if all of us are volunteering our professional time to run groups and chair meetings? There may well be a good answer to this but I haven’t seen an easily accessible way of assessing this value for money. Where was CILIP when the public library closures were taking place? I didn’t hear that much from them but I heard a lot from volunteer groups supporting their local branch library. If I am paying £200, surely that should be going towards representation on a national level to defend libraries, ensure that professionals are being paid properly, promoting librarianship as a career, doing outreach and many many other things as a body, rather than relying on members to do all of the legwork.
I realise that I might sound a bit like I want something for nothing, but this isn’t the case. We are putting in a large sum of money. We are expected to put in a good chunk of time as well. What is the actual measurable return on this?
Something that really bothers me is that due to my pay spine, I pay exactly the same membership fee as (for example) the head of the British Library. I pay the same as my boss, I pay the same as many many people who are earning a lot more than me. I am also working in a job that isn’t a professional one due to the fact that the job market is rather limited for new professional roles. How is this fair? Now, I recognise that many of the candidates did agree that the tier system did need to be addressed, with several mentioning that it should be raised at the next AGM which gave me some hope. However, one candidate did say that we shouldn’t “agonise” over this issue. I couldn’t disagree more. As already mentioned, if enough people are raising this as a concern and on what seems to be a regular basis, we should be agonising over it. For the sake of balance, another candidate said that it made him feel uncomfortable that he was paying the same membership fee as someone who had just qualified.
Exit interviews indicate that some members left due to financial constraints. It should never be the case that our colleagues can’t get support and be part of a professional body because of something as relatively simple as money. Everyone is getting pay cuts, being made redundant, facing higher household bills, struggling to pay mortgages. It simply isn’t acceptable that those of us who do not have the fee amount spare are effectively cancelled out of the professional library CILIP world.
It was also mentioned that some work could be done to encourage employers to provide some assistance to covering professional membership fees if they want qualified staff. While a good point, this again means that those of us who are not earning large salaries from being in managerial roles are limited in what support we can get to pay CILIP fees.
I was reassured that some of the candidates are taking this issue seriously but there was also a lot of talk about what will happen in the future, and that people will start to see the benefit of what CILIP is trying to do once it has all been worked out. That is all well and good but what are these changes? How are they being promoted to attract new members? Forgive my scepticism, but will these changes actually happen?
CILIP was described as being a charity. I donate a small amount to two charities and to be honest, I get a lot more information, emails, magazines and opportunities for involvement from them than I can measurably see from CILIP. Promotion and listening to that its members want is critical for the future of CILIP. Some of the candidates mentioned that they were concerned about how few younger professionals were going for council positions and I found this to be an interesting point. Are these young members being put off because of the fact that other council members are often individuals who are high up in their careers and they therefore feel that they can’t contribute due to their lack of experience? Are they individuals who can’t afford the time to get involved? Are they people like me who struggle to pay the membership fee and are disillusioned that they then get asked to do more, with little in return? I’d be interested to see how the discussion pans out over time and if there are ways in which CILIP can support those who are nervous about getting involved but who could contribute a great deal.
A lot of what I have said may come across as antagonistic but I actually do care about my profession. I have always wanted to be a librarian and I am dedicated to being the best that I can be at it and to support colleagues, help others realise their librarian potential and raise the profile of the profession as a whole. I think that CILIP can have a massive role to play in this but I am also frustrated at how restrictive it can be at times. I want to be a member of CILIP. I want to be a part of making it a great professional body that can help transform lives, the public perception of what we do and much much more. But I can’t afford to join which makes me sad.
If I have missed anything or have got anything wrong, please tell me. If you can point me in the direction of resources that may answer some of my questions or if you have further questions for me, please get in touch! I would really appreciate it.