Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Things 10 & 11: Chartership and Mentoring

As I mentioned in my previous post, once time passes the names of institutions and other things change. My experience of chartership was through the Library Association (now CILIP) and I became an ALA (which sounds more elegant than MCLIP!)

It is not only the name which has changed. In the 1980s the path to chartership was (having completed a first degree, a year's traineeship and a year's postgraduate course at library school) = one year as a Pre-Licentiate, under the supervision of a chartered librarian, following an approved programme at the candidate's workplace, including a variety of experience, visits to other libraries and sessions on professional issues (all of which required the cooperation and participation of the employer). At the end of this year you received an enormous certificate declaring you to be a Licentiate of the Library Association, and you then had to do a further two years, again under the supervision of a chartered librarian, during which time you completed your professional development report demonstrating what you had learned and all the exciting professional things you had done. So, if you're still with me, that was a minimum of eight years from leaving school to chartered librarianship, assuming nothing going wrong or taking longer at any point, rather like training to be a junior doctor but with a small fraction of the salary at the end of it. The scheme was no doubt devised with the best intentions to provide a framework for training and development to take the place of the old Library Association examinations. It took no account of the economic situation of the time, in which jobs on what could be regarded as professional scales were few and far between, qualified librarians were suddenly widely being employed on clerical scales in universities, and training budgets were for sending chief librarians to IFLA.

My period of unemployment on leaving library school lasted for three months, which was not bad at all for the time. I got a job, not, alas, in Oxford after all, but at the LSE (London School of Economics), advertised as a "training post". As a training post it was on a clerical scale, and it turned out to mean a cheap way of getting cataloguers. I hadn't intended to become a cataloguer: I was happy enough to do cataloguing, but I really wanted the sort of post which was rapidly disappearing, the subject librarian who did the cataloguing for their own subject. Two other new librarians were appointed at the same time, and with two recently qualified librarians already on the staff we embarked on the pre-licentiate year as a group of five, which gave us a bit of a numerical advantage in asking for our employer's support. We got used to being referred to as "the pre-licentiates" (which sounded rather dubious).

Our training sessions and occasional trips to other libraries were not viewed with favour by existing staff who had not had any of this: we eyed their academic-related grades with envy and wondered what they were complaining about. The change from academic-related posts to clerical-related was so recent that we were working alongside people not much older than us who were on the higher scale, and the University of London in general being (then, at least) quite hierarchical this was about more than money: there were places which they were allowed to eat in and we were not, and they even got longer library loans. I am glad things seem to be so different for new professionals now (all those conferences they seem to get to!) At the end of the year I got my Licentiateship: I still have the huge certificate embellished with fancy calligraphy. It must be the most short-lived and least useful qualification I ever obtained, but it is pretty!

The problems with the LA scheme became more apparent after this stage, as the two year period to chartership was less well defined. Rumours of cataloguers across the University of London having their reports rejected for lack of professional activity began to emerge, but how was anyone supposed to get this experience in such an economic climate? Our employers saw us as clerical staff, even though they asked for all the usual qualifications; we were not going to be on internal working groups or attending external events. Our activity was confined to cataloguing, apart from late nights and Saturdays on issue and enquiry desks (for which we were under-trained and lacked experience, at times which could be very busy). The only way would have been some extra-curricular activity. Out of the five "pre-licentiates", I think I am the only one who did eventually both charter and remain a member of the LA (CILIP), but I was disillusioned and did not rush to add to the reject pile. I explored other options (it's a long story, so I'm skipping most of it) and moved from the LSE to Westminster Libraries as a reference librarian.

This really was completely different, and although I had never set out planning to work in public libraries my six years there were very good grounding in librarianship. While chartership was not essential for the post, there was an understanding that newish professionals would be working towards it, and it was not long before I was summoned to the office of a senior member of staff to report progress. She turned out to be a stalwart of the Library Association, heavily involved in training, and there was my mentor at last! She persuaded me that my previous experience was a valid part of my professional development and she pushed and pulled me through the process of chartership. Much to my surprise my report was accepted, I shed the unattractive "Licentiate" status, became an ALA and, the icing on the cake, it turned out that Westminster set such store by this that I was automatically upgraded on becoming chartered (which would not have happened in the university!) I did this about two years later than originally planned, and I don't think it would have happened without the extra push from my mentor. I have often considered becoming a mentor myself; I may do it one day, but I think I am too out of touch with current chartership procedures at the moment (hoping that younger CPD23ers will enlighten me with their thing 10 blogs!)

See some great pictures here of the LSE in the 1980s (including the library). They capture the atmosphere of the time very well. It is beginning to look like a long time ago!


  1. I think we may have overlapped at LSE although I'm not sure if I remember you - did you catalogue foreign language material? I left in 1984. Looking at those photos brought back some memories - especially the Library Mummers and Angela Raspin. I also thought the one of Brian Hunter was brilliant.
    I always though the Academic/clerical thing was at least as much about class as anything else, but maybe that's my chip showing!

  2. I was there Sept 1984-Sept 1986. I was the replacement for Diana who is in one of the photos. The one of Brian is brilliant, isn't it? There is also one of Norman Cadge in action in the 1970s set! I did do some foreign language (later on). I think the academic/clerical divide was to save money - it happened elsewhere too. The 1980s was not a good decade to start out in! I'm still in touch with some LSE colleagues and went back to see the new building a few years ago & met those who are still there (or were then).

  3. Hello Helen,
    fascinating post, thanks for this. I just missed the licentiate system so it's good to hear first hand experience.

    If you did want to become a mentor that would be wonderful, and part of the training would include an update on the current regulations. On the CILIP site there's some information on what's involved and when and where training is happening.