The SLA Name Change: My Vote is Yes

(Guest contributor – Emma D-W)
I was really pleased to see “A Student’s Perspective on the Name Change“, in which MLIS student Zoe Fisher explains why she’s voting “yes” on the proposed new name for SLA. Why?
Well, we’ve heard from a lot of library world heavyweights: Mary Ellen Bates, Marcy Phelps, Jill Strand, Guy St. Clair, etc… but aside from tweets (#slaname) and comments in forums, not a lot from the average, lesser-known members of SLA. And those voices are just as important.
I’m voting yes, too, and here’s why.
The short version is this:
a) I think we needed to get rid of the word “library”
b) Even if this name’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect name, it’s better than what we have now. We can’t afford to ignore the market research that the Alignment Project provided, and we certainly can’t enter our second century with a name that’s doing us a disservice.
The much longer version:
When I first heard the proposed name, Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals, acronymized as ASKPro, I felt a bit ambivalent about it. I find “ASKPro” a bit cutesy (and the jokes about pronouncing the “K”? Can I get a Seth Meyers’ “Really!?!”)). The word “strategic” buzz-wordy. But even with those annoyances, over the last few days I’ve come to appreciate the name and am very hopeful that we adopt it.
The biggest reason I like the name is that is has done away with “libraries”. I’ve read a lot of comments about whether this is a good or bad thing. Many people are attached to the name, and with good reason. They worked hard for their degree and are proud of the profession and don’t like being made to feel ashamed of it. Others find the word has negative and inaccurate connotations, ones that are holding us back.
Let me digress for a minute or two. Since graduating with my Library & Information Technology diploma in 2003, I’ve always had a small internal struggle with my “library” identity. In my last job, my title was “library technician” and I worked with a wonderful librarian who had an MLS. I had lots of peers in similar positions and we were all proud to call ourselves library techs. For the most part, our “real” librarian supervisors recognized and appreciated (and in some cases, envied!) our unique skill sets as technicians.
But since I changed jobs last year and became a solo, complete with the title “librarian”, I’ve occasionally felt like an imposter – and know this to be true of others in similar situations. Some people inside the profession are wildly defensive of the title “librarian”. (That’s, of course, a whole other discussion.)
In the end, my colleagues (regardless of degree) and I have realised and accepted that it doesn’t really matter what we call ourselves or what others call us – it’s what we DO that matters. I will always be a library technician and I am proud of my educational achievement, but what I am even more proud of is the fact that I have many users who trust my skills, rely on my assistance, and come to me first when they need research done.
I am thrilled that SLA is recognizing and emphasizing the variety of education and work experience backgrounds its members boast. Obviously, I wouldn’t feel right being a part of an organization that had an unspoken bias in favour of the MLS. I want to be a part of an organization that values competencies – those skills that are always evolving and adapting – not just one particular educational path.
My husband and I debated the name change the other night. He feels that there was a good opportunity to rebrand without a name change – in much the same way as accountants rebranded themselves – very successfully – in recent years. But I think the situation with the accountants was different, because they were linking the profession to a particular certification. My opinion is that an information professional’s – ANY professional’s – best assets are not linked to his or her education. Over the years I have encountered and heard about librarians (and lawyers and teachers and doctors, etc.) who basically stopped learning and adapting once they had finished school. No profession should be using an educational degree that may have been earned 40 years ago and has possibly been sitting dusty on the shelf ever since as a selling point. (I don’t mean, for one second, to imply that the MLS is an obsolete or old-fashioned degree – just that as with any educational certification, the work doesn’t stop when you graduate.) Ultimately I think the name “knowledge professional” conveys a much more proactive idea of what we are all about than “librarian” does. After all, a knowledge professional may have an MLS, but she also may instead have KM or CI certification or any number of other types of training that are just as credible and valuable.
All that was to say that we don’t need the word “libraries” or “librarians” to represent what we do. I truly appreciate the many people who have reminded us that the term “libraries” does not represent a huge percentage of the organization. While I happen to work in a library proper, SLA wouldn’t be any less important and useful to me if I didn’t.
I can’t imagine any name that 100% of the membership would be happy with. And that’s okay, because to me, the organization’s greatest asset is the diversity of its membership – we have so much to learn from each other. To me, this is proven every time I go to an SLA conference: invariably, the sessions I get the most of are the ones sponsored by the Marketing, News, and Leadership divisions – not just the division I’m actually a member of. If I want to connect with other law librarians and get highly relevant, local networking, I’ll do so through a local or national law library association. If I want to learn on a bigger scale about what innovative information professionals are doing lately, I’ll get that at SLA.
As for the new representation of what we are – “strategic knowledge professionals” and not “special librarians” – it may sound buzzwordy to me, but however regrettably, the business world does run on buzzwords. And as SLA’s Strategic Communications Director Maura Kennedy points out, “every employer I have worked for over 30+ years has had a strategic planning process that directed the ways in which they allocated resources.  I don’t think it is likely that strategic, knowledge or professional will change meaning any time soon.”
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t repeat a point of Fisher’s that really resonated with me:
“I think this is a great example of our association’s fundamental problem of perspective. The name isn’t just for us – it’s for everyone else.”
Well said!
A big thanks to Karen and Brenda for letting me share my thoughts here.

3 Responses to “The SLA Name Change: My Vote is Yes”

  1. 1 Karen

    Thanks for articulating what I think (and so much better than I could have said it!).

  2. 2 Brenda

    Well argued post, Emma. I agree with a lot of what you say. Any professional, who continuously learns and doesn’t rely on their credentials, is worth their weight in gold. The “special libraries” moniker can have negative connotations, too. I got giggles from a friend, who associated it with special olympics. No offence to the disabled community…

  3. 3 Annoyed

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. While I am even more annoyed than usual that you have just belittled the degree I have, I will ignore that.

    Can I ask what you think of the flaws in the research and subsequent analysis? Even the consultants said we should leverage the positive aspects of “librarians”. It amazes me that everyone says that ‘librarian’ is limiting. It has a history of service, knowledge and advocacy. Something the new moniker completely lacks.

    Please visit the facebook group. I have written a post that details contradictory findings in the research and posted page numbers for you to review the research and see some of these things for yourself.

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