ASSOCIATES (2006, July, v. 13, no. 1) -

Recognition of the Contribution Made by Paraprofessional Staff
in Libraries and Information Services


Margaret Watson

When I first entered the library profession many years ago I had my degree and my postgraduate qualification in librarianship and a few months practical experience. Quite rightly my professional association, the Library Association (now CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) required me to work for a year before awarding me a professional qualification. I was very grateful for the support and encouragement, during that year and beyond, from my colleagues who were known then as ‘junior staff’. These highly professional support staff were the ones who taught me the skills of the information professional. They were frontline staff, the only library staff at that time who had day-to-day contact with the users. Although that was quite some years ago, many of you will recognize yourselves in that description.

Many years later after a successful career in academic libraries and as a Library and Information Studies (LIS) educator, I became President of CILIP in 2003. The main theme for my presidential year was Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and I was lucky to become involved with the development of CILIP’s new Framework of Qualifications. A new framework was needed because CILIP had just been formed from the merger of the Library Association and the Institute of Information Science in the UK; both organizations had different qualifications. As part of the framework development CILIP wanted to offer more pathways or routes to professional qualifications, to encourage CPD at all levels and to reward members for their contribution to library and information services. For me personally, one of the most important elements of the new framework is Certification ( This qualification recognizes the contribution made by paraprofessionals and support workers and also gives them an opportunity, through work-based learning, to follow a pathway to Chartership and beyond. Certification is available to anyone working in the UK and abroad who is a member of CILIP.

CILIP is a member led professional association and in 2004/5 when the new framework was introduced had 22,000 members worldwide, of whom over 600 were affiliate members (paraprofessionals). The number of affiliate members is now over 1100. Many of our affiliate members had been waiting a long time for their professional association to formally recognize their contribution, so CILIP introduced two categories of application; one was for paraprofessionals who had been working for five years or more and the other was for newer staff. Application is by portfolio; each application is judged against assessment criteria. The criteria for the first category of applicants include one that focuses on work experience; the criteria for category two focuses on what has been learned from training and development. Successful applicants are entitled to use the post-nominals ACLIP. CILIP is really pleased with the take-up of the new qualification and in the increased number of affiliate members.

Other elements in the framework are: Chartership which is the ‘gold standard’ for information professionals, Fellowship and Revalidation for all Chartered Members and Fellow. CILIP wants to encourage all information professionals to progress through the levels of professional qualification and to revalidate their qualifications every three years to demonstrate their commitment to the enhancement of skills and knowledge.

Why am I so pleased about Certification? The work of staff in libraries and information services has changed so much in the last ten years. In the UK we have fewer professional staff; complex and demanding work is being handled by paraprofessionals. At all levels in the profession we need to enhance and further develop the skills and knowledge required by all staff. If we are to survive in a very competitive market we need to recruit and retain the very best staff. CILIP, as the major LIS professional association in the UK, works closely with employers and government agencies to ensure that information professionals are committed to lifelong learning and to personal and professional development. Certification gives paraprofessionals the opportunity to have their work experience and training formally recognized.

One of the requirements for all information professionals is to be able to reflect on what they have done, evaluate their performance, identify where improvement can be made and then formulate a plan of development activities to enable further improvement to be made. Development activities can come through formal education training and development, it can come through job shadowing, project work, involvement in professional activities, research or in-house training. What Certification asks of applicants is to evaluate their own performance, whether through work experience or training, to present evidence of meeting the assessment criteria and to plan for future development. Many of you will already be involved in appraisal interviews or performance reviews at work. You will probably be asked to reflect on the last six months or year, commenting on what has been successful or unsuccessful, and to identify any gaps in your skills or knowledge. In the UK many paraprofessionals have taken their ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) to upgrade their ICT skills, or they have undertaken S/NVQs (Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications) in library and information services, or another qualification called City and Guilds and many will have undertaken advanced ICT training. They will have done this at the request of their employers or to gain promotion. CILIP does not expect staff to duplicate all the training they have done for their employer – we ask members to reflect on their experience and evaluate it.

We do this by asking everyone to produce an annotated Curriculum Vitae (CV) which not only lists their experiences and education, but which identifies significant learning, a Personal Development Plan, which sets out future development activity, a personal statement and some supporting evidence. The personal statement has a template; the template for experienced paraprofessionals asks for comments on six areas of work and a summary of what has been learned and put into practice. The template for newer paraprofessionals asks for reflections on any training or development activity and a summary of what has been learned and put into practice. Preparing for submitting a portfolio enables members to take time out of everyday routine work to reflect on their achievements and how their service has developed. It also gives applicants an opportunity to think about the ‘wider picture’, whether of LIS generally or of their own organization. This process of reflection and evaluation whilst of primary importance to each candidate also has value for the organization. Employers are seen to support reflective practice within a learning culture. It can also raise the profile of the service within the larger organization.

In conclusion I welcome this new element of CILIP’s qualifications framework that demonstrates, to the LIS community and beyond, the important contribution paraprofessionals make to our communities of practice. Certification enables individuals to reflect on and value their experience and to formally commit to lifelong learning; it also allows those who wish gain a professional qualification, recognized throughout the world, to progress through work-based learning. Certification can demonstrate to employers that there are members of staff who are prepared to ‘go that extra mile’ and to take their personal development very seriously. This surely, therefore, has to be a win-win situation!

For further information check the CILIP website: or e-mail


Margaret Watson was President of CILIP 2003-2004; the main theme for her presidency was Continuing Professional Development. She also chaired CILIP’s Qualifications Framework Steering Group and is now Chair of CILIP’s Ethics Panel. Margaret started in academic libraries before moving to lecturing in 1987, becoming Head of Subject Division and acting Head of Department at Northumbria University. Margaret’s areas of specialism were Communication, Information Literacy, Libraries and Arts, and Staff Training and Development. She was a member of the Northern Training Group, based in the North East, for many years and was involved in Advanced ICT training for public librarians. Now retired Margaret works as a consultant and has recently facilitated training for CILIP Assessment Panels and the CILIP Mentor Scheme.

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