Librarian or Information Professional?

The librarian vs information professional conundrum has always given me something to think about, but has only come to a crunch point once so far. Until now.

The first time names caused issue was whilst I was choosing my Masters course. The choice of ‘Librarianship’ against ‘Information Studies’ was something I quibbled about very briefly, before realising that the course content was far more important than the name. If I wanted a cool degree title that made people go “ooh” I would have studied Egyptology or Experimental Archaeology.

But now LinkedIn has come along and forced me to choose the sector I work in, providing me with two supposedly opposing camps: ‘Libraries’ and ‘Information Services’. This puts me in a quandary.

I like the libraries/librarian tag. I am very much aware that it is connected to a traditional stereotype, but that stereotype is also well known. I think that the best way to make people understand what we do is to take that image and update it. For me, using ‘information professional’ or ‘information services’ creates a whole new problem of defining what that is, leaving the stereotypical librarian to fend for itself. Alternatively, that attempted definition will come back around to the word ‘librarian’, creating a sense that the word might be taboo, as if the profession were trying to hide it. Neither of these situations help our cause. As long as that old-fashioned perception exists, people will not understand the sector’s work, no matter what we call ourselves. I realise that some feel librarianship no longer encompasses all that we do as professionals, making the title unfit regardless of any connotations it may or may not carry, but I still feel that it is the best way to crack down on what people think the profession is and does.

Old and New by Mrs Logic (Flickr cc)

The librarian and information professional?

I should emphasise that I am not against the term ‘information professional’, in fact I am all for it. It explains that our roles transcend the physical library, and the work that we do is not only books, but information on a grand scale. However, might this be because I understand the importance of the sector and the work it does? We need to stamp out incorrect stereotypes before attempting a re-brand.  A bit like decorating – you need to remove any old wallpaper first and smooth the walls before applying a new finish, otherwise the old decor will still be visible underneath.

Then there are the views of others within the profession to consider. If I advertise myself within ‘information services’ will that  demonstrate me as a forward thinking professional, willing to challenge the boundaries of traditional perceptions? Or would ‘libraries’ better position me to connect with others, showing an appreciation of the profession’s core? Or maybe titles don’t matter at all? This was partly proved in research by myself and theatregrad presented at the New Professionals Conference earlier this year.

My LinkedIn sector currently displays ‘libraries’. I think I might stick with it for a while, until those library stereotypes are banished. Feel free to convince me otherwise though, I’m always open to change.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Lots of very valid points here, particularly around the re-naming of roles that used to be called ‘something Librarian’ into ‘something Information something’ eg; Learning Resource Centre or Information Centre, presumably in an attempt to sound more modern or to escape the ‘shhhhh’ stereotype.

    On the other hand the term ‘information professional’ is, I think, wider/broader than simply an attempt to re-brand librarians. There are groups who would never consider themselves librarians, and have neither a library or an information studies qualification, but who are nevertheless managing information in some form. I am thinking of groups such as records managers, knowledge managers or business information researchers.

    While the term ‘corporate librarian’ or ‘specialist librarian’ could be used to refer to some of these groups, I don’t think records managers, for example, would ever realistically be able to describe themselves as ‘librarians’ of any type. However I would suggest that they do fall within the wider remit of the ‘information profession’ – they are concerned with organising, retrieving and disseminating a particular type of information.

    Should these ‘other types’ of groups who manage information or knowledge or web content, or whatever, be considered to fall within the same profession as librarians? If so, is ‘information professional’ such a bad collective noun to use to describe this broader group? Or can people think of an alternative?

    Reply

    • I had thought about non-library information people, but for the purposes of what was intended to be a relatively succinct post, chose to focus on the more traditional roles with an ‘information’ prefix. It is a challenging question though, and one that definitely needs to be addressed.

      I was going to say that trying to fit all these groups into one profession is a problem, but I don’t think that is quite right – after all, breadth in a profession is definitely a strength not a weakness. I do agree that choosing a title to group them together is an issue though.

      ‘Librarian’ shows how far the profession has developed in a relatively short time. Was this name problem such an issue 10 years ago? Maybe. 15-20years? I don’t know. So many of these jobs didn’t exist that long ago (mind you, I did but only just!). ‘Information professional’ shows how it has still continued to progress, to the extent that even this new phrase is perhaps becoming out of date?

      Perhaps within the profession we need a clearer branch structure to show roles and how they are related? A kind of library family tree? Though I am wary of things like this as they can have the potential to pigeon-hole and label jobs with a one size fits all description that probably is not correct.

      So with regard to finding an alternative umbrella name, I’m at a loss for the time being. Bringing together something that encompasses all that the profession does, without diluting any aspects of our work is no small challenge. Sorry if that doesn’t answer your question! I can however refer you to some other posts on a similar topic, Joeyanne’s posts,“What’s in a name?”, What makes a librarian a librarian?”, and Carly’s opinion on “What’s in a name?”.

      Reply

      • Thank you for your detailed and interesting reply to my comment :)
        I was very interested in your original post due to being involved in organising the ‘De-fragmentation’ meetings (see http://bit.ly/iEvWaL or http://bit.ly/i2TWQi for more details).

        As part of the De-fragmentation project people have been considering the wider information communitiy; which groups would/wouldn’t self-identify as being a part of the same profession, how to define ‘the information profession’, what skills members of such a ‘meta-group’ might have in common, if any, and how these groups could communicate more and collaborate together (joint training, joint advocacy, promoting a common position to the media, government, etc).

        The production of a ‘library family tree’ (love the phrase you’ve used!) is one of the outputs we are hoping to put together; ideally one which each of the various groups, associations and societies which represent the various ‘types’ of information role mentioned on it can sign up to. I think such a document (infographic?) could be of great help when promoting information careers at undergraduate level, or for information students considering where to aim their career once qualified, or for a whole range of other people considering coming into the profession or moving within it. It would need to be reviewed regularly to make sure it didn’t become rigidly set in stone (and would probably also need a glossary attached, to explain exactly what ‘research’ or ‘knowledge’ meant in this context!).

        Reply

  2. My argument would be we as librarians have an amazing ability to encompass all variations that compose our professions. I believe we should take this opportunity not to become too rigid in our definitions as to what an librarian or information professional is our work is far too ubitqutious for that, however, what I think would should focus our energies on is how we can deliver innovation, creativity and added value to any sector. The days of constantly navel grazing, brain twisting as how we should define ourselves, is turning into repeat re-runs over perception, do our audiences understand what we do or can we or even should become an umbrella for all the different tribes that make this profession. Hell no! we need re-align our focus from a much positive platform by viewing our profession the best in the world, and yes we cannot rest on our laurels as the skills landscape keeps changing all the time, but we do need to review who we are, take risks and stop living in the past. I like the idea of a ‘library family tree’, but as you mentioned before we may be in danger of returning to the world of stereotypes unless we all take responsibility and control over our brand. On a positive note, one that can be said of this profession unlike other professions, you not stuck in your job-role label, you can be called different titles where it all boils down to the same thing in the end – a professional who works in the knowledge business managing information despite the physical landscape.

    Reply

  3. Personally I call myself a Librarian whenever a non-library person asks me what I do for a living. To a library-person I would probably say I’m an Information Officer, as that’s my job title and most people know what that entails. In my opinion Information Professional is an overarching term that emcompasses any professional role in the library and information realm. I don’t use the term Information Professional outside of the information world because in my experience you only know what it means if you are one.

    Reply

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