FCLIP Feedback and advice

Now that have achieved FCLIP, I can pass on some of my hard-earned wisdom (such as it is) on how to avoid all the mistakes that I made and give yourself the best possible chance of getting your portfolio through the assessment board first time (unlike me…)

I have divided this into three areas: portfolio-specific advice, general advice, and advice for CILIP

Portfolio advice

  1. Critical evaluation: It’s not enough to say you’ve done an amazing thing and to provide evidence of it. You need to reflect on what you did, how it went and what you would do differently next time. Repeatedly. On multiple documents: your evaluative statement, your evidence (every single piece of it), the PKSB, your CV, your job description and through your supporting statements. If you’ve done Chartership recently (note I said recently i.e. in the last five years) you will already know this. Forget passive voice. You need to adopt the persona of a charismatic preacher convincing the congregation that you can heal their terminal illnesses simply by laying hands on them.
  2. Supporting letters: The handbook states that you need a minimum of two. Actually, the more letters you can get to prove your case and blow your trumpet on your behalf, the better. This should be explicitly stated in the guidelines. Ask everyone that had anything to do with anything in your portfolio. Those people will say extremely nice things about you. Their words are useful to refer to when you’re on your fifteenth go at doing your evaluative statement and you hate yourself, CILIP, all library workers (even the ones you vaguely like), anyone who already has FCLIP, and you wish you’d become a nail technician/writer/professional Sims player rather than a librarian
  3. Mentor: You need an FCLIP mentor – as in, you need someone that has been through FCLIP themselves, or at the very minimum has a proven track record of getting other people through it. I firmly believe that an MCLIP mentor (even a very experienced one) is NOT sufficiently equipped to know which areas to push in an FCLIP portfolio. I’m a Chartership mentor and I don’t think that I would have had the skills to support someone doing Fellowship before I went through the process myself. Moreover, I think that FCLIP mentors need more extensive training than MCLIP mentors and that they should refresh their training every 2-3 years.
  4. Evidence: You must link it to the PKSB and I mean by putting a paragraph at the top of every single bit of evidence stating explicitly which bits of the PKSB it supports, down to the numbers. So far, so Chartership. Additionally, you need to signpost the assessors and point out PRECISELY why this evidence matters. You also need to elevate the reflection so that it provides clear evidence of higher-level management and leadership thinking.
  5. Language: forget everything you’ve been told about not putting ‘I’ into stuff because there’s no I in team. In your FCLIP portfolio you are the supreme ruler of your realm. You did a thing? Great! You LED that thing. You’re an ADVOCATE! You’re a LEADER! You’re an INFLUENCER!. Modest people DO NOT ACHIEVE FCLIP. Even if you *are* modest by nature you must pretend that you’re an arrogant so-and-so. This is hard but there’s no way round it.

General advice

  1. It’s a selling job. You’re selling yourself and your skills to convince the assessors and the panel that you are worthy of FCLIP. It’s not enough to have done lots of innovative, interesting things. You have to tell them, through your portfolio, in glorious technicolour. Repeatedly. In self-glorifying language. Activate jazz hands, a chorus line and twenty-five tapdancing musical theatre stars WITH CANES AND TOP HATS singing at the very top of their lungs about your greatness.
  2. You need to be confident about your management and leadership skills: You need to demonstrate – repeatedly – that you have high-level management skills. Don’t assume the assessors will be able to read between the lines and see that you’re working at a significantly higher level than a Chartership candidate. You have to tell them repeatedly throughout your portfolio.
  3. It’s lonely: Some candidates set up FCLIP support groups and have find them extremely useful, but I know they wouldn’t work for me because they would enhance my already heightened feelings of inadequacy. Everyone I’ve spoken to has gone through a really difficult time with it and it does feel like you’re trying to navigate without a map. If you can’t face being part of an FCLIP group, perhaps buddy up with someone who already has already achieved Fellowship but isn’t your mentor, or with someone going through Chartership. Even if you just end up sending each other Gavin and Stacey gifs on Twitter.
  4. It’s emotional: someone said that to me early on and I was surprised. However, reflecting on your career and your journey pushes certain buttons. It forces you to go back and explore complicated unresolved feelings about projects that went wrong, significant achievements, and the reality of day-to-day working life over a period of time. It also reminds you of things that you’ve done that you completely forgot about. It’s an odd sort of professional therapy.
  5. You have to want it: I had two drivers pushing me towards FCLIP. It’s the last library-related qualification I plan to do, and I wanted to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far in my career and work out my next steps career-wise. I don’t think that I would have contemplated taking it on otherwise. You need your reasons and you need to be able to refer back to them when the going gets tough.
  6. You’re allowed to find it hard: I think it’s very dangerous for anyone to pretend that it’s a smooth process because it prevents others from sharing their fears and worries. FCLIP should not be easy. It’s a significant step up from MCLIP. It feels like you’re trying to free solo El Capitan at times and I worry that the step from one to the other is too high and that the expectations are disproportionate.

