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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.

Voting on the proposed SLA name change has now opened (and closed, and re-opened again due a problem with the e-ballot), and will be open until 9 December. I know some people have voted already, and no doubt other will be following them with alacrity.

While I don’t want to encourage anyone to miss out on their chance to vote, I’m going to suggest that you take a little time before you vote, to really think about not only how you are voting, but why. This applies equally to those who are undecided and those who are convinced about their choice. Why? Well, I don’t think anyone would deny that this is an important decision, and important decisions deserve thought. contemplation. reasoning. Even if you have, as you may well have done, given the issue a lot of thought, take the time before you vote to revisit and consolidate those thoughts.

Imagine that the voting page has, as well as ‘yes/no’ options, a text-box, with the simple question ‘why?’. Can you answer it? To your own satisfaction? In 500 words or less? If the answer is no, then I don’t think you’re ready to vote. Take some more time to explore the issues, and try to be sure of your own reasons before you hit that ‘vote’ button.

And, by that token, I don’t think I’m ready to vote yet. I’ve said before that I’m planning to vote ‘yes’, but I think I need to spend some time being sure that I have considered all angles. After all, my vote is my vote, but it doesn’t just affect me. We’re all voting for the good of all, and I think that requires rising above personal likes or dislikes.

When I’m ready to vote, I’ll try to write those 500 words, and post them here. I’d also be really pleased to hear others’ thoughts on this. And I’ll make sure I have plenty of calendar reminders about the deadline!

So, SLA have just announced their proposed name change: Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals, or ASKPro. And I like it. I think.

What I am unsure about is the word ‘strategic’. While I think it works very well in the full name, one glance at the shortened version, and I’m immediately suspicious that ‘strategic’ was added purely because they wanted a word that started with S. This then leads me to question its value – is it there because it has a real, significant meaning to SLA members, or simply to make a snappy acronym?

And ASKpro? I think I love it. I really do. But I have this tiny, nagging suspicion that it’s one of those names you think are really cool at the time, but then 5 years later, you’re still stuck calling your dog “Woofalo”, and it’s getting embarrassing in the park.

These are only my first reactions and, for reasons stated here I will probably be voting for the change. But I think I need to ponder on it for a while, read the reasoning behind it, and generally decide how I feel about having ASKpro on my CV.

Actually, that feels pretty good. ASKpro. Yeah 🙂

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