RMARA: Recognition by your peers as having reached a key professional benchmark feels fantastic!

Chris Ash FCLIP RMARA is Senior Library & Archives Manager at Sandwell MBC Libraries & Archives. He is also the vice chair of CILIP’s Professional Registration Panel. Chris shares with us his career journey and thoughts on CPD and ARA professional registration.

After leaving school I set my sights on becoming a solicitor. While studying A-Levels, law degree and post-graduate diploma in legal practice, I took a Saturday assistant role at my local community library. This is where I discovered my passion for libraries, archives and museums, and eventually turned my career on its head and joined Birmingham Central Library as a reference librarian.

From 1993-2009 I worked for Birmingham Library Services in a wide variety of roles and developed subject specialisms. But it was my time in the local studies section of Central Library where I developed a deep passion for the history and heritage of Birmingham. I worked with the local studies and genealogical collections, maps, newspapers and the photography collection. I also contributed to the publication of several local history books on the area.

In 2009 I joined Sandwell MBC Libraries and Archives as their Community Library Manager, leading to a promotion to the role of Senior Library Manager in 2016. I also joined the Senior Leadership Team for the service with responsibilities for the management of Sandwell Central Library and as strategic lead for arts and culture.  In 2018 I became service lead for Sandwell Archives and continue to work in a hybrid public libraries and archives capacity.

How important a role has continuing professional development (CPD) played throughout your career?

Volunteering has formed a vital part of my CPD throughout my career. For over 10 years I volunteered as a company director and charitable trustee of Aston Manor Road Transport Museum in Birmingham. I managed historic vehicles and transport archives, and produced the museum’s first collections development policy. As a Board member, I contributed to decisions affecting all aspects of the museum’s service. These experiences developed a diverse range of new skills, without which I would not have been able to progress from reference librarian to community library manager so early in my career.

Professional networks play an important part in my CPD. The career knowledge and experience that you develop can make a real difference to the wider sector, bringing a reciprocal benefit professionally. For example, I am a Peer Reviewer for TNA Accreditation and I sit on the Chief Archivists in Local Government Group’s (CALGG) Executive Committee. This provides the opportunity to share my knowledge of performance frameworks and libraries, while deepening my understanding of the wider archive sector.

My membership of ARA and CILIP has introduced me to the value of competency frameworks as a means for continued professional development. I now use both the CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and the ARA competency framework to actively manage the direction of my career.  

Why did you apply for Registered Membership and how does it feel to have qualified?

It’s an absolutely amazing experience to have qualified. I was inspired by the ARA competency framework and could immediately see the value of it. Recognition by your peers as having reached a key professional benchmark feels fantastic.

I am passionate about professional registration. I’d moved sideways into archives management and I needed to assess my current knowledge and skills base. It has supported my personal growth and strengthened my self-confidence.

  • What aspects of the application process did you find challenging?

Demonstrating competencies in all three areas of the framework proved to be the biggest challenge. Having moved directly across into archives management, I found demonstrating process-based competencies to be difficult.

My first application was unsuccessful, but that provided the opportunity to learn from the assessor feedback letter. The letter also stressed the importance of reflective writing. I then re-submitted a successful application. My resubmitted application passed the assessment and, after comparing the content with my CILIP revalidation application (2021), the difference was dramatic- a real step change in the quality of my reflective writing.

This shows why professional registration is such an important tool for continued professional development.

  • What advice would you offer to others thinking of applying for professional registration?

Start by undertaking the self-assessment. This will help you understand where you are now and how you might want to develop.  Then familiarise yourself with the application process and start to map out a realistic schedule for writing your competency forms.  

There are two submission deadlines a year, so use them as a milestone to build your short, medium and long-term goals for your application. The process of building your application is dynamic, so momentum is key to submitting an application. You set your own schedule which makes everything  flexible enough to suit all circumstances.

I would also encourage all ARA members to consider the CPD Review, ARA’s peer-review service that offers constructive feedback on your professional development. It is a tremendous opportunity to gain an external perspective on your CPD, which will really give you a fresh perspective to your work.

For more information on ARA professional registration and CPD Review please contact chris.sheridan@archives.org.uk and visit https://archivesandrecords.smapply.io

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