SLA Name Remains - Comments From Texas Members

Back in October, I wrote a post about the Special Libraries Association vote seeking to change the name from SLA to Association of Strategic Information Professionals. The vote came in yesterday, and the members rejected the name change. The debate surrounding the name change was very 'spirited' to say the least. It seemed that there were three factions that popped-up as soon as the name was announced, those for, those against, and those who were ambivalent. If you followed the discussion on Twitter, you'll see that the "for's" and the "against's" had very strong opinions on the name change.

When I saw the news yesterday morning, I asked the members of the Texas Chapter of SLA (I happen to be the President of this chapter until the end of this month) to discuss how they thought the process of the name change was handled. Below are the comments, and they are very telling. The majority of the comments tended to focus on the fact that this process was too much "top down", not enough debate was given to the SLA membership on the name change before it came up for a vote, and the "ASKPro" acronym was a fatal mistake.

While it may look like I'm beating a dead horse here, what I'm actually trying to do is what I've heard called an "Autopsy Without Blame". It is time for the leadership of SLA (which I am a part of) to review the comments from the membership and determine what we could have done better, and what we'll need to do in order to move on with an Alignment Project that is still in full swing. This has to be done in a way that is absent blame, and devoid of personal feelings. There's still a lot to do, and if we can't take away a lesson from this part of the project, we may find it very difficult to succeed in the next phases of the alignment project.

Perhaps the best thing to remember while reading these comments is the feeling in the very last comment - I'm glad [this part of the alignment project] is over"!

Here are the comments. The "Header" was created by me as a quick synopsis:

Acronym Show SLA HQ Put “Horse Before the Cart”

I think the two biggest challenges that our Association created for themselves was using the acronym when initially selling the name as ASKPRO is said aloud and fast can lead to much less desired outcomes or thoughts. The other issue is something that seems to be problematic yet has been an issue with Headquarters since I have been in SLA, and that is they tend to put the cart before the horse.

Even though I know if you paid attention you knew this name change initiative was moving behind the scenes, there really was not that much in your face marketing to the overall association until after the mailing saying we were voting. Then and only then did you see the blitz of communications explaining the reasoning and development of how we got to this place. Totally backwards. I think if they had included more people other than the few emails I am sure I saw at some point or been more open in the discussions I believe there would have been a better chance.

The same issue existed in 2003 over the last name change process, they brought that up at the closing meeting of the annual conference when most people had already left.

HQ Did Fine - Now Focus Should be on Helping Members Strengthen Their ‘Value’

I don't have any problem with the way the organization handled the name change issue but I hope we don't have to go through this again for the next few years. The most important issues for the organization are helping our members strengthen their value, effectively communicating the value of our members to the outside world, and watching out for legislation that undermines our ability to do our jobs.

The Vote Was Rushed - More Time Was Needed to Discuss Drastic Name Change

Upon hearing about the SLA name change results, I immediately thought about the time and effort put into this name change proposal and the voting in records numbers. Personally, I think there must have been some type of "gap" in the process leading to the findings of the Alignment Project. Why do I say this; the bulk of the SLA people I spoke to were against the "drastic" name change. Probably SLA should have paid more attention to findings / fact discovery within SLA members. I must admit that I am not totally aware of the process, but I truly hope this was not the case. Thus, we can take these proposal results as lessons learned for future developments.

Name Change was Poorly Handled - Leadership Came Across as ‘Snarky’

I thought they handled it poorly. A lot of the posts by [the SLA leadership] appeared to be a bit too snarky for my tastes. It was as though dissension was not to be tolerated. I had a personal one from [one leader], after I forwarded a post to our listserv, maligning the fellow who's email I had forwarded.

Too Much Time Was Spent on this Issue

I'm very disappointed that so much time was spent on this issue. I am not sure if there was a popular vote on whether the name should be changed at all? Speaking for myself, I would like to see materials / handouts / seminars - maybe? promoting the value of Special Library services available for dissemination by SLA. I think it would add weight to arguments in favor of keeping / supporting Special Librarians.

