I’ve just written a post for the SLA blog (in my role as candidate for board of directors), about what being a member of SLA has done for me, personally and professionally. In, it, I said:

Winning an SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA), attending conference, and working with the SLA Europe board made a huge difference to how I viewed professional associations. Before this, I’d thought along the lines of ‘what can my professional association do for me?’. My gratitude for all SLA and its members had done for me in my ECCA experience flipped this to ‘what can I do for my professional association?’.

This made me think of this post by Emily Wheeler. Emily’s main point is about CILIP’s current fee structure, and how unfair it seems that the membership bands stop at £17,501, and that everyone over this pays the same (which I totally agree with – but, with my new ‘thinking about things on an association-level’ hat on, I’d suggest that before any changes are suggested to the current fee band structure, CILIP would need to do a salary survey, and work out how many members they have in various bands over £17,501 (eg £25k+, £30k+), and how much a rise in fees for these bands could sustain a reduction in fees in lower-bands, while not producing a drop in overall membership income. So while I do think it needs to change, I don’t think it’s a particularly quick job).

As part of thinking about the fee structure, the question arises of ‘what do you get for your money?’, and Emily rightly points out:

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.

Now, I agree with Emily, and I started nodding in agreement, thinking how lucky I was that I was able to be involved with these things – and then realised that, although my work and personal circumstances would allow me to be, I’m actually not involved in any of these things for CILIP. Serving on the Future Skills project board is my only CILIP committee work. I’ve never been to a CILIP conference that I haven’t been speaking or working at. I’m a Chartership mentor, but this is done remotely, and takes less than an hour a month.

I have got benefits from all of these, it’s true, but none of them are why I’m a CILIP member, though I guess the mentoring comes closest. It’s hard to define, but I guess I’m a CILIP member because it feels like my professional responsibility to be. I’m lucky enough to have the time and the money to afford CILIP membership and involvement. I’m one of those fortunate souls who would be moved into a higher bracket come a fee restructure – and, entirely honestly, I wouldn’t mind, especially if it would mean I was paying the same proportion of my salary as someone on a lower wage.

And what do I want to get for my money? Well, I don’t mind at all if the only concrete return I get for my membership is access to Update and the right to use the postnominals MCLIP. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t even get that, or anything – as long as I felt that CILIP were using my membership fees for the greater good, to support other professionals and further the cause of library and information provision in the UK.

Let’s just take one small ‘for instance’ from some of the stuff CILIP does to support individual professionals and their development. CILIP often covers the expenses of invited speakers at its events. Do I want my membership fees to be used to enable someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend and present? To help them share their knowledge and gain professional experience? Absolutely! Do I want my membership fees to be used by special interest groups to offer bursaries to those who can’t afford to attend events? Yes! Do I want my fees to be used to help underwrite the cost of providing training and events for Chartership candidates? And providing access to free careers advice for those who need it? And access to journals and databases for those who don’t have access through their employer? Yes, yes, yes! I can’t reach out and help each of those members who need it individually – but I can help CILIP provide services which support them all.

In short, I’m a CILIP member for the same reasons I’m a member of my union: because I believe in (most of) what they do, and how they help people who need it. I don’t (and may never) need that help myself, but I’m very happy to help those who do, and help to provide a strong voice to say ‘We stand for this. We care.’

Of course, you may disagree that CILIP adequately supports and promotes the profession. That’s absolutely your right to believe so. And I know that I am very lucky to be able to make this kind of idealogical investment, and I’m not out to chastise or castigate anyone for not doing so. But I do believe that we are, at heart, a profession which is about providing support where it is needed, and membership of professional associations is one way for me to do that.

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