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In my current role, I have had numerous ‘debates’ with my line manager about the continuing value of libraries. Which is nice. I use examples from other sectors to try to educate him about what librarians in other organisations do, because our jobs vary massively depending on who our users are. On any given day, librarians in different organisations will be doing tasks as varied as running poetry slams, negotiating licence agreements, researching genealogical information, helping at social media surgeries, training lawyers to use specific resources or visiting hospital wards with doctors to provide clinical evidence at the point of treatment. If all of these diverse tasks come under the heading of librarian, it’s inevitable that our users (and more importantly, our potential users) struggle to understand what we do.

My job title is ‘Librarian Information Administrator’ which I think is pretty meaningless. I’d rather be called a ‘Research and Reading Teacher’ because all kids assume you’re a teacher if you’re working in a school. But, would I have applied for a job that was branded in this way? Possibly not. And I’m not a qualified teacher, so it would not be a strictly accurate description for me, in terms of my qualifiations and expertise. Non-qualified library workers shouldn’t be called librarians, in my opinion, but maybe I’m being too precious about semantics. So maybe ‘Research and Reading Advisor’? Maybe ‘Research and Reading Library Advisor’?

And what about other sectors? At Library Camp Birmingham, one attendee said that she had been called an ‘Information Consultant’ in a corporate environment. I like this title; it sounds official but is also specific enough to have meaning. Personally, I think ‘information professional’ is not specific enough, I don’t think it means anything to people outside the sector.

If we rebranded all library jobs, would some slip under the net when we are jobhunting?  And would it actually help our potential users to understand what we do and what we can do for them?

I’m not claiming to have any answers to these questions, but in light of the CILIP rebranding it is worth also thinking about how we present ourselves to our users and job title is an important part of that presentation.

Re-branding didn't do Opal Fruits any harm..

Re-branding didn’t do Opal Fruits any harm..

To get a non-librarian perspective, I asked my sister what she thought about the CILIP rebrand and she thinks it is a red herring. My sister said ‘I don’t care what your professional body does’, because it shouldn’t affect her. She is a library user (my 9 month old niece has probably taken out more public library books than I have in the last 6 months), not a library professional. In the same way, I don’t care what the CIPD (her professional body) do, but I do want my HR department at work to be run by a professional, and to be available to me when I need them.

This, in my opinion, is what CILIP needs to work on – supporting their members to do great work with and for their users. Libraries need to promote themselves to their communities (whatever that community of users is) and show those users that they have something to offer them. Maybe changing the name will revitalise our professional body and that will filter down to individual libraries, but I don’t think a change of name alone will be enough to convince non-users of the worth of libraries.

I feel changing job titles could have more of an impact on users’ perceptions of librarians and information professionals, because it is closer to our work. I think change should come from the bottom and filter up, rather than trying to force change from the top down.


PS. Kendra K. Levine has also blogged about this issue, from an SLA perspective.


7 comments on “Re-branding

  1. Darren
    June 25, 2013

    I’ve never really understood the negativity associated with the ‘librarian’ label – yes there is a certain stereotype (cats, cardies, crosswords) but it cuts both ways, we’re also perceived as trustworthy, helpful and impartial. i don’t see other professions with negative stereotypes (accountants? lawyers? sales?) hiding in the professional closet. If we want our users to see us differently we should promote our services better, not give up on a known and trusted brand, even if it does start with an L

  2. Siobhan Cottam
    June 26, 2013

    I agree that we should promote our services better, but I feel that changing job title could kickstart that promotion. I suppose it is easy to focus on the negative associations, and decide that they need to change but you’re right – it might be difficult to build up positive associations if new job titles were created.

    I think this is a really complex issue, and I changed my mind a few times while writing this post!

  3. I agree that the wider public don’t necessarily care about what our professional body is called, or recognise the full range of skills and services that exist under the “Librarian”/”Library” umbrella. It’s a bit of catch 22 which sort of ties in with an earlier NLPN post about self-obsession. It is very frustrating when our professional expertise is unrecognised, but, as long as users are receiving the particular aspect of service that they need from their library, they don’t need to know about everything. By the same token, I do agree that if there is a lack of marketing and advocacy, users may well be missing out on a plethora of services that would be very useful to them!

