One of the organizations that I belong to, the Special Libraries Association, is currently in the process of considering a name change. This change is conceived as part of a broader Alignment Project to adjust the meaning of the profession and better communicate the value of information professionals to decision makers. There has been quite a lot of discussion about the name change, including numerous negative comments. The results of the name change process will not be unveiled until December and I am keen to to see what happens. There is a very active debate on the name change;
While I admit to some ambivalence about the name, I ultimately voted in favour of it. I have a number of reasons for that decision. I think it positions the profession and its members well for long term work and enables to aim higher. If we take seriously the notion that we are living in a creative and knowledge driven economy (and we should take it seriously; Peter Drucker, Richard Florida and others have documented the shift to knowledge work for years and years), then it makes sense to position information professionals as a key player.
The alignment research process has also proven convincing. I myself participated in a focus group in November 2008 that explored how information professionals viewed themselves vs how others viewed them. People appreciate our value in the workplace when we communicate it the right now. In some ways, librarians and other information professionals commit a basic sales error: we describe our “features” (e.g. ability to catalogue published materials according to design standards or our capacity to conduct a reference interview) instead of the “benefits” to our user (i.e. we can offer throughly organized information resources so they are easy to find and we can help you find what you’re need even if you don’t quite know how to describe it).
The new name itself also strikes me as a good move; it places the emphasis on highly skilled professionals rather than a social institution. Don’t get me wrong – I deeply love libraries and all they stand for (one of my favourite books I read last year was Alberto Manguel’s book of essays, The Library At Night) and I keenly follow the efforts to continue developing the value and contribution of librarians. However, “special libraries” is an unfortunate phrase that is difficult for those outside the association to understand. There has been some discussion on the SLA email discussion lists that the phrase “strategic knowledge professionals” is just as difficult to understand and explain as “special librarians.” I am not sure I agree with that but I think it is better to have that conversation about “strategic knowledge” rather than “special libraries.” Indeed, John Cotton Dana, who played a major role in founding the association in 1909, said that the name was chosen “,in default of a better.” Now, we have something better