Midcourse Correction on ASKPro Showed Poor Planning

I didn't read every communication about the name change, but I had the impression that SLA started out calling it Askpro, and changed mid course. SLA's communications should have been better planned. It probably wouldn't have made a difference in the vote results, though.

Name Change Should Have Been Better Vetted by Members

I am a long-time business researcher who had a career diversion and recently returned to the fold. I read many thoughtful comments about the name change. It's very interesting to read about the C-level surveys and perceptions. My primary comment is that the proposed name failed because it did not come from the membership and was not fully vetted within the membership before the name was introduced.

Augment Current Name with “Knowledge Professionals”

My idea is that we do what other organizations have done, be just SLA and have it mean nothing. Many organizations (e.g.NAACP) are moving away from words to just the letters. We could add a hyphen— and be SLA- knowledge professionals. This would be a compromise and have meaning.

A Slate of Options Should Have Been Offered

I voted for AskPro simply because SLA is problematic in our business world. SLA means Service License Agreement. Anything with Library is a negative for our management. We dumped our collections 6-7 years ago because of a dispersed employees and real estate costs. I’m not excited about AskPro – it sounds too much like Ass-Pro. It would have been better to have a slate of 4-5 options with a ranking option.

Time to Put the Name Change Behind and Move on to Important Issues

I must say that I think that the issue of the name change was a challenge for the organization, one of which I am hopeful it can recover. Within the past few months the name change and other decisions made on behalf of the members (some without member consultation) have, in my opinion, and I am sure the opinion of others, wasted time and created unnecessary division between members and the organization.

To that end, I think that the method of information dissemination this morning was most unimpressive. Everyone who was eligible to vote on the name change should have received your e-mail on the name change from SLA.

Those who voted, and even those who did not, should be thanked for their participation. Had you not graciously forwarded it, I would have not known the results right away.

In addition, for as much time the organization dedicated to the "selling"

of the name change on the SLA website (site real estate space included), I am disappointed to see the announcement at the very bottom left of the screen this morning.

Also, I realize that this effort to change the name was important to some, and with no disrespect given to those who participated in sparking this endeavor, I think that when an announcement is sent out about a vote, the word "fail" should not be used when first describing the results. As far as I am concerned, either way, the vote was a success. SLA has the opinion from 50 percent of its eligible voter that we would prefer for the name and integrity of the organization to remain the same.

Let us now focus as an organization on those things that are truly important in these times such as networking, continued education opportunities and maintaining the rich and known profession of "Librarianship".

Process Was Too “Top-Down”

Being fairly new to SLA, I was able to view the process more as a detached observer than an impassioned member. What I was amazed at was it seemed to come out as a very top-down, “here is what we decided” statement. At first I thought this meant SLA was run by the main office and the members would just approve it. This was very quickly disproved! After that, it really seemed more adversarial, an us/them mentality.

Assuming that the main office knew that the membership was not going to rubber stamp the proposal, I think they did an extremely poor job of presenting the new name and “selling” it. Once they blew the initial announcement, I think it was all over. There was nothing they could do to convince people otherwise. If they had done a clearer job of presenting the new name, explaining all the reasoning, not used the acronym, and cajoled people kindly, the vote may have been different.

I voted against it for two reasons:. I personally didn’t like it, and I didn’t sense that most members did either. If I had gotten the feeling that the majority of the members were for it, and it was truly for the good of the organization, I would have voted for it regardless of my personal feelings since I am such a new and tangential member.

It seems that the name change is a crutch (no one will respect us as long as we have our current name). Now that it has been defeated, the alignment project will have to move on with more concrete, actual plans for improvement. This is a good thing.

Leadership Was Not Prepared for Name Change ‘Firestorm’

I voted against it because I didn't like the name choice, not to mention how it was handled. I think they should have put it to an earlier vote with members, using something like SurveyMonkey. I don't think they realized the firestorm they were creating.

I am, at the end of the day, a dealer in information. Information builds knowledge management systems. So I felt pretty strongly that information needed to be a key element of the name, not strategic knowledge.

And I've never had a problem explaining what a special library is. It's always been a great segue way into what it is that I do.

