Why I will vote against the SLA name change


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


12 Responses to “Why I will vote against the SLA name change”

  1. Judith Siess Says:

    amen. i too will vote against any name that does not include the “L” word.
    why not just add library and make it association for strategic library and information professionals (though I would like to see international or globall in there too)?

  2. Eric Says:

    I 100% agree with you and I’m glad to see a voice of reason. Through all of these discussions, I keep asking myself how it is that “librarian” became such a dirty word.

    Our profession is undergoing such a bad identity crisis and we are doing ourselves no favors by abandoning one of our core strengths. Why adopt a new “title” and then go about establishing what that title means, when we have a perfectly good, respected title (librarian) that carries a great deal of weight. Why not reinvent ourselves and the meaning of the word librarian?

    I don’t see doctors or lawyers changing the name of their profession, despite the use of other terms such as “medical professional” “healthcare professional” and “legal professional”. We are knowledge and information professionals, but it would do us more good to work toward having those things associated with the title of librarian rather than wiping the slate clean. We are librarians and we should be proud. The shusher and the bunhead was not always the stereotype, and it is something fleeting at that, so why not work to create a new image for ourselves as librarians. I think the ones who are doing that are getting into a position for greater success in the future.

    I voted an emphatic “no” in the hopes that at some point in the future we can produce a name that respects the history of our profession while conveying greater meaning behind it. At this tumultuous time in our profession, I really don’t think it is a good idea to make any hasty decisions, especially considering we are having such an identity crisis.

  3. David Edmonds Says:


    I couldn’t agree with you more. I voted “no” as well…..really nice blog post….

  4. Crystal Megaridis Says:

    Your post was a breath of fresh air to read, and I concur with your thoughts wholeheartedly.

    To me, “Knowledge Professionals” sounds like glorified “Knowledge Workers”, the term now commonly used for anyone who sits behind a computer screen all day.

    It felt great to click on the “NO” button.

  5. eileen Says:

    Good for you, Dave. I applaud your courage. I imagine it is harder for you to speak out given your position(s) in SLA but that makes your leadership all the more important. I hope they also see it that way, and I hope that as an SLA grant recipient and Vormelker award winner, your statement carries even more weight (rather than possibly being seen as ‘biting the hand that feeds you’).

    For me, the most important thing you said above was, “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.” I think perhaps this is the CUA way (and you can tell Kim Kelley I said so!)…there is some relationship between my embracing of the “L word” and my CUA/SLIS education, although I am not sure which causal direction it is – since I chose CUA over Maryland in party because SLIS still has the L word. I am proud to be part of that tradition.

    You nailed it when you said, “Let’s be librarians.” Indeed! Onward!

  6. Patricia Paris Says:

    Thank you for participating in the discussion held in Second Life today. I was a bit late, and missed most of your statements, so I have just now read your blog post about the name change. I agree with you 100%. Thank you for your cogent post — and for finding slide 33. We are past due for a name change. I too devoted quite a bit of reading and digging around the portal to infer that the SLA alignment team really is wishing to completely eliminate the use of the L word, not just augment it. It’s hard to believe that the proposal is to toss out a word with such positive connotation in our society, and that it is being done in the spirit of Inclusivity.

  7. Rowan Fairgrove Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. You have done a wonderful job of articulating a position that many of us hold.

  8. Nicole Says:

    Thank you for the great post. I stand with you!

  9. DanC Says:

    Well said. I voted no, as well, but I think your argument sums it up perfectly.

  10. Mark Rose Says:

    I agree with your comments as well, David. I voted no as I feel that the association’s alignment project is a shift away from library interests towards more generalized knowledge management interests. SLA material continues to focus on non-traditional library settings and assumes that the opposite, i.e. special libraries, no longer require a voice, which is untrue. What I require from the SLA is more support in promoting modern library services , including the use of modern technology to provide alternative service delivery, and not offering unconventional/non-traditional library services and lumping this under librarianship.

  11. Jason the Content Librarian » Why I voted Yes on the SLA name change Says:

    […] the name has been respectful. I was finally moved to post my thoughts after reading a post at the Embedded Librarian. And while his points are fair I must disagree with some of what he wrote, and I think this […]

  12. What does the word “library” represent? « Maldives Library Association Says:

    […] The following is an interesting blog post regarding inclusion or non-inlcusion of “library” in the name of a library association. It is thought provoking. Why I will vote against the SLA name change By davidshumaker …I’d like to share my views on… […]

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