Being at the end of all the serials routing lists at work, I noticed only today a thought-provoking editorial in the March/April edition of Online Searcher about renaming and rebranding exercises on the part of various professional organisations. Words like ‘library’ and ‘records manager’ are out and ‘information’ is in.
Marydee Ojala’s editorial reads, in part:
[W]hat information professionals do doesn’t necessarily happen in a library. We need to embrace information as fully as we embrace libraries and librarians. We need to position ourselves as being in the forefront of the information economy, not necessarily by discarding the “L” word but by proclaiming our role as information experts.
Immediately, by using ‘the “L” word’, the reader conceptualises the word negatively. They don’t need to know what the word actually is to subconsciously think of it as a bad thing. The word ‘library’ isn’t exactly in vogue at the moment, I get that, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the term. Libraries are not bad places. Librarian is not a dirty word.
By replacing ‘library’ with ‘information’ in the titles of professional associations, university departments and the like, we risk further removing what we do from what the public thinks we do. Public libraries and school libraries are still called exactly that. The public knows what a library is. If the public notion of what libraries do is inaccurate, then that’s up to us to fix. When asked my occupation, I proudly respond with ‘librarian!’ and promptly dispel the notion that I sit on my rear end all day doing reader’s advisory. I would never rebrand myself as an ‘information professional’, because that could mean absolutely anything.
It’s very true that many trained librarians do not work in libraries, or that their work would not traditionally be considered ‘library’ work. It’s also true that (thankfully) I’m not in the position of having to beg for funding from bean-counters who truly do not understand what libraries do, and for whom alternative terminology is obligatory. But completely removing the ‘library’ from librarianship is not the answer. Our profession will not solve its image problem by running away from the word altogether. Instead, we ought to redefine what ‘library’ means so that it loses its tired, dusty, archaic senses and becomes a vibrant word again. Libraries encompass more than just dispensing information—why not embrace all aspects of an essential profession?
Being a paid-up member of the Australian Library and Information Association, formerly the Library Association of Australia and before that the Australian Institute of Librarians, I think the organisation is doing okay in balancing the future of our profession with its roots. I would, however, be firmly against the removal of ‘library’ should it ever come up.
Our future may well be in information, but the “L” word is ours for the reclaiming.
Ojala, M. (2016). Future, thy name is information. Online Searcher, 40(2), 4. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1777697608