Advice for CILIP

All of the above plus:

  1. Mentor or tutor? I think the line is pretty blurred in professional registration and I don’t think it’s entirely helpful. A mentor advises and a tutor teaches. I needed both when I was putting my portfolio together. I’m not convinced that a one-day course or webinar teaches anyone how to support a candidate through FCLIP.
  2. The step (or rather, the sheer climb) between Chartership and Fellowship needs to be made clearer at the outset. The woolly expectations in the handbook don’t indicate how onerous it is in terms of time commitment and sheer mental and emotional effort.
  3. Make the processes and documentation clearer. The handbook is extremely woolly and there should be a separate FCLIP-specific version. There shouldn’t be a whole host of ‘Stuff you aren’t told but are somehow supposed to know’ hidden away. It’s not supposed to be a treasure hunt.

FCLIP – it’s all about the process, not the outcome

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.


Chartership and the KISS Principle

Over the last year or so, as more of my professional peers have started the Chartership process, I have noticed that it has developed a mystique that I don’t think existed when I did mine in 2007. I think that Chartership candidates are making a much bigger deal of it than they really need to. Granted, compiling the portfolio at the end is a bit time-consuming and it’s hard to get the tone of the Personal Evaluative Statement right initially, but actually it’s no more difficult intellectually than writing up your thoughts for an annual appraisal.

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about the Chartership process and in my role as mentor and as a concerned fellow professional I’d like to dispel some of the myths here*:

  1. 1.       “I don’t currently do enough to put into a Chartership portfolio”

Putting aside the fact that the people that have said that to me are practically running one aspect of the profession or another, everyone will have done enough development (either at work or externally) since they completed their qualification to make a decent attempt at a portfolio. I recently wrote my pre-appraisal review at work and was concerned that I hadn’t achieved as much as I had done the previous year. Six pages of bullet points later… My point is that unless you sit in a pit of your own filth day after day baiting celebrities on Twitter, you will have done things that you can put into a portfolio.

  1. 2.       “I’m not involved in enough committees”

Want to know how many committees I was involved in when I did my Chartership? None. Zero. Zilch. Well, I was on the Library Student Journal committee editorial board but that was online and I didn’t actually have to go and meet anyone. (Back then I was in denial about the whole librarian thing and didn’t want to fraternise with my peers). If you’re on a committee already – great! Put it in your portfolio. Don’t join something you don’t want to, or don’t feel comfortable with just to put it in your portfolio. You’ll end up resenting it.

  1. 3.       “Everyone does more CPD than me and I don’t measure up”

When pressed, these people admit to comparing themselves unfavourably to the Gods and Goddesses of library CPD. It’s a bit like taking up jogging and getting depressed a week later because you’re not matching Mo Farah’s PB for 5,000 metres. The average Joe (and in my case the very average Jo) cannot hope to emulate the great CPD feats of the few, but you can carve out your own niche. As long as your CPD methods work for you, who cares what everyone else is doing?

  1. 4.       “It’s all really woolly”.

Unlike everything you’ve done before, there isn’t a winning formula that will get you an A-Level or a degree. There isn’t a curriculum or a checklist. As someone that craves order and rules I found this a bit hard to get my head around to start with. However, I soon realised that within the parameters of the portfolio structure, I actually had a great deal of freedom to tailor my Chartership to what I actually needed to do to do my job better. So many people start a course and moan that it’s too generic, it doesn’t cater to their needs or it’s not applicable to their job. The beauty of Chartership is that it is what you make of it. It’s an opportunity for you to play teacher and set your own curriculum and who doesn’t have ambitions to be the master of their own universe?

  1. 5.        “I’m rubbish at reflective writing”

This whole reflective writing thing has a mythology all of its own. You aren’t aiming to become the next Aristotle here. I’m sure your philosophical meditations on the state of information seeking among the great unwashed are beautifully constructed nuggets of wisdom that will live on long after you’ve been reduced to a small pile of ashes but remember this: you’ve got 1,000 words to play with. If, for example, you have identified five development needs you’ve got 200 words for each section. You aren’t going to get much beyond a ‘When I did X I learnt Y and in future I would do Z’ approach and that’s perfectly fine. Save your meditations for a blog post.

This is all a very roundabout way of saying that people are making a much bigger deal of the Chartership process than they need to and once you’ve registered you just need to suck it up, stop whingeing and get on with it. Oh, and get someone to kick your arse occasionally, should you need it.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I have added my Chartership portfolio to LwL (see the tabs at the top of the page) for your delectation and amusement…

*These views are my own and are not endorsed by CILIP