Taking the Road Less Travelled: One Aspiring Librarian’s Journey Through Work and CILIP Certification

This fortnight’s post is from Library Assistant Amy Cross Menzies, who will talk a little about her less traditional route into librarianship, proving with commitment and perseverance, it can be done!

When I was thinking about writing this post and about how to explain my ‘career path’, I kept thinking about what I’ve done so far compared to what might be considered ‘the perfect way’, or what I might advise some mythical young person who has decided at 16 that all they really want to do in life is work in a library. I really enjoy and value being a Library Assistant as a role in itself, but I’m also trying to give myself as many options as possible for future job prospects if and when I’m ready to move on, which is perhaps why my route hasn’t been ‘perfect’. This is what I came up with as the quickest, most perfect way I could imagine to get into librarianship:

  1. Whilst at school work in your school library, do some weekend or holiday work or voluntary work (the old-style volunteering not the new controversial type!) in your local public library
  2. Take the A Levels and first degree in subjects that interest you, unless you have a specific desire to work in a special library or an academic library in a particular subject, then study that
  3. Whilst you are at university get some work e.g. shelving in your university library or other work / volunteer in your public library
  4. Live at home / move back home after uni to save money
  5. After university get a job as a graduate trainee in a library
  6. After graduate traineeship study a masters in librarianship either full time, or part time whilst working as a library assistant
  7. After the masters get first professional post
  8. Gain MCLIP
  9. World domination

But I’m not perfect. Perhaps you’re not too. A young, aspiring librarian just isn’t what we all start out as. Many of us just haven’t a clue at that age what we want to spend the rest of our lives doing. We haven’t had enough life experience, haven’t had a wide range of possibilities suggested, and perhaps aren’t even aware of librarianship as a career. It’s also rare to be able to stay so focused and undistracted – life happens, and it gets in the way as it quite often rightly should do. But even if you haven’t gone via the perfect route there is still hope and there are still options.

The only step I’ve done of the ‘perfect way’ is step 2 (although I am just about to start on step 6). I didn’t really consider library work until I’d finished a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in philosophy and spent some time in different jobs, travelling and temping. I also got a bit sidetracked starting a PhD in philosophy and a family. Still, as we all know from writing a CV we have to look at the positives. Here are mine: I’ve probably had a wider range of experience than ‘perfect person’ and in personal terms maybe managed to do a lot more interesting things than if I’d been solidly working and studying towards librarianship. If you find yourself unable to do it the ‘perfect way’ then you can still go for it. You’ll probably find that even if you’ve never worked in a library before you still have a lot of transferable skills that are relevant. A good tip is to have a look at a few different job descriptions (search some job adverts) and see what they ask for, then think about all the skills and experience you’ve got and see what matches up, then highlight this in your job applications.

A big step forward for me was finding out about professional registration with CILIP. At the time I was not really sure what there was I could do that wasn’t hugely expensive and didn’t clash with my responsibilities outside of work, and I sort of felt like it was a viable alternative to steps 5 and part of 6 of the ‘perfect way’. It’s still quite a rare way of going about things and I feel that you have to try harder to sell it to potential employees, but it’s totally doable while you’re working and draws from experience you already have. In terms of cost it’s currently £25 to enrol and £25 to submit the portfolio (which is now all done online). Even if you’re just starting out wanting to get into librarianship pencil ACLIP in for a couple of years down the line once you’ve got some experience behind you and start keeping a record of your development now ready for when you register for it.

When I did certification in 2014 this was the last year you could submit your portfolio as a hard copy, so the way I did it was a little bit different to the current way of doing it all online through CILIPs VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). Certification is essentially about demonstrating that you meet a particular level of professional practice and should be a reflective, evaluative document which shows that you meet the criteria set out by CILIP. It must include an evaluative statement showing how you meet the various criteria and linking to the evidence you’re submitting. You also have to include a table of contents, CV, job description, PKSB (Professional Knowledge and Skills Base) assessments, mentor/mentee completion form, and evidence to support your evaluative statement. For the evidence I included things like my annual review form, procedures I had drafted for my specialist role, slides from presentations I’d given, blog posts reviewing library events I’d been to, a record of staff development courses and events I’d attended, and certificates for any courses I’d done. There’s a really useful certification handbook from CILIPs website with a lot more information.

