I have – finally – submitted my CILIP Fellowship portfolio. I want to celebrate the effort I have put in to writing, pulling together and submitting the portfolio, rather than the achievement itself (if/when it comes.)
I did Chartership in 2007 when you had to submit three printed folders. Guided by my wonderful mentor Allison I wrote the portfolio when I was seven months pregnant with my twin girls. I don’t remember it being an onerous process: I gathered evidence, put together a statement, pulled the portfolios together and posted the cumbersome package off to CILIP. I found out I’d achieved Chartership when my twins were a month old.
As revalidation is optional I didn’t bother doing it until 2016. I *meant* to do it every year but I was distracted by, variously: parenting small twins, building and running a library, having an early mid-life crisis and re-training to be a sport psychologist, dealing with health issues, wider family crises, bereavements and, finally, being ill.
By the time I got around to revalidating everything was done on the VLE and felt like a bit of a dark art. Part of the process seemed to be figuring out how to use the system, but revalidation itself was straightforward. I updated the CPD log, put together my statement, and submitted. I revalidated on three successive occasions. The easiest Revalidation I did was the year I was off work for a significant period.
I registered for Fellowship in February 2017. I’d let go of my professional networks when I was unwell and felt disconnected. I won a bursary to attend the CILIP Conference in Manchester. During the drinks reception I got chatting to Juanita and Jo from CILIP. They were both really encouraging and as she had successfully navigated the process recently, Juanita was able to offer lots of advice. She gave me a list of things that I could do, including completing the initial PKSB which I duly did.
I decided to record some interviews with library workers from other sectors to include in my – at this stage mythical – FCLIP portfolio as evidence of wider professional involvement, which became the Librarians with Lives podcast. I whinged about FCLIP. Barbara Band contacted me on Twitter and offered to be my mentor. Using the PKSB I created an incredibly detailed and highly pointless spreadsheet matching the areas for development with things I was doing/had done. Barbara came to meet me in April 2018, gave me a load of useful advice and I vowed to crack on.
I tried to write the evaluative statement on several occasions but had to deal with the tyranny of the blank page. My friend George offered her assistance. In September 2018 we sat in a café and she typed while I told her stuff. It was mostly her saying ‘You did X. How did you do that?’ and me replying ‘I don’t know. I just did it’ and her sighing and writing something coherent. Several hours later we’d put together version 1 of my evaluative statement. I pulled my portfolio together on the VLE. Barbara came back with a comprehensive list of questions, changes, corrections and suggested amendments.
After that I couldn’t face looking at the portfolio for another two months. In the interim I spoke at seven professional events in six weeks where I riffed on my lack of Fellowship progress. It became a sad joke that my speaker bio always said: ‘Jo is currently working towards CILIP Fellowship’. At CILIPS Autumn Gathering two people – separately – came up to me after my talk, gently asked if I was ok and told me that I didn’t *have* do FCLIP now if I wasn’t feeling well enough. At the HMC Librarians Conference one of the attendees, the wonderful Kate, came up to me after my workshop and asked ‘What’s stopping you pressing the submit button?’ I explained that my portfolio was awful. She kindly said that I could send her the draft evaluative statement and she would offer some advice.
In November 2018 I met with my line manager and asked him to write FCLIP into my workplan. I booked a meeting room, removed all distractions and set to work on version 2 of the portfolio. Kate gave me loads of useful advice: ‘This is too descriptive’ ‘Stop telling the story’ ‘What was the result of this?’ ‘Stop wasting words’. The statement went backwards and forward between us several times. I had a complete break over the Christmas period and decided to tackle it again in January. I went through the changes that Kate had suggested to versions 3 and 4 of the statement and once I was happy I updated the portfolio. Barbara came back with some more suggestions and now my portfolio is worthy of submission.
The evaluative statement is unrecognisable from the version that George and I put together in September. I think two partial sentences have made it all the way from versions 1 to 5. The process of writing the evaluative statement has been complicated by the fact that I tend towards the negative and am harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’m also bad at owning work-based achievements so my inclination is to say ‘we’ or depersonalise. Apparently, I’m unusual because I found writing the wider professional context and organisational context sections easier than the personal section. The latter has been subject to the most changes during the five versions of the statement. I’m now ready to let the assessors pull the portfolio apart and give their verdict.
Achieving FCLIP won’t give me anything particularly tangible. I’ll get some extra letters after my name and a nice certificate. My colleagues will get cake. I won’t earn any more money for having it. However, it’s likely to be the last academic endeavour I’ll ever complete. For years I kept going back to academia in a fruitless effort to become the cleverest person in the room. I know now that I don’t need to chase qualifications to prove my worth (to myself) as a person.
Submitting FCLIP also marks the culmination of my ‘comeback’, as it were. In 2016 I was convinced that I was done with librarianship. I couldn’t see how I could ever return to work and be the same as I was before I was ill. I can’t begin to describe how frightening it is to go from being able to write library strategy papers and academic essays to becoming incapable of writing a simple email and then to slowly, slowly recover enough to get myself to a point where I could even contemplate doing Fellowship.
Nothing I do is achieved in isolation. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazing people. Glenn and our girls at home for giving me the rounded life I badly need. Matt for being my second brain and the other half of TGLTTWHES. Richard for being the line manager I need (and writing one of the supporting statements for my portfolio), and many other brilliant colleagues at work. Helen, Jo and Juanita at CILIP for kicking it all off. George for helping me write version 1 of the evaluative statement and for tolerating me sending her #FCKFCLIP when she asked me how it was going on Whatsapp. Barbara for taking me on as a mentee and guiding me through the process. Kate for the advice and support. Anyone that’s ever had anything to do with Librarians with Lives. My Library Twitter crowd.
I’m not saying that the outcome is completely irrelevant – I’ll definitely feel down if I fail or if I am asked to make significant changes to the portfolio. However, I think we’re too quick to dismiss the process and focus on the end product. FCLIP has been significantly harder than I ever imagined it would be when I enrolled. At some stage I’ll write something about my opinions on FCLIP itself and I’ll attempt to offer some advice to those thinking of doing, or embarking on the Fellowship journey. For now I’ll just bask in the fact that I have Finally Submitted The Damn Thing.