The words "library" and "librarian"
Over the past several years, I have been involved in conversations about the respect that the words "library" and "librarian" receive. Tell someone that you are going to a "library" and that person will instantly have an image of what the place might look like and what its services might be. The word conjures familiar images, and often those images do not fit our current reality. Libraries rely heavily on technology, contain cafes, might contain studios where people can work on creative endeavors, and can be quite noisy - which all fly in the face of that traditional image we all have.
The same is true of the word "librarian". Thousands of people around the word are professional librarians (with a masters degree), and they serve their users/patrons/customers/members/owners in a variety of different ways. Often these people are not in physical libraries and they may not have the title of "librarian", yet they are part of the "library" profession. Saying that they are a librarian communicates something about their skills and knowledge, as well as their values. However, the word "librarian" can also put that person in a box that limits what people believe they can do. Would you seek out a librarian to help you handle, organize, and analyze massive data sets? Would you turn to a librarian for help in bringing an invention to life? Would you put a librarian on the front lines in your operation, knowing that the person could access and analyze information quickly, and thus ensure that the front line team had the information it needed to make quick, accurate decisions?
Research conducted on behalf of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) during 2007-2009 showed that (and these are my interpretation of the results):
- Many members did not hold the title of "librarian". In fact, there were thousands of different job titles among the SLA members.
- Although many didn't have the job title of librarian, a vocal segment of the membership did value the word and saw themselves as being librarians.
- Those that hire "librarians" value their skills and knowledge. If fact, it is the skill and knowledge that is most important, not that the person is a "librarian".
- What we call ourselves - as librarians - may not be in agreement with the image that our employers have of us. The word "librarian" may conjure the wrong image in their heads. An image that is limited and limiting.
so which is more important, the name ‘librarian’ or what librarians could accomplish...?I must admit that this question made me stand still and think. I have called myself a consultant, analyst, supervisor, manager, and professor...but have always considered myself at the core to be a librarian. What if I totally stopped using that word; would their be a negative impact? Could I use words that are more descriptive? Could I use words that resonate better with the communities where I'll be talking about what my [library and information science] students can do for them?
And what if people said, "gee...that kinda sounds like a librarian?" I could acknowledge it and then point out that what we do now is so much more than the image that comes to mind.
- We are the analysts and information organizers that people have been seeking.
- We're the information and digital literacy trainers for the community.
- We are the researchers and advisors for innovators and entrepreneurs that are bringing jobs back to economically stressed regions.
- We are the people skilled in handling big data as well as ferreting out hidden details.
I know...the words "library" and "librarian" are just words and how they are used or interpreted should not matter. Sadly, however, it does matter and maybe not to you, but to a colleague that is job searching, a student that is graduating, or an organization that needs a skill and isn't sure where to find it. In those and other situations, the words may hindering what is truly possible.