The Term ‘Libraries’ Turns on the Light Bulb - ‘Strategic Knowledge’ Does Not

My take on the Name Change rejection remains the same as my comments below indicate prior to the vote. Yes, I'm in an academic setting, but a specialized academic medical setting. [My type of] libraries are always in danger of being eliminated, esp. on the corporate level (an SLA realm) as those we assist don't understand that a Library isn't just books. They also don't have a clue what 'strategic knowledge' or 'information specialists' would do to help them other than with technology, i.e. computers. We currently have to explain what SLA means and when we get to 'Libraries' the light bulb goes on and the questions are asked.

So my questions remains 'what now?' What do we have from Align 09 that will help us promote our service definitions to the administrative, human resources, and general populations of our employers?

‘Regular Members’ Were Not Advised on Name

I hated that proposed name; also felt not enough of the 'regular members' were advised of all the proposed name choices!

Name Change Is Needed - But ‘Process’ Poorly Handled

Let me say at the outset that I fully support the alignment process and agree that the SLA moniker is outdated and should probably be changed. At the same time, however, I must admit that I have lost a little faith in the SLA board/leadership over the name change.

First of all, "ASKpro" was chosen ass-backward. It was patently obvious that the acronym drove the name selection and not the other way around. Somebody thought ASKpro was clever, and I can only surmise that group-think convinced everyone else that it was clever too. So, it was disingenuous at best for the leadership to come back later and tell us that "it's the name not the acronym" that we were voting on."

Such a suggestion not only insulted my intelligence, but also felt like a ploy to ram a badly-handled process down my throat (i.e., when it started to look like the name change might fail over the acronym alone). It seemed like leadership egos (and "sunk costs") rather than membership best interests started to influence communication about the name change.

And what the heck is a "strategic knowledge professional"?

This name made me very sad. It revealed to me just how much we don't get it and how much of an inferiority complex we must have in our profession. Talk about trendy, buzzword soup. Notwithstanding the fact that the phrase "strategic knowledge professional" is a jumble of meaningless nonsense, as an organizational name, it would have become outdated much faster than SLA ever did. It makes me think that if we had gone through this process in the mid-nineties, we would have been voting on a name that included "total quality" or "kaizen" in the title. Ridiculous.

In addition, "strategic knowledge professional" says all the wrong things about us. Engineers, lawyers, doctors, computer programmers, corporate executives, etc. are all "knowledge professionals," but you don't see them calling themselves that. They are proud of their professions and don't seek to cloak them in ambiguous-sounding nonsense. Lawyers are lawyers. Business schools are business schools.

In contrast, "strategic knowledge professional" makes it sound like we are embarrassed by what we REALLY do and feel the need to make ourselves sound important because deep down we don't think we are important. It smacks of euphemisms like "sanitation engineer," if you know what I mean. Maybe we are not all "librarians" anymore, but "strategic knowledge professionals" is not an acceptable alternative.

If I were to ask a stranger what he did for a living, and he were to say "strategic knowledge professional," first, I would laugh, and then I would write him off as not to be taken seriously. How this simple heuristic did not dawn on the board/leadership of SLA is beyond me.

ASKPro Killed the Name Change

Even though SLA said we weren’t voting on the acronym, once it’s out in the ether you can’t take it back.

Leadership’s Message Smelled of ‘Groupthink’

I don’t think that either the leadership or the consultants got input from the membership. And I think there could have been much better names to choose from. I’m with my [colleague’s] suggestion – SLA Knowledge Professionals.

There was also a whiff of message control and groupthink coming from the leadership that did not sit well.

I’m glad it’s over with.

With that... time to review, digest, adjust and then move on to the next steps!

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Conan said...

The only name change that will be accepted will inlude the term "librarian"... ex: "Special Information and Librarians Association"

Toby Brown said...

Interesting debate.

It appears that no one has an issue with the need for a name change, but just about the process. Is that the case?

Greg Lambert said...


The word that most object to in the current name is "Special". So, there is a lot of consensus to change the name and drop that particular word. However, both Special and Libraries were tossed and that set off the firestorm.

