CILIP: To join or not to join?

I started (and never finished) a blog post the other day about the CILIP name change and how what really needs to happen is an image overhaul and positive publicity for the profession to show people the value of libraries and library (and information) professionals. However, that’s pretty much my entire opinion on the matter in that sentence, which is why that post never got finished. I haven’t really got the inclination to get involved in all the confrontational back-and-forth and besides, loads of people have written and tweeted about it with a lot more insight than I could.

What I do want to write about, though, is CILIP’s membership fees structure. Now there’s a nice lighthearted topic! It’s relevant to me at the moment, though, as I’m starting the MA course soon and feel like it would be a good time to join the professional body. However, I’m not really sure if it’s worth me joining CILIP – now or indeed ever. And here’s why: it’s expensive, and it’s not fair.

It’s not expensive straight away, not for students – it’s only £38 a year for students – but if I got a grade 3 job at MMU after graduating, which is a Senior Library Assistant, I’d have to pay £160. In fact, even if I stayed at the same level as I am now (grade 2 at MMU), I’d have to pay £160. And if I got a job paying more than £17,501, which would be a grade 4 Principal Library Assistant at MMU, I’d have to pay the top membership rate of £194. I haven’t even looked at salaries for professional jobs (i.e. jobs that require the PGDip or MA) and we’ve already reached the top of the membership fees scale.

This strikes me as more than a bit unfair. If, as I hope, I graduate from the MA and get my first professional post, I might expect to earn somewhere around £20,000. The Head of Library Services here earns three times as much as that, and yet we would both pay the same CILIP membership fees.

Another problem I have with the whole thing is that this profession is not especially well-paid. When you look at the equivalent professional bodies for people such as architects and engineers, you find that they charge membership fees around the same level as CILIP’s, despite average salaries for these professions being higher.

So, what do you get for your money? The CILIP website lists the benefits of membership as follows: Advice and support; Advocacy and Campaigns; Monthly magazine, journals and ebulletins; Networking and community; Special deals and discounts.

To be honest with you, I’m not convinced this is a fair return for my money, especially when you consider that you can get most of these things elsewhere without being a CILIP member. And when you add on the price of events (could be £5, could be £30, could be over £300), I’m really not sure I can afford to invest.

The saying goes that if you put more in to CILIP, you get more out. But not everyone has the time, transport or money to get involved in committees, special interest groups, conferences and so on, which means that through no fault of their own they’re not benefiting nearly as much from their membership fee – they’re essentially getting a very expensive magazine subscription.

CILIP are considering making student membership free, which I think is a good start, and will possibly encourage more people in my situation to join. However, I think the jump from “free” to up to £200, dependent on salary after graduation, will still count against CILIP, and I’m not sure how much of a difference it’ll make. The proposal mentions e-only communication and making sure people get value for money, which is encouraging, but I do think there’s more that can be done before I’d be convinced to join up.

My suggestions are as follows:

  • Make it free or very cheap for students, and then have a fees structure that increases steadily, perhaps loosely following pay grades for library staff. I know salary scales vary by employer, but it can’t be too hard to have very generalised bands, e.g. £0-£4,999; £5,000-£9,999; £10,000-£14,999 etc. And don’t stop at £17,501!
  • Don’t waste money on print stuff. E-communication, e-journals, e-whatever are the way forward, especially for the information professions. Printing and postage costs are huge these days, and it’s quite an easy way to make savings that could be reflected in reduced fees.
  • Give more support for students and new professionals. I think a special interest group for these people, offering networking and cheap training sessions, as well as advice and support tailored to new  and aspiring professionals, would encourage uptake of membership. Having cheap/free student membership as well as this might require creative budgeting, but I think it’d pay off by increasing the retention rate for new members.
  • Be more visible (in a good way). I don’t want the only time I read about CILIP in the papers to be about squabbling over name changes. Being seen to be taking positive action and advocating for libraries, rather than staying in the background a bit, can only serve to increase people’s inclination to join in.
  • Provide more stuff. This is coming, in the form of a Virtual Learning Environment as well as a Professional Knowledge and Skills base, but really, the more benefits of membership, the better. Club membership and cheap breakdown cover on my (non-existent) car aren’t really doing it for me.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels like this, and I reckon CILIP needs to think seriously about what it’s offering people like me (and what its image is like to people like me) as, if students and new professionals don’t feel inclined to sign up, then the membership will continue to dwindle. Hopefully some positive news will come out of the upcoming AGM, where the free student membership is being proposed, which might lead to me taking the plunge and signing up.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “CILIP: To join or not to join?