If you do decide to look into certification, then definitely go to a portfolio building course; you’ll get lots of tips and information and be able to meet with others doing professional registration and ask any questions you may have. Also make full use of your mentor as they can also be a huge support and give you lots of good advice. (You’ll be able to search for a mentor once you’ve registered for certification). My mentor was fantastic and read through what I’d done at various stages, gave an idea of where to start, what to do first, what to include, showed me examples of portfolios and just lots of advice and encouragement. Although I didn’t do this, it can be useful to have a mentor who is outside of your organisation. In terms of the amount of work it takes I do remember finding that it wasn’t totally a walk in the park. There was lots of figuring out how to demonstrate in a practical way that I met the criteria and deciding what documents I should include to show that I met it. My mentor was great here helping out with ideas about what evidence to put in. A lot of it is just really thinking about what you already do/have done and then deciding the best way to show this.

The next bit that took me ages was putting the whole thing together and writing the evaluative statement, with the emphasis very much on evaluative. If you’re not used to it the reflective/evaluative writing can be something that takes a while to get the hang of, not just saying what you do but why you do it, how you feel about it, what you’ve learned from it, what you’ll do next time. Something else that took up a lot of time and effort was actually doing/attending things. I probably went a little bit OTT with doing online learning and going to library events and didn’t need to do half as much (here’s where looking at what you already do or have done is very important) and partly I did it just because I got super motivated and engaged with the library community as a whole and enjoyed that. I found it really useful to be able to demonstrate a wide range of CPD experiences including online courses, unconferences, training events at work etc.

Even though it did involve a fair bit of work, the great thing about doing certification is that it is very, very flexible and can be slotted in around work and other responsibilities in your life. I don’t think there’s a time limit to it either so you can take your time to get it all together. A good tip is to start collecting evidence as soon as you can and start writing reflectively and save all this stuff up ready. So when you go on a training course at work, perhaps write a little paragraph about what you learned and how you’ll use it and file that away; keep copies of all your certificates earned; if you go to an event keep a copy of any notes that you make; if you learn something new at work from a colleague make an evaluative note about that and save it; then when you come to assembling your portfolio you can choose the things that best meet the criteria and include those. Once you submit your work it goes to the professional registration and accreditation board, it can take a couple of months but then you will be notified of their decision by email and all being well you’ll be able to use the post-nominals ACLIP woo-hoo!

Until recently I’d given up on the idea of doing a postgraduate qualification in librarianship and was concentrating on continuing with professional registration with CILIP and going for MCLIP chartership. But if you do want to do a postgrad. you could go for it and do a full-time course if you can afford it or you could opt for a part-time or distance learning course although these are still expensive. The only way I’ve found that looks like it might work for me is a distance learning MLIS through the University of Boras in Sweden, and I found out about it by reading Steve’s experience of it. EU students do not have to pay tuition fees. The course is mostly online although there are a couple of residential periods in Sweden to go to. It’s quite flexible so I’m hoping to be able to pace it so that it’s manageable around my other responsibilities. It’s not accredited by CILIP but they’ve advised me that the qualification is recognised as the equivalent of a masters in the UK. If it all works out OK I’ll study the course online over two to four years and afterwards I’ll apply for MCLIP chartership with CILIP, so I’ll be collecting evidence for this in the meantime too. I planned to do chartership anyway after ACLIP but hopefully the MLIS will be a bit of an extra boost. There are also a lot of other cpd options you can do online or outside of work time such as library camps, online courses, MOOCs, webinars, twitter chats and other meetups.

Another tip I’d give is to get connected to others in the profession, and not just people in your workplace. Follow people on Twitter, go to Library Camps or CILIP events and meet people outside of the organisation you work for. I’ve found this really motivating and useful and a great way of staying up to date with what’s happening in the profession in general. I also think you have to be unafraid to promote your skills and experience and show that the route you’ve taken has a lot to show for it, not least in requiring flexibility, creativity and self-determination. I guess there’s never really one way that’s the right way for everyone, but take whatever opportunities you can, be as aware as you can of all the options, and just make your own way.

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