Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Real Deal? Continuing Education Certification Project

In an era where "keeping up" has become part of daily life, the idea of certification to validate such efforts has increasing appeal. In May of 2011, the leaders of the Alberta pilot for a continuing education certification program announced that they were planning to expand the project to the national level.   The idea was spawned from the notion that the library community needed a way to document and articulate their continuous efforts in lifelong learning.  Following the lead of the Australian Library and Information Association‟s Continuing Professional Development Scheme , the Alberta pilot determined that their program must be flexible, inclusive, inexpensive, participant-centred, simple, and portable.  These are all very admirable guiding principles but it is deployment where success is critical.

A few concerns over this proposal spring to mind:

1. There is a recommendation in the April 2011 report (Document Reveal) "That the Certification program should be connected more closely with the Education Institute‟s offerings." While there is nothing wrong with supporting the efforts of the Education Institute, such a credentialling program needs to consider its relationship with other organizations and institutions that may offer continuing education opportunities. In doing so, the certification process can be more seamless and more inclusive. This would enhance the experience of the certification candidate by giving them a broader range of access and information about how they can utilize or find formal continuing educational opportunities.

2. Having read the report and participated in an information session at the Canadian Library Association conference in May 2011, I see no mention of an auditing process for certificate candidates. Candidates simply complete their shopping list of professional development activities, submit their paperwork and, having completed the necessary units of time, get "certified". Where is the enforcement? The authority of monitoring compliance?  ALIA's program has an audit process and while it only randomly examines 10% of participating members, there is still a process.  Indeed, even this process is lacking in that it is not likely to have parity with other professions where compliance and auditing is far more robust.  A brief scan of LISTA and Academic Premier databses suggests that there is room for more research into the effectiveness and perception of existing certification programs in the field.

3. Cost. The pilot project cost for participants was around the 30 dollar mark but presenters at the CLA conference admitted that they did not know how this cost actually relates to the cost of a nationwide program and whether this fee reflects any reality for a self-sustaining program. This is a HUGE concern. Presenters were unaware of a similar project, directed at only library support staff, in the United States. The Library Support Staff Certification Program is $350 for non ALA members and $325 for ALA members. Granted, the programs are not precisely the same, it is clear that the cost of a certification program are not insubstantial. If a program has high regard and benefits participants greatly, people will pay. However, if there is no audit process or anyone evaluating the quality and scope of professional development that is submitted, what value would a credential have?

4.  The respondents and particpants of the pilot project were fairly small samples with only 13 participants completing the final survey and only 56 participants in total.  The motivations for participant involvement could have been more fully investigated as this might help in our understanding of who participated and why.  In turn, this would aid in understanding participant comments more fully.  In addition, more work needs to be done with stakeholders who are positioned to encourage certification including employers, boards and educational instutions that educate and train library workers.  In this way, such a program can be more fully developed.

Certification suggests a certain level of professional expertise, with standard competencies at its core.  In the effort to make such a process attractive to library workers, there is a risk of diluting expectations to a point where the certifcation holds little tangible value.  While it is helpful for library professionals to document their professional development activities, from reading to formal coursework, certification must have clearly laid out competencies and standards and a review process that ensures candidates are meeting a minimum level of proficiency. 

In the end, is a cheap certificate of continuing education a satisfactory aid in documenting the maintanence and acquisition of professional competencies? Is this just one more avenue that library professionals can take or will it be a defining tool for the Canadian industry? This is where the measured reflections of those in the information profession are important and necessary. Investigate, consider and comment.

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