ASSOCIATES (vol. 10, no. 3, March 2004) - associates.ucr.edu
*Qualification and Certification – Some Personal Views on the Future*
C/O The Law Library
University of Exeter, UK
For many years now paraprofessionals around the world have sought to be recognised for their role in library and information services. There have been great advances in the provision of courses, qualifications and recognition of staff competencies, which is all excellent news.
One area, which has tended to be bypassed, is membership of a professional organisation, and recognition by that same organisation. While employers have begun to accept competence-based qualifications as being as important as academic qualifications, there has been a reluctance to accept these as being professional qualifications. The traditional ‘librarian’ has needed to know the exact reasoning behind Dewey or Library of Congress classification, and this knowledge was key to full membership of a professional organisation. While these skills are still important, the skills needed for LIS ( Library and Information Service ) these days have greatly expanded (IT skills, customer care, disability awareness, and general ‘front line’ people skills). Educational institutions have tried to match courses with employers and students’ changing needs, as well as those same employers developing their own ‘in-house’ qualifications. When an inhouse employer is a large metropolitan corporation, this can have far reaching effects, which can stretch as far as University library schools. Some of you in the UK may have heard of NoWAL, which is a consortium of UK University and Colleges of higher Education in Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside. See further information at http://www.nowal.ac.uk/. Their mission statement starts by saying that they aim to … enhance the delivery of library services to the HE Community in the North West … and goes on to say that "the varied nature of the consortium’s membership means that NoWAL combines the very best of both tradition and innovation." Here the qualification offered by the corporation will be recognised over a wide area, across a range of services, and be available to a large number of staff, thus helping with staff retention and recruitment. While this may mean that such qualifications are only valid in a certain area, which can be a disadvantage, mergers of similar area corporations’ training courses can open up wide opportunities for staff. This can then lead to a situation where academic and competency based qualifications come into conflict. Do you employ someone you know who can do the job as you trained them, or someone fresh out of the university who has only limited practical experience? That university person is allowed full membership of a professional organisation where competence-based qualified staff are allowed only limited membership.
With a vastly more mobile population and a changing attitude to careers, it is natural to rethink both qualification recognition and membership. The extension of metropolitan qualifications can be done by franchising the concept to other areas. This should ensure standards are maintained as well as acting as a form of income generation for the originators. National programmes that offer competence based/academic courses can be faced with an opposite problem. A nationally accepted course which some might feel does not meet local needs. Whatever your end qualification is, having it accepted by a professional body, as being a standard, which meets its critera, can be a problem. Many entry criteria were set sometime ago and have only been amended slightly and do not take into account recent developments.
CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, (http://www.cilip.org.uk/) is making a brave move in the direction of amending entry policies and recognizing different forms of qualification, future acknowledgment of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). Being involved with some of the ‘small print’ discussions on this topic, I now realise how difficult and complex this is and how important it is to consult and consider changes very carefully. Rather than just make minor changes to entry criteria, the aim is to have a much more far-reaching change to membership, qualification recognition and Chartership. Copies of the initial plan have been sent to all members, and responses so far indicate an acceptance of proposals. Further discussions will take place, and changes made to the new plans to take into account responses received. The CILIP Corporate Plan for 2002-05 states that CILIP ‘must provide members with the means to ensure their expertise is recognised by the wider community, and to enable them to extend that expertise, so that they can remain abreast of new developments and compete effectively in the employment marketplace. It can do this by ensuring that CILIP’s framework of academic and professional qualifications remain rigorous and credible, by providing new forms of access that recognise paraprofessional roles and non conventional routes to qualification……’
The new proposals have a number of important points which will have a direct benefit for library staff in general.
This new style membership is not intended to replace formal academic qualification, a fear often expressed by some, but to acknowledge other forms of qualification. This will include completion of a portfolio of evidence of professional skills and knowledge. This will then be examined at Branch level to see if it meets national criteria. It is vitally important that local Branch committees are able to cope with the expected number of applications. This is an opportunity for increased participation by Affiliated members in Branch committees, as they have first hand knowledge of some of the duties undertaken and why staff have included them in their submitted applications.
It makes sense that while changes are being made to Certification that changes are made to Chartership and Fellowship. While this might appear to be beyond the average library staff member there should be no reason why, provided that certain criteria and qualifications are obtained, they could not progress and in due course apply for Chartership and the final accolade of Fellowship. Again this is not a question reducing the value of academic qualification, more a recognition of different types of qualification. With so many people changing jobs and careers, it makes sense to recognise their talents and strengths, which they can bring to library work in general.
Like passing a driving test, once you have passed there is little to show that a driver has maintained or improved their driving skills. The new qualification and certification plans included a re-validation scheme where staff will gain extra postnominals which will show any prospective or existing employer that individual staff have enhanced existing skills. The new emphasis on continuing education and maintaining skills should go some way to showing that staff have continued to learn. This may go some distance in addressing the old problem of low pay for librarians, for both academically qualified and vocationally qualified staff. They can show that they are worth their qualification and a fair remuneration for the job they do. It may also play some part in a regular appraisal for staff, but this will take some time to get into place. Even better it should cover a wider selection of jobs in academic, public and corporate libraries.