    From a personal perspective, I was extremely disappointed not to see the L word amongst the recent list of potential names in the CILIP rebrand survey. In my role, I actually feel not having Librarian somewhere in job title would be unhelpful to our patrons. I agree that changing names alone won’t solve existent problems, but reclaiming the terms and making Library and Librarian have more of an impact should be a key part of the “re-branding” process.

  4. Ian Clark (@ijclark)
    June 27, 2013

    Hi Siobhán. I agree in that I don’t think a change of name alone would be sufficient to do anything significant…the change needs to be deeper and more substantial to have any impact. Perhaps that is what is intended but things are not very clear at this stage and I am reluctant to believe the change that is necessary to please membership and attract non-members is even possible (I’ve argued this several times on my blog so won’t rehash it all here).

    In terms of this:

    “I think ‘information professional’ is not specific enough, I don’t think it means anything to people outside the sector.”

    I agree but maybe for different reasons (?). I’ve noticed that information professional and librarian are sometimes used interchangeablye, as though an information professional is a librarian and vice versa. Of course, “information professional” is an umbrella term, and librarians are one of the professions that sit underneath this umbrella (alongside Data Protection and FoI types amongst others). So personally I don’t think it would be accurate (or specific) to claim ownership of the term ‘information professional’. We are all information professionals, but not all information professionals are librarians.

    I am interested in your idea of changing the job title though. Coming from a public libraries background initially, I would be intrigued to see how we could get all the library authorities to agree to changing the job title for librarians so that they are all the same or roughly the same (getting library authorities to agree anything at the same time is difficult enough!). I suppose my concern regarding rebranding the job title is, as you say, that “some slip under the net when we are jobhunting” as a hundred different job titles emerge to describe effectively the same thing. I’m not sure either way what the impact of this would be, but it’s certainly a thought-provoking idea and if there’s one thing the profession desperately needs at the moment it’s ideas!

    Basically, I think for me your final sentence sums it perfectly:

    “I think change should come from the bottom and filter up, rather than trying to force change from the top down.”

    That is how it always should be in a membership driven organisation. It should be the members that influence direction not the leadership influencing the members. Idealistic and naive maybe, but certainly preferable.

    (I should add that I am not a CILIP member – for purposes of transparency!)

  5. Siobhan Cottam
    June 28, 2013

    Hi Ian

    Thanks for your comments – I’ve read your blogpost on this topic ( if anyone else hasn’t read it) and agreed with a lot of what you said, but didn’t comment as I wanted to say my piece here.

    I think the major difficulty comes from what I talked about in the first paragraph, and what you say about the ‘umbrella’ of information professional/librarian roles – it is difficult for an organisation to meet the diverse needs of people with totally different working days etc.

    I started writing this post before anything came out about the CILIP rebrand, but it languished in the drafts for so long that I had to comment on the CILIP rebrand too – to ignore it would have been to ignore the elephant in the room. So, this blogpost has ended up covering two issues – users’ and potential users’ perception of librarians, and what our professional body should do to influence this perception. It is possibly a bit hypocritical of me to claim that my job title should change but the name of my professional body should not, but it is just an idea.

    This debate also links in with a post I wrote after Library Camp Sheffield about librarians being self-obsessed; we have all got in a massive kerfuffle about this while our users just go about their business of using the library as they did before The Knowledge People was mentioned.

    • Darren
      June 28, 2013

      Maybe an easier approach is to define yourself how a doctor might professionally; in general terms (and to the public) you’re a doctor but within the profession you’re a oncologist, radiographer, gp, just like our umbrella term is librarian but specifically you’re a information advisor, research advisor etc. Doesn’t’ exactly help with the rebrand issue though which is a whole other can of worms, though I’d be interested in seeing a debate between the network’s members given that it’s new professionals that will have to live with the consequences once it’s been decided

  6. Siobhan Cottam
    July 1, 2013

    I think that’s a good point Darren – and Ian and Kendra both look to other professions when considering this issue. I think we need to be less self-obsessed and look more at what others are doing and what their concerns are, in terms of professional bodies.

    The debate idea’s interesting, would you like to see a live debate or possibly a series of blogposts?

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This entry was posted on June 25, 2013 by in Professional experience, Work Project and tagged , , , .

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