Archive for November, 2009

Why I will vote against the SLA name change

November 15, 2009

This may be a bit off topic, but since this is the Embedded Librarian blog, I’d like to share my views on the proposal to change the name of the Special Libraries Association to “Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals”, a change that will eliminate all forms of the word “library” from the name and dissociate the association from the profession of librarianship.

I’ve followed the communication and debate regarding the proposed name change from Special Libraries Association to Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals, and tried to understand the issues as best I could. I’ve concluded that I cannot vote for the name change.

I’ve concluded that above all, this is a debate about whether our Association will remain dedicated to the profession of librarianship or not. I think that if the name is changed, it will become – sooner or later – something else, to which some librarians may belong, but which no longer stands next to ALA, MLA, AALL, and other associations that represent the profession of librarianship. That is not the path I would like to see us travel.

I have heard several reasons for changing the name and breaking the identification of our Association with the profession of librarianship, and I don’t think they are valid. What I’ve heard is:

  • Our job titles are now diverse, as are our organizational and physical locations. Many of us don’t have “librarian” in our job titles, and we don’t work in traditional libraries.
  • The Alignment research tells us we must eliminate the words libraries or librarians from our association name.
  • We need a “bigger tent” as an association; we need to appeal to non-librarians and the “librarian” label is too confining.

Here are my thoughts:

  • We are an association of librarians. In my research (conducted with Mary Talley and sponsored by SLA), 84% of embedded librarians held an ALA-accredited Master’s degree. Nine percent held another library science degree or equivalent. While we can’t be sure that the percentages for the entire association are the same, my guess is that they are similar. Eliminating all forms of “library” from the name denies the fact of who we are.
  • The profession of Librarianship isn’t dependent on our job title, the box on the organization chart where our name is listed, or where our office is located. It’s based on shared competencies, interests, values and ethics. Most of us start to develop these shared traits by acquiring the Master’s degree, though I don’t believe the degree is required to develop them, or to take the professional label “librarian”. Many of us identify our profession as “librarian” even though we don’t have the word in our job title.
  • I have not been able to find specific research results that support the claim that we must abandon all forms of the word “library”. I have asked for these results and not received a meaningful response. From my reading of the research, the terms “special libraries” and “Special Libraries Association” were evaluated and found to be poorly understood and perceived. I’m not surprised by that. But that’s not justification for abandoning the word “library” altogether. We all know the stereotypes of librarians, and we know that there’s little truth to them now – if there ever was. I think we should make common cause with others who are working to dispel them – not run away from the profession.
  • Librarianship is a “big tent” – and we need to make it bigger. The profession is open to all who share our competencies, interests, values and ethics. The whole profession is undergoing dramatic changes and I see positive examples in all sectors. All librarians need the alignment leadership that our Association is providing through research, professional development, and peer to peer collaboration. Now is not the time to abandon librarianship, now is the time to expand it. We should welcome all who share the ideals, interests, and competencies of librarians, and encourage them to call themselves librarians too. We should educate executives about why they need to hire and promote librarians. But we will not be able to do that if we abandon the term “library” in some form.

I hope that our Association can move ahead and find a new name that affirms our role in the profession of Librarianship while eliminating the confusion that the term “special libraries” creates. Like other professional associations, we should adopt a new name that proudly proclaims or professional identity, and then through collateral communication as well as our deeds demonstrate our strategic value to society. Let’s be librarians.

In closing, I would like to quote this finding from the Alignment research:
“The word “librarian” still carries a significant amount of equity among both information professionals and C-suites. Communication efforts should leverage the positive attributes of librarianship while stressing more modern applications of the profession.” (Positioning SLA for the Future, http://wiki.sla.org/download/attachments/33587698/Positioning+SLA+for+Future.pdf ,slide 33)

That’s not what the proposed name does. I will vote No on the name change, in hopes that we can come up with the right name and then move ahead with Alignment.
–David Shumaker


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