I do think it was a process issue. Yesterday, I happened to run across a great blog post that had nothing to do with the name change, but described how to address incoming changes in IT departments. While I was reading it, I thought that if you removed the "IT" slant from the article, it gave a great formula for how to introduce and bring change into an organization. I think if the name change had been addressed using these 11 principles, then there might have been a much better process and different results all the way around:

1 – Conversation (Vs Broadcast)
2 – Bottom up (Vs Top Down)
3 – Reputation (Vs Hierarchy)
4 – Emergence (Vs Structure)
5 – Folksonomy (Vs Taxonomy)
6 – Agility (Vs Bureaucracy)
7- Transparency (Vs Security)
8 – Intertwined Networks (Vs Silos)
9 – Simplicity (Vs Complexity)
10 – User-oriented (Vs Governance)
11 – Trust (Vs Control)

Julie said...

Gotta say I agree with the "Name Change Is Needed..." commenter. As someone who was in business school in the 90s, all of those buzzwords got to be a joke (just like that Power Point cartoon of the guy wearing many hats). It reeked of an idea that came from a consultant, but didn't take into account the people who would actually be affected by it -- the members. We should have spent all that time and money on educating these "C-level" executives on what SLA and special librarians do.

Greg Lambert said...

When I was at the SLA-TX conference in Austin back in October, I heard a great comment from Gary Hoover. SLA spent a lot of time getting comments from C-Level folks on what they thought on the subject. Gary said that the association should be very cautious when getting the opinions from C-Levels because they can be very narrow minded, and that their opinions on such issues tend to not be very good. So, it seems that the process was a little upside down by letting C-Levels define the organization rather than define the organization to C-Levels.

Anonymous said...

I am a relatively new member of SLA. I don't necessarily envision myself being a librarian for life, though I do expect to use this skill set as a career foundation. For me the SLA/Askpro debate was about the bigger tent of opportunities and career options. Librarians seemed to prefer the small tent. Too often their position assumed a zero sum outcome. I think it was very short sighted on their part.

Greg Lambert said...

There were a lot of folks that took that "big tent" approach to this vote. I'm not sure that I really buy into that though. Librarians are not usually 'short sited' when it comes to the profession. There are a lot of subgroups of librarianship, and if you look over the past 20-40 years, most of the technology you have in organizations (private firms or public institutions) there were many professions that got their feet wet within the structure of the library, and then grew to stand on their own. Information Technology, Knowledge Management, Records Management, Archives, and a list of other professions fell under the library tent.
I think one of the issues that caused such an uproar was the fact that people kept pointing to the fact that SLA was supposed to be a temporary name until something better came along. But it was the term "Special" that was the key word that needed to be changed... not "libraries". But, to listen to those wanting to change the name, it was spun in a way that made it sound like the term 'libraries' was the bad term in the existing organizational name. I think that approach backfired because it made it sound like the 'big tent' of the librarian profession could no longer stand if the term 'libraries' was one of the supporting pillars. There was a good suggestion in one of the Twitter comments I saw that said the term Special should have been turned to "Specialized" and there were other comments that said "Knowledge Professionals" could have been added to the name.
If you're going to ask a professional organization to completely drop the core professional title out of the organization, then perhaps there should have been a little more time to debate and explain the issue before bringing such a drastic change to a vote while emotions where still raw.

M said...

To anonymous "relatively new member": I believe your interpretation of events is incorrect. Librarians, at least the ones I know, are not as parochial as you suggest. As it is, I happen to be a librarian in a traditional library setting who has no particular interest in retaining (or discarding) either "librarian" or "libraries" as an organizational name. I also have no objection to or fear of a "bigger tent." My sole objection was to the particular name that was being proffered, which I felt was too broad, too trendy, and too vague. "Knowledge professional" could describe an Accountant, Architect, Banker, or CEO just as easily as it could describe a librarian or information specialist. The issue is not the size of the tent, but an appropriate name for it. The name should be inclusive, of course, but it must also be meaningful. In addition, to the extent possible, the name should be timeless and not so obviously influenced by the latest business buzzwords of the day (like "knowledge worker"/"knowledge professional"). And don't even get me started on the inclusion of the word "strategic" in the name. Let's just say that it was highly reminiscent of a fellow who needs to brag about his prowess because he is secretly embarrassed by his lack of natural endowments.


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