“For the Apparel Oft Proclaims the Man”

In catching up with my Google Reader post vacation, I came across a blog post by David Lankes that caught my attention. To be honest, it’s the title that grabbed my attention first (“A rose by any other name…”) While most people associate this blurb with The Bard right away, for myself it reminds me of my first career in horticulture. Specifically, the enormous pain in the ass that goes into growing roses in six months to get them ready for spring shipping. Between bugs, blackspot, and everything else these fragile plants manage to infect or infest themselves with, it’s a time spent applying all manner of chemicals while ensuring that they are properly watered and warm in the middle of winter. Just imagine getting dressed up to shovel snow and then go gardening instead; it’s not really a close analogy, but it should convey the feeling.

I don’t hate roses based on these experiences; they are still a quite beautiful plant and flower. However, let’s just say that when it comes to giving flowers to someone, I tend to skip over anything with roses in it. (And that’s before the exorbitant markup, but I’ll digress now.)

The gist of the Lankes post is about the use of title “librarian” and how to make library science graduates attractive to businesses. One view from the Syracuse iSchool advisory board was to drop the title completely on the basis that there is an immediate association to the building (specifically the public library building) and that was hurting the marketability of graduates. He goes on to mention the debate within AASL circles within the last few years as to changing the title from ‘school media specialist’ back to ‘school librarian’. It’s a great thoughtful post about what it means to have the librarian title and considers whether it is worthwhile to carry that designation forward.

For myself, I think librarians have the same sort of branding and perception issues that are found with Coca-Cola. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t come up with some idea of what a librarian does; Coca-Cola is one of the most internationally recognized companies in the word. Like Coke, in some areas of the world (ok, basically the American south) it has become a synonym for all types of carbonated beverages; this is similar to how the average library user will refer to anyone who works at a library as a librarian. I’d stretch and say that there are uncommon jobs for both Coca-Cola and librarians (there are lots of things to collect and catalog in this world, my friends), but I think that might be straying.

Personally, I believe keeping the title librarian is important to the profession. It represents a strong basic bond between items that are collected, cataloged, and otherwise managed and a community to which such data and information organization is vital for their continued success and survival. It is about emphasizing these kinds of connections and how the human elements makes the difference. The association with the word ‘library’ is not a liability, but an asset; librarians manage access to the world’s information so imagine what they can do for you and your little corner of the business realm. It’s a bold customizable world where everyone can have their own special library for what matters to them. That’s the sentiment I’d want to tap into.

If that fails, at least we could consider calling ourselves standup philosophers.

7 thoughts on ““For the Apparel Oft Proclaims the Man”

    • Not that I don’t like those titles, but they sound rather vague. You could call yourself a knowledge expert yourself, but I happen to think that you prefer the title ‘Professor’ more. Why? Because it conveys that within its definition. It might be better to simply look to redefine the title rather than shifting to another name.

  1. I completely identify with the word “librarian”; I consider it my vocation. I once had a discussion with a fellow library director (yes, that is my job) who told me that, in our director jobs, we were not librarians, but library directors. I told him he could call himself anything he wanted, but I would always be a librarian.
    Of course, my undergraduate degree is in philosophy, so perhaps standup philospher would work as well.

  2. I think that whether or not someone is known as a librarian/information specialist/knowledge manager is less important that having their work appreciated as integral to information literacy and to the community the serve. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that librarians jobs consist solely of shelving books. They do not see the work librarians do as essential and libraries as antiquated buildings. If librarians undergo a name change libraries and the services they provide will still be at risk of losing funding and not being valued by the patrons they serve. Dispelling stereotypes of the profession, and educating the public on the work it entails is necessary.

  3. “…a strong basic bond between items that are collected, cataloged, and otherwise managed and a community to which such data and information organization is vital for their continued success and survival. It is about emphasizing these kinds of connections and how the human elements makes the difference.”

    Andy, this is one of the most beautiful, adept descriptions of librarianship I’ve read. I believe you’re on the right track here — and wonder if you’d consider a post to unpack these words a bit more. Below are questions I’ve been wrestling with and have confidence you can fill in some of the blanks.

    - What’s the value (historically and today) of materials that are purposefully collected, catalogued and otherwise managed?
    - Given the widespread availability of materials and the diversity of our communities, how can an individual collection (even those at large universities or large municipal systems) be adequate?
    - What’s the community connection to the collection?
    - What are some of the human elements, and how do librarians and libraries emphasize them?

    Trying to answer some of these questions, I think, is a start at defining the “special sauce” of librarianship. I’ve been struggling to articulate it myself and am still flopping all over the place with it.

    Thx, Jean

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