Friday, 20 June 2014

Maintaining standards.

In my previous post, I alluded to an inconsistency in professional standards across the industry. Part of this is naturally due to contextual differences in practice across the sectors. However, in an ever-changing information society, there is also the issue of continuing professional development. How do we keep up with the changes and ensure that our practicise live up to professional standards as times change?

Our professional qualifications are accredited by the Australian Library and Information Association, who regularly assess librarianship courses to ensure that they are up to date. Graduates are able to become Associate Members of ALIA; professionally endorsed to practice in the industry. However, it doesn't stop there. Members who continue to regularly engage in professional development activities can become Certified Professionals. This means that if somebody graduated as a librarian 20 years ago, their CP status can show that their skills and knowledge are valid industry.

Continuing PD Is not a new concept - we all know that chartered accountants, nurses and teachers need to do it - it's mandatory - and it's something that is essential to maintaining professional standards and knowledge in thise fields. And yet, it's still very much underrated in the library and information industry. The librarians I know who do it are very much in the minority.

Why? Allow me to speculate, in list form, on some of the common excuses:

1. Employers don't demand it. In fact, I have yet to see a job description that indicates any value attachment to an applicant who has undergone CPD.

2. It requires ALIA membership, which costs quite a bit of money. Whilst most employers require their librarians to be eligible for ALIA membership, i.e. they've done the accredited course, professional membership itself is not required. (The argument for membership is another post for another day...)

3. Many don't see the point in spending hours of their own time engaged in irrelevant PD when they already know how to do their job by doing their job

4. Getting involved in CPD just reminds them of the things they wished they'd be doing, if only hey had more resources / funding / permission from their boss.

5. There is skepticism as to whether CPD is actually necessary to maintain professional standards. I mean, it's all about upholding principles, right? Those don't change, and we can learn new technology on the job as the work necessitates it.

Of course, it really comes down to two questions:

1. Do I have to?

2. What's in it for me?

The government has legally mandated requirements for their teachers to maintain their registration with VIT (though not their librarians, who do not need to be accredited with ALIA either). They have to do it, and also pay their substantial VIT registration fees.

I know this is a controversial idea, but if our governments were to make ALIA CP membership compulsory for all practising library and information professionals, then this would work to raise the professional esteem and profile of librarians in the industry. It might even force the sticks-in-the-mud to shape up or find their cosy retirement job somewhere else.

This, of course will never happen.

It would be nice to see employers put CPD on their selection criteria, but it seems that whilst the job market is difficult, they still insist on casting a wide net, and wouldn't want to filter out potential quality by restricting the pool to the few who have actually done the CP scheme.

So, how about incentives? Perhaps if ALIA were to offer their certified professionals with a discount on their associate membership, or to conferences?

That said, my feeling at the end of the day is that continuing PD is its own reward, and it will only benefit those who actually want to do it - making it compulsory won't necessary improve the situation, and discount incentives such as those suggested will only be used by those who were already going to be members / attend conferences anyway.

So, what's the solution?