Who puts the L in Library?

In response to the recent phenomenon of removing the “L” from many former library school names… I can’t say what I think is right. I can understand both sides of the story, I suppose. The pro-L folks say that the library must be validated by retaining the name in the school title. The anti-L folks seem to think that antiquates the skill set learned in an “information school”–it should be broader than just libraries these days.

I tend to agree with that sentiment, though I can’t say I am particularly anti-L. I am a pretty techno-savvy person (though I’m pretty sure using the term “techno-savvy” means I am not, or it is 1997). But this doesn’t mean just because I could work outside of a library that I will. On the contrary, I went to library school in order to be able to work in a library. Now that I’m here and know more about the training I am getting, I may decide that I can use some “transferable skills” to get out somewhere, maybe work “on the outside,” but the idea of being a librarian of some kind is still my and many of my classmates’ primary motivator.

I do like the idea that we in library school gain a broader knowledge base than that required to do collection development. And removing the “L” certainly does position a school on that side of the line, but to me it just seems like marketing. If removing the L is what it takes to get and retain quality faculty with an interest in applying technology and information organization to a more traditional library curriculum, then by all means take it out. Faculty retention is a big issue, and library schools have to fight to stay competitive in that way.

Rutgers has cited the need to stay “competitive” as part of the reason for axing the L–and if that is what the powers that be consider to be more marketable, then, I personally don’t see the big problem. Maybe now we can all be web designers, OK, but the traditional library model is not going away. Library schools in Michigan and Washington (and Texas and Toronto) continue to produce successful librarians, without an L in sight. Perhaps broadening (and modernizing?) the image of library schools will be the shot in the arm that is necessary.

Perhaps what it comes down to is that the concept of the library is still caught in the transition from card catalogs and sepia-tone women in pencil skirts into a picture that is in 16 million colors and has patrons sliding their books across an RFID scanner to check them out. What I am saying here is that I believe library studies should be now be focused on increasing technological literacy in faculty and students, and that the shared conception of the library has to shift before the marketers controlling university programs worldwide will accept it as forward-looking. “Information” is sexy now, the “library” is not.

As soon as a common, shared image of the modern library exists, then the L will not be considered a detriment to competitiveness. But until that time, if the L word continues to carry a stigma, then maybe it is time to change.


One thought on “Who puts the L in Library?

  1. The closing paragraph puts it well: ” … shared image of the modern library exists … But until that time, if the L word continues to carry a stigma, then maybe it is time to change.”


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