Voluntarily confused

Jennie Findlay and Lorna Robertson are both experienced information professionals, working in the legal sector, and have been active members of CILIP for a substantial period of time.


As background to this post we are both Chartered and revalidated members of CILIP, active mentors and one of us volunteered with the Career Development Group for 10 years.

One of us wrote a blog post on the problems they had encountered with using the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment in December 2013. In February 2014, they wrote another post about the issues they felt are caused by a professional qualification system being run almost entirely by volunteers. In March, we both attended an “exchange of experience” session, discussing the VLE and the mentoring system with other mentors. Following on from that event, we have continued to have worries about how the new Body of Professional Knowledge systems are being run and supported, and we are not alone. Our concerns are shared by other information professionals, and this concern has motivated us to co-write this post.


Current Problems

Volunteer Sign
Volunteer sign.
(Image c/o Jacob Moyer on Flickr.)

A core purpose of a professional body is enabling its members to act as competent and ethical professionals, and to do this it means that the body should be providing professional training to those members to fulfil those needs. However, at present most training provided by CILIP is carried out by volunteers in the branches and groups.It may be that CILIP members are often not aware that the people running training events in their local areas are not actually paid CILIP staff, but volunteers, usually fitting in these commitments around their own jobs. The expectations of attendees are that communications relating to events will be prioritised, and our experience is that they can often become annoyed when they do not get what they perceive to be an efficient or rapid response. There can also be issues when the training is being provided by inexperienced staff: the information being given can be inaccurate, and confusing. We ourselves have experienced this recently, when attending a demonstration of the VLE, given by volunteers. The information given at this event was inaccurate, or conflicted with the information given in the formal training provided directly by CILIP via a WebEx demonstration.

Participation in the Certification/Chartership/Revalidation/Fellowship system is currently voluntary. If and when involvement becomes obligatory (as is proposed), this will be an even greater burden on the current mentors, trainers, support officers and assessors. Can a system such as this, which will be a core component of the benefit of CILIP membership, be implemented effectively by volunteers when every member is expected to participate in it?

We were informed during the recent event that we attended that CILIP is trying to sell the PKSB “package” to other professional bodies. This in itself is not an issue: it is obviously going to be a priority of CILIP to get the maximum value for the members from its assets. However, it would be interesting to know whether they are selling the PKSB system as one which will need salaried staff to run, or whether they are promoting it as a volunteer based system?

Volunteers are not compensated or recognised for their contributions to the running of their professional body. There are many people involved in the activities that CILIP provide: people running social events, training events, providing mentoring support, and assessing professional qualification submissions. We were quoted a figure of 650 people who were currently registered as mentors – that is a LOT of people supporting the mentoring system alone. It seems unfair that those people are having to pay one of the highest membership fees in the information professional field, in order to give their time and skills to run core CILIP services and member benefits.

There is currently also a worryingly high level of confusion in communications coming from CILIP. It can be hard to differentiate between emails from groups, branches and CILIP, and the different areas don’t always give the same advice. Information which comes from volunteers in the groups can be inconsistent, for example information on what areas in the VLE mentors should be able to access, from MSOs. Or are just wrong – one author recently got an email telling them to select a new group as the Career Development Group no longer exists but they had already changed groups in December so they were no longer in the CDG. This confusion and inconsistency in the provision of basic information undermines members confidence in their professional body.


Other Professional Bodies

So, are the professional qualifications schemes of other professional bodies run by volunteers too? We had a quick (non-comprehensive) look to see who else expects their members to volunteer to provide CPD opportunities or run core events for other members.

  • The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) system. The APC appears to be a work based, long-term qualification similar to an apprenticeship, which expects an applicant’s line manager to oversee the process. They have an event management team to run training. There appear to be no volunteers involved in events.
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants has a CA qualification system. Similar to RICS, it’s a modern type of apprenticeship, with skills being developed and assessed within a role. There is a virtual mentoring system being introduced, but with no element of professional assessment. It appears that they have a “Member Engagement” team.
  • The Royal Pharmaceutical Society appears to have a mentoring scheme, which is undergoing redevelopment but it doesn’t look like there’s currently any element of professional assessment within it. It appears that they have an Events team.

