Well, having left it very late, and prompted by woodsiegirl’s great post, and Neil’s rather pointed comment, here’s my decision on the proposed SLA name change.

I’m voting yes.

In a way, I’m glad I’ve waited, because time has given me a great example, which illustrates exactly why I think we need to change. I was corresponding with a senior UK information professional, on official SLA Europe business, and they commented:

‘I am assuming we are working to the usual UK definition of a special/workplace library and not including academic libraries, which sometimes seem to be counted as ‘special libraries’ in the US.’

If the term ‘special libraries’ is handicapping our communication within our own profession, what is it doing to our wider communication and relevance? If information professionals have no consensus about what ‘special libraries’ are, how can we possibly unite effectively as part of a ‘special libraries association”?

I agree completely with woodsiegirl when she says that:

‘Maybe “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals” will require as much explanation to non-members and non-information professionals as SLA did, but at least they won’t have to work their way past a set of inaccurate assumptions to begin with. ASKP is a blank slate.’

And it’s not as if explaining what we do – without the word ‘librarian’ – is a new thing. The first line of the SLA General Industry FAQs answers the question ‘what is a special librarian?’ thus:

‘Special librarians are information professionals dedicated to putting knowledge to work to attain the goals of their organizations.’

Does that definition also work for ‘what is a strategic knowledge professional?’ I think so. This is what we already are. This is what we already do. What we need to do now is to take the chance on the new vocabulary.

I’ve had recent experience of how a redefined vocabulary can really help you to explain the worth of what you do. Mimas has recently undergone a rebrand, and working the stand at Online last week was my first chance to talk about Mimas using the new vocabulary to describe who we are and what we do. We’re no longer talking about ourselves as a National Data Centre who run some services. Now we’re an organisation of experts who provide quality services to support world-class research and education. The difference was amazing. I felt much more confident talking to people. I felt that I didn’t need to be nervous, or worry that I wouldn’t be able to do us justice. I had been given the vocabulary to communicate on a wider professional level, and there was something in it that resonated with everyone I talked to, from all sectors.

This is what the alignment process is doing for SLA. They’re giving us that vocabulary to talk about our worth and value, but that vocabulary is of no use if we continue to say ‘well, it just means librarian really’. We need to commit to using the tools that the SLA alignment team have given us – and what better way to do that than to accept the biggest vocabulary change of all? No-one is asking you to not be a librarian anymore. They are asking you to use the available resources for the betterment of the profession. And when I think about it like that, well, there’s really no choice. I’m voting for change.

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