  1. We did have a more developed sliding scale of subscriptions, but an AGM a few years ago decided on a simpler structure. It was controversial at the time; I don’t recall the arguments in detail, but one was that the fewer categories, the simpler (and cheaper) it is to administer. From what I read here, and elsewhere, it seems we may need to go back on that. I’d say join, come to the AGM, and put the new professional’s point of view. I think if you join now you’ll be eligible to attend, though perhaps you’d better check that before writing the cheque.

    • Thanks for your comment, I didn’t know there used to be a better sliding scale. Unfortunately I can’t come to the AGM but I hope there will be a new professional there who will put these points across.

  2. A great post! I was a member of the Danish equiv. of CILIP as a student, but though now I have a library position back in the UK I’ve also been put off by the fee. As am in quite an out-the-way location (Aberystwyth) it’s also difficult to participate in conferences and things. Getting back to a sliding scale fee in relation to salary would be a good idea I think.

  3. Pingback: Why I’m a member of CILIP | Bethan's information professional blog

  4. HI Emily. CILIP’s Treasurer will be announcing proposals for a new fees structure over the next few years at the AGM which should address your points pretty well. If you are starting an MA you will be a student of course 🙂 We are in the process of entirely redeveloping our support for newly qualified professionals as they move up the scale. Part of the free offer to student members will include a digital magazine instead of a print one. Some of our committees function very well virtually and rarely meet face to face. When they need to, your travel expenses are paid. Its a great way to develop leadership skills and we will be recognising that with a leadership programme soon. Our member networks/Career Development Group provide a series of opportunities and support for people at a local level to develop their professional skills and there is more to come. We have just begun promoting our new professionals day, free to CILIP members and low cost to you, and you can claim the cost back from your joining fee if you decide to sign up. Being part of things is always good. In advocacy terms, take a look at CILIP’s advocacy pages but there is a lot more going on than ‘squabbles’. Cheers.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Annie. I’m sorry if I sounded too dismissive of CILIP, but I really want these issues to be addressed – and it looks like they are going to be, so that’s great. The points you have highlighted are encouraging and I’m definitely not opposed to joining! Thanks for highlighting the advocacy pages, too. Unfortunately I won’t be attending the New Professionals Day as it’s just too expensive to travel to London for the day, but I’m sure I’ll be able to follow along on Twitter.

  5. Hi, When I first joined CILIP, we were having the discussion about fees but it was felt that it was better to phase out the levels. Not sure what I think, to be honest.

    The thing that I would say, is that I think free membership for students devalues CILIP membership and should not be considered. As you point out, it will make the jump even higher when one does get a job but also, it is well known that even a nominal fee means that people attend events over free ones etc & I think that this is the same concept.

    • That’s an interesting point. I think the difficulty is that if no students or new profs want to join despite the benefits of membership, how else do you entice them other than by making it cheaper/free?

      • That is a reasonable point (and I’m fine with cheaper, just not free) but really the focus should be on making CILIP so useful that students feel they need to be involved. I think CILIP has done quite a lot on this front recently with the New Professionals Information Days, CDG having New Professional Support Officers and the New Professionals Conference so I actually think that there is a lot of value there. The thing that, perhaps, is missing is the awareness. I know that CILIP previously sent staff out to all universities that have accredited courses to promote the organisation but I don’t think that this happens any more and with the rise in the number of distance learning courses it would probably reach fewer people.
        I don’t really have the answer but I think that making membership free is not it!

      • I agree, I think increasing awareness of the support, events and groups available to students and new profs would be much more valuable than simply dropping the cost of membership. I think having some sort of presence on campus, even just a promotional flyer at the start of the course, would help. I think we just need to be shown the value for money, as students nowadays have to part with so much of it!

  6. Fiona Hughes

    If you do join you would be a member of the North West Branch. As a committee we do what we can to provide our members with support, via free or very cheap high quality events and frequently offer funding to help members attend conferences etc. We have for example just funded delegate places for both Umbrella and Lilac

    • Thanks for the information. I think as I am moving to Leeds and studying the MA in Sheffield I would be part of CILIP Yorkshire. Hopefully they offer the same sorts of opportunities as CILIP NW.

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