It’s quite hard to compare systems, as CILIP needs to have a wide-ranging professional qualification system in order to encompass the wide variety of membership sectors, rather than the very specific and often intensive employment-based qualifications system some other bodies run. Also, most professional bodies tend to protect information by placing it within member-only areas, so some materials such as the specific details of training provision by the body are inaccessible to non-members.However, it appears from looking at CILIP’s website in a comparable way, that a significant proportion of events and professional visits/CPD are currently being provided by volunteers. In May, there are 3 official CILIP events, and 13 branch/group events (http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/events-calendar), and in June, there are 2 CILIP events, and 14 branch/group events. Knowing from personal experience that group events are run by volunteers and branch events may have support from local volunteers, this means that volunteers are providing five to six times the number of professional events that CILIP as a body provides. It also appears that the professional training that CILIP provides beyond this is organised by CILIP staff, although it is unclear if this is at an additional cost to recipients. In terms of the mentoring system, the website shows that the Professional Registration system requires the involvement of mentors/Candidate Support Officers, but does not explicitly state that those individuals are volunteers.



There needs to be greater clarity and publicity from CILIP around the fact that most of its member benefits are actually being provided by volunteers, and as such, the expectations of participants in such events must be lowered. This includes in respect of the time the organisers have available to respond to them, and the speed at which any queries can be dealt with.

Event organisation and management should rely less heavily on the work of volunteers. For a professional body to expect people to pay membership fees, and then to have events which should be a core membership benefit being run by people who have effectively paid for the privilege of providing a service to their professional body, is not acceptable.

If CILIP is going to introduce a compulsory element to the professional qualifications system, they need to assess whether continuing to run it through the efforts of volunteers is still appropriate, or whether they need to recruit for a level of staffing which will make it possible to support the system full time. If providing staffing to run the system is unachievable, they need to take a closer look at the role of volunteers within the system, and how to maintain their engagement and involvement with it.

Many volunteers give up huge amounts of their own free time to CILIP to provide services to members (10 days+ of annual leave per year for a couple of years for one of the authors) but this is unsustainable for any length of time, especially without “reward” or thanks of some sort. A system of reducing the steep membership fees in relation to the time spent working for CILIP should be achievable, with a bit of effort, and would act as a reward for the voluntary contribution of time and energy of the member. Activities which should trigger a reduction could be: being a mentor; being on a committee/board (although there is difficulty involved with assessing the level of activity there – some people join committees but don’t actually contribute); being an assessor; being a Mentor Support Officer etc. Having a system to enable members to be recognised and rewarded for the time and effort they give to CILIP would encourage these volunteers to retain their enthusiasm to support the system, particularly when revalidation becomes obligatory in the near future. Otherwise, as the demands on volunteers increase, the number of those willing to participate in supporting the system may well drop.


The public position of CILIP on volunteers

Another element of CILIP’s reliance on volunteers to run its services is its effect on the public and political view of the body. CILIP is, as of June 2012, officially on record as being opposed to the use of volunteers to deliver core services in libraries: “We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery”. However, it could be argued that by using volunteers itself to deliver its own core services to paying members, it is undermining its own stated position on the role of volunteers in core service provision. If our professional body is content to deliver its main services by using volunteers, what authority has it to say that others shouldn’t use volunteers too.


16 thoughts on “Voluntarily confused

  1. I trust this excellent piece is being sent to every member of CILIP Council, and to its Chief Executive.

    1. Thanks for your comment Charles and we are glad that you enjoyed the post! The administrators of Informed will not be sending this to CILIP as we want to maintain our position of neutrality. However, we will copy CILIP into tweets so that they are aware of the post and can respond through comments on the post, or however they see fit.

