A network for new and aspiring library professionals
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.
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.