What’s In A Name?


Something struck me as being off yesterday when I read a blog post from the UK where a young man of 15 who was in a work-study program at his local library referred to himself as a “librarian.” I know it’s been an elephant in the room sort of topic since I’ve been in the profession – who is a “librarian” and who is para-professional, library worker, etc. But what really is in a name?

Many in marketing will insist that everything is in a name – branding is the end all be all. Others will claim that it doesn’t matter – usually those who share the name with others who have accomplished more to get it. Yes, I know that’s horribly insensitive and politically incorrect to state, but that’s what happens when one chooses to state out loud to everyone else that there is an elephant in the room, and the emperor in reality has no clothes.

I think it is important to examine this issue at this point in the 21st Century – actually it is an important issue to examine in any century – as the role is being redefined by circumstances. As libraries shift their mission to include services never before imagined for a “Library,” and librarians perform activities and are required to develop skills so much different than their predecessors, if we are asking what is a library, shouldn’t we be also asking what is a “Librarian?”

So, what is in the name LIBRARIAN?

Is it time to redefine “librarian” and limit its application to only MLIS degreed individuals, or should there be some other criteria – like competency certification?

Should the title of “librarian” be reserved for those who only serve or interact with the public directly?

Is it ego building and flattering for everyone who works in a library to be referred to as “librarian,” (like the 15 year old work-study) or is that stolen glory like those who impersonate decorated military personnel?

If not everyone who works in a library is referred to as “librarian,” what should others be titled?

Would it be more politically correct to allow everyone to choose their own title – “shelver” or “indexer” or “public service representative” or “program coordinator” or “manager”?

Do non-MLIS degreed library directors refer to themselves as “librarians?”

So, what is in the name “LIBRARIAN?”

ADDENDUM:
FROM: Kay Dee
Wow! You’re right in saying this is a loaded topic! But it is an issue. My thoughts may or may not directly answer the questions posed but it is where your thoughts led mine….

First, I believe it is important to say that for most of our patrons every employee they encounter is a “librarian”. I think for the average patron they simply mean “library employee”. I also think that it is not always necessary to “school” a patron on the differences. They simply want help and their needs met and whichever employee they encounter should work to insure that is accomplished.

NOW…that said, I believe it IS important that those of us who work within libraries and the profession acknowledge the difference in level of skill/education/experience that traditionally comes with title and/or grade level. Being a “professional librarian” does not make you a better person it means that you have an advanced level of skill in a particular field. It seems we often confuse those two issues. (Much like the Gen Y discussion of ‘if we don’t keep score then no one loses’… if we don’t have titles then no one feels “less than”.) We need to stop apologizing for the fact that some individuals have made libraries their life’s career while others have made it a paycheck for the next short while. And for some who have made it a career, they have chosen to advance their skills through formal education and certification. Nobody is more or less….just varying degrees of skill/education/experience.

Why is it not only OK for this difference to exist but vital that it be acknowledged? One reason (and for me the most important) is so that we as library employees in our various forms can best meet the needs of our customers. It isn’t their job to find the employee best suited to answer their question of “Where is the restroom?” or “How can I get on a computer?” or “I need to find a good divorce attorney.” or “Why do I have a $2 fine on my library card?” or “Why do you filter the Internet computers in the children’s area?” or “How do I know you won’t make my personal information available to law enforcement?” I have seen patrons ask each of these questions to library employees at every level from the newest hire to the custodian to the supervising librarian. Each question has an answer…but not every employee is equipped to provide it. What they MUST be equipped with is the ability to direct the patron to the employee who does (or should) have the answer.

For that we need titles that define levels of skill, education, and experience. If we look at titles in this light perhaps we will get past the idea that they are about divisiveness, elitism, or egos but rather they are about the provision of excellent service to our clientele.

1 Comment

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One response to “What’s In A Name?

  1. Kay Dee

    Wow! Your right in saying this is a loaded topic! But it is an issue. My thoughts may or may not directly answer the questions posed but it is where your thoughts led mine…

    First I believe it is important to say that for most of our patrons every employee they encounter is a “librarian”. I think for the average patron they simply mean “library employee”. I also think that it is not always necessary to “school” a patron on the differences. They simply want help and their needs met and whichever employee they encounter should work to insure that is accomplished.

    NOW…that said. I believe it IS important that those of us who work within libraries and the profession acknowledge the difference in level of skill/education/experience that traditionally comes with title and/or grade level. Being a “professional Librarian” does not make you a better person it means that you have an advanced level of skill in a particular field. It seems we often confuse those two issues. (Much like the Gen Y discussion of ‘if we don’t keep score then no one loses’…if we don’t have titles then no one feels “less than”) We need to stop apologizing for the fact that some individuals have made libraries their life’s career while others have made it a paycheck for the next short while. And for some who have made it a career, they have chosen to advance their skills through formal education and certification. Nobody is more or less….just varing degrees of skill/education/experience.

    Why is it not only OK for of this difference to exisit but vital that it be acknowledged? One reason (and for me the most important) is so that we as library employees in our various forms can best meet the needs of our customers. It isn’t their job to find the employee best suited to answer their question of “where is the restroom?” or “how can I get on a computer?” or “I need to find a good divorce attorney” or “why do I have a $2 fine on my library card?” or “Why do you filter the internet computers in the children’s area?” or “How do I know you won’t make my personal information available to law enforcement?”. I have seen patrons ask each of these questions to library employees at every level from the newest hire to the custodian to the supervising librarian. Each questions has an answer…but not every employee is equipped to provide it. What they MUST be equipped with is the ability to direct the patron to the employee who does (or should) have the answer.

    For that we need titles that define levels of skill, education, and experience. If we look at titles in this light perhaps we will get past the idea that they are about divisiveness, elitism, or egos but rather they are about the provision of excellent service to our clientele.

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