  2. Excellent piece. Sums up exactly why I have recently stepped down from being a chartership mentor and also being on a local committee.

  3. Well said. I hope CILIP responds to this in a positive way and addresses the points you raise so eloquently.

  4. Very good, thought-provoking post. I am both a mentor with first-hand experience of some of the contradictory information about the VLE you mention, and a Council member.
    I haven’t discussed this with fellow Council members, so can’t give an official line, but I have drawn Simon Edwards’ (Director of Professional Services) attention to it.

  5. I’m an expat member of CILIP who has not been involved to a great extent in a voluntary capacity but have been involved in my local association for a number of years. I think that you make a lot of very valid points, but I think that your assertion that the ‘main services’ of CILIP being provided by volunteers is throwing the baby out with the bathwater somewhat. What about:
    Journal and database subscriptions
    A newsletter edited and contributed to by CILIP employed journalists
    A VLE (even though it’s open source, it is presumably supported by CILIP staff)
    A CEO who has experience in the industry and who does media advocacy etc

    My local association doesn’t have any of these.

    Also I have found it really beneficial as an early-career professional to get involved in committees providing CPD, as I got a lot out of it as well as giving to it and I got experience that I may not have had a chance to get in my day to day job. I think that what’s really important is support for volunteers, as it’s easy to feel like you’re out on your own.

    Thank you again for a thought-provoking post.

  6. I absolutely agree with you – and it’s about time somebody said it!

    I spent several years as a CSO – organising & presenting (compulsory) Chartership events – I even had to buy/provide refreshments!

    Too much is provided by volunteers, which begs the question, what exactly are our membership fees used to pay for? We do not even get legal representation when things go wrong in the workplace (merely advice and a suggestion to contact our own Union).

    Furthermore, the majority of training courses are held in London – and are way to expensive for most of us to access . . . .

  7. Well said, very well said indeed. Sums up nicely my feelings/concerns about CILIP

  8. For my own part I enjoy giving something back to the profession and get great satisfaction from seeing someone develop or progress. I’ve helped many people obtain professional qualifications and even one or to get jobs or promotions. I don’t see my involvement in the profession as an encroachment on my personal time but as an opportunity to mix with the wider profession and to let others benefit from my experience. I think if you are going to join a professional body, you should be prepared to commit a certain amount of your own time and effort to the goals of that body. It’s not beyond anyone to undertake the 20 hours of CPD required in order to revalidate and much of this 20 hours could in fact be incorporated into existing work goals and appraisal objectives. If people are looking for recognition for their efforts then they must be prepared to invest something of themselves.

    1. Franko, thanks for your comment. Please note we are not against volunteering, both of us have given a lot of time to the profession in terms of committee work and we are both CILIP mentors. However we see CILIP as over-relying on volunteers to deliver core services.

      I am also in complete agreement with you that 20 hours for revalidation is very achievable; Jennie and I both revaildated at the start of this year and between us in 2013 we clocked up around 500 hours of CPD.

  9. I appreciate that it has been a few weeks after your post, but I want to thank you for this thought-provoking post which raises some interesting points about the value of volunteering for CILIP and the recognition of CILIP volunteers. This is a topic that CILIP had already begun to consider as part of the Future Skills Project and Branch and Group review and is now a key strand in our Membership Develop Initiative; an internal project which is addressing how we recruit, retain and re-engage members. Please keep your eye out in Update for more on this.

