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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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Give me all your money (for a good cause) (updated because I’m an idiot)

Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Logo

I don’t usually do this, but it’s a special occasion. In March I’m walking 14 miles from Chelsea to Sutton to raise money for the Royal Marsden hospitals, who do very important work in cancer care. They looked after a friend of mine for a long time and were absolutely brilliant, so I want to raise as much money as possible for them. If you’ve got any spare change and would like to give some to this cause, the JustGiving page for my team is here. (For anyone who tried to click this earlier, the link is now fixed) Thanks very much!

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