Coiled measuring tape by xandert at

Credential Conflict

People who call themselves librarians often have master’s degree of library science (MLS) or an equivalent graduate degree.  People with MLS degrees sometimes say that people without them aren’t librarians I’ve got the MLS and threw in a law degree (J.D.) as well.  As my career has progressed, I have benefited from both experiences but there is little that I learned in library school or law school that is directly applicable to what I do now.  I see both degrees as an indicator of some knowledge, not a measure of someone’s particular abilities.  If you complete library school, you may or may not be any good as a librarian.  I’ve met some real duds with MLS degrees, and plenty of non-MLS folks who do fine as information professionals.

Some professional associations have tried to come up with credentialing options to help employers assess the value of their current or potential employees.  The problem with the MLS is that it isn’t a uniform standard and, once achieved, there is no ongoing measurement.  The American Association of Law Libraries created some core competencies, information professionals can look to the Special Libraries Association‘s competencies, and there are others.  Unlike a bar exam, though, competencies tend to be aspirational.  An AALL or SLA member hasn’t necessarily achieved those competencies.  They are useful for an individual focused on self-improvement but they don’t really create a baseline that all librarians meet.

I was interested in the AIIM Certified Information Professional because it created a specific measure.  It has the same issues as a bar exam has for lawyers.  It’s nowhere near as rigorous, I don’t mean to draw that comparison.  Not that I’ve ever taken a bar exam.  But the CIP exam is only 100 questions.  But at least it says that a person who passes the exam has met some standard.  The 3 year time limit on the exam, unless topped up with continuing education, means that there is some expectation that someone who has passed the exam is still current in their specialties.

After receiving a voucher for the test – it’s a paid exam, proctored by a private testing firm – I took and passed the exam.  I’m still waiting for a confirmation from AIIM but at least I have my score, certified by the testing center.  It felt rewarding to pass the exam but it didn’t make me less conflicted about the process.

I tend to be pretty hard on myself about my own knowledge or skills gaps.  I rub elbows with people who have deep knowledge in areas that I am very curious about but to which I have only rudimentary exposure.  At the same time, I have my own strengths.  My expectation was that the AIIM test would be more challenging, because I was aware of these gaps in my own knowledge and the test is intended to go both broad and deep.

In the end, I didn’t really do any preparation for it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think I needed to, but I scheduled my exam appointment and the time I’d allotted for prep – AIIM has a huge free video collection to help prepared – was eaten up by other projects or boiling pots and I just ran out of time.  And the test wasn’t as hard as I’d supposed.  It may be that I just have the depth in the right areas, or guess well.

I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  It is nice to take an exam and understand whether one has the requisite knowledge to pass it or not.  It’s also useful to have some measurement for information professionals / librarians to attempt so that they can confirm, in their own minds if not for the benefit of their employers, that they are current on their professional knowledge.

I’m unlikely to use the CIP designation (which I can’t use until I get official confirmation of my results) in any event.  It is a good first step but, for me, doesn’t persuade me that people who have passed the exam are necessarily more knowledgeable candidates or employees than those that don’t.  I’d encourage colleagues to take the exam as a way to ensure they haven’t become too silo’d in their skills or knowledge.  It will certainly make me more focused on getting the educational credit to maintain the slight momentum I’ve created by taking the exam.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.