My wife always loves it when I tell people what I do for a living. When I say I’m a “law librarian” I usually get a confused look back from the other party. Then I say “I’m a librarian that also happens to have a law degree.” I usually get the same blank look, but they tend to say “ohhhh,” and quickly change the topic. People have certain stereotypes of librarians, and most of those I don’t fit. One universal comment I get from my non-librarian professional colleagues is this:

If you want to move up in the world (i.e., get that “Chief” position)… drop the librarian title.

This comment was taken to heart by one of my “library” organizations, SLA (originally Special Libraries Association). This week the SLA leadership announced a proposed change in the name of the organization. The new name? “Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals” or … wait for it… wait for it…. “ASKPro.”
Needless to say, the comments have been, shall we say, interesting.
  • “Find myself asking, What is a librarian? What is an info pro? What is a strategic knowledge professional? I can answer the first 2!” – @iBraryGuy
  • “The most controversial part of my guest lecture today was when I mentioned [ASKPro]. The course coordinator didn’t hear the K…” – @librariankt (now say ASKPro, but leave off the “K”)
  • “Vote NO on ASKPro. SLA it’s time to take back “library”, not run for the hills and a silly contrived name. We are librarians!” – @dapmcc
  • “Sounds like a duck should be saying it” – @dchochrek

Reece Dano (@r33c3) did an informal survey of his office and came back with some more positive reactions:
(1) Doing an informal survey around the office about the proposed ASKPro name. Some interesting observations. (2) Mostly positive. Some people who think of us primarily as librarians don’t understand the meaning of ‘strategic.’ (3) But those are people who don’t often directly receive our research deliverables. (4) People definitely understand “knowledge professional” immediately. (5) Unexpected finding: Men almost unanimously like it — immediately. Women have to think about for a minute, but usually like it. (6) A few women find the name slightly pretentious. (7) EVERYONE likes it much better than “Special Libraries Association.” Again, this was not a scientific survey. 🙂
Name changes are always interesting to follow. I’ve always had the belief that if you think you can change all your problems by changing your name, then the name is not your problem. On that topic, my friend Jan Rivers had a great comment:

[How our organizational] leaders value what we do isn’t based on what we’re called, it’s based on our actions. – @jriversmn

I’ll discuss this next week in Austin at the SLA-Texas Chapter meeting (which I happen to be President of this year). It will be very interesting to see what the comments the membership has regarding the proposed name change.
  • I definitely agree with Jan that our organizations' perception of our value has very little to do with what we are called.

    Although none of my law firm titles have included the word "librarian," I proudly describe myself as a librarian any time I am asked what I do. And no matter what my current role is called, I still align myself professionally with the library community. I would align myself with the SLA, and the library community generally, even if it was called the "Flying Spaghetti Monster Appreciation Society", because of *who* they/we are, not what they/we called themselves.

  • Anonymous

    I am reminded of George Carlin's famous monologue/rant about garbage men having evolved into sanitation engineers. If people don't know what you do as a librarian, how is it going to be any better if you start calling yourself a strategic knowledge professional? Branding shouldn't obfuscate.

  • This is a really interesting post, I thought as you said some of the comments were interesting.

    BIALL has in my mind always had a problem with its name try saying it and you'll know immediately why. The problem is like most "library" organisations that have been around for a while the name becomes synonymous with the activities of the organistion so changing the name could be disastrous.