    In considering the blog, I think it is contextually important to note this definition of volunteering as defined by NCVO:

    “We define volunteering as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual. This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation”

    I also felt it would be worth highlighting some additional points that are intended to provide balance to the views expressed in the post:
    • CILIP regularly meets with counterparts in other associations/bodies and can assure you that they all use volunteers as a key part of their delivery mechanism; particularly as mentors, assessors and running member networks. We are no different.
    • Professional Registration events are usually supported by either a member of the CILIP team and/or a member of the Professional Registration and Accreditation Board.
    • The introduction of the Professional Registration Support Network (part of the CPD Forum) and the new post of Development Officer (Member Support) will help remove inconsistencies in the information available about Professional Registration.
    • Whilst it is true that volunteers have to fit this training around their day jobs, those delivering the training are competent individuals and professionals. Just because training is being run by volunteers does not suggest that it should be any less professional than any other training.
    • Key training related to Professional Registration is now free; this includes the session for mentors on CILIP regulations.
    • CILIP are only seeking to make Revalidation obligatory. Revalidation does not require any mentor support and the assessment process is far less onerous than Certification, Chartership and Fellowship.
    • When we looked at the re-design of Professional Registration we completed a full analysis of comparator bodies and found that whilst some paid for assessors for qualifications, this generally means contracting at considerable expense which is passed onto members. In addition, there is a huge amount of value in being assessed by peers.
    • It is valuable to make comparisons with other professional bodies, but it should be noted that (RICS) has subscription fees ranging from £115-£607 pa and charges £500 for APC. This significantly more than professional registration. Any Professional Body charging that much per member would be able to do more and significantly raising fees to that sort of level is not something that CILIP is willing to do.
    • Using volunteers to deliver core services within the member support framework does not undermine CILIP’s position in the wider political environment. It is unrealistic to expect all the core services of a professional body to be run by paid staff.
    • CILIP are licensing the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base self-assessment tool to other Library, Information and Knowledge Management associations. This does not require any volunteer support from UK members.

    Finally, we are happy to hear from any members who wish to collaborate with CILIP to improve the services and support to them and their peers. We aim to be an open and engaged professional body, willing to listen to and react to the needs of our members. This can only be done if members work with us and we welcome any to contact us directly at memberservices@cilip.org.uk in order to discuss where improvements can be made, or just to clarify information.

    Simon Edwards, Director of Professional Services, CILIP

  10. From the response on behalf of CILIP above, although I feel that many of the points are adequately addressed, there still seems to be no consideration of the issue of retaining/rewarding volunteers for doing voluntary work, and making it clearer to members which activities are being run by volunteers. Without some sort of reward or recognition for those volunteers, the whole structure which they support remains at risk.

    Personally, I have decided to cease any mentoring activities once my current mentee has submitted her Chartership application – I am tired of effectively paying in both time and money, to run one of my professional body’s core services. It’s not a decision I made lightly, as I enjoy mentoring, and being able to assist others to develop their professional skills, but it is also a demanding activity. It needs the involvement of someone who feels able to be enthusiastic and supportive of the system that they’re part of. Right now, I’m not that person.

    1. I echo everything Jennie says in this comment. For exactly the same reasons, I have stopped being a chartership mentor and have stepped down from being on a local group committee. I have decided to channel my energies into researching and publishing on key areas of library and information practice that concern me. I feel the rewards for me and the impact generally for the profession are much greater in this arena.

    2. Jennie Findlay, recipient of the award of CILIP Mentor of the Year, decides to pack in being a CILIP mentor because, as I understand it, of a lack of perceived support from CILIP. CILIP now needs to think long and hard about how it treats its volunteers.

  11. Thank you to Simon for responding on behalf of CILIP and clearing up some of the issues we raised. I do agree with Jennie that some of our issues were not addressed and I am keen that CILIP do come back to us on these.

    As for my future in CILIP, in the past couple of years I’ve only remained a member to hold on to my chartered status but as this is not at all valued in the law firm sector and I get much more relevant support from the Scottish Law Librarians Group and the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians I am seriously reconsidering. Like Jennie I have a mentee currently going through the chartership process so I will remain a member until she charters; what happens at the AGM in September will probably be the deciding factor for me. I’ve been a member since 1993 so this will not be a decision made on a whim.

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