An outsider’s perspective on Strategic Knowledge and Special Libraries

I will qualify this post by saying that I’m not a “special librarian,” nor am I part of the Special Libraries Association as it exists today. I do think that the phrase special librarian has its issues, and I don’t consider myself an expert enough to properly weigh in on the historical and workplace-oriented effort to realign and rename SLA. However, I do find it important to me to have organizations that I feel would support me, and perhaps more accurately, that I would feel proud of being a part of, as I prepare to move from library school into the world of being an librarian and information professional.

The proposed name change to “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals (ASKPro)” is not getting there for me. I am sure that the organization, based on the positive things I have read from those who have volunteered many years of service, will undoubtedly remain supportive to its members and relevant for those that are a part of it. However, the “alignment” that this name change will supposedly be a large part in bringing about just doesn’t sit well with me; I feel that “Strategic Knowledge” smacks of boardroom “synergy” and other “paradigm shifting” words and phrases that are said all too often, while remaining meaningless and hollow. On October 8th, the SLA Blog featured a that began a series on “Action you can take NOW to increase your value in the Workplace.”

Item 1? Seek and Destroy Jargon.

One argument in favor of ASKPro that seems to be typical from my standpoint on the outside of this came from an email sent by Stephen Abrams, Vice President of Innovation and SirsiDynix, arguing in favor of the name change. It is rooted in a rather strict interpretation of the individual words that make up the title, and the tail end of the message sums up his argument nicely:

Strategic: “highly important to or an integral part of a strategy or plan of action”
Knowledge: “The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned”
Professional: “A skilled practitioner; an expert.”

Now who would vote against that? We’ll soon see.

My problem with this argument is this: the words “Strategic,” “Knowledge” and “Professional” considered in isolation convey nice and supportive things about the people practicing them. Strung together, they sound like a desperate conglomerate of buzzwords. Additionally, the logic behind this is simply flawed. Not to be overly childish about this, but this line of thought also led to Taco Bell’s “Cheesy Beefy Melt.”

Cheese? Beef? Melty? What’s not to love?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not particularly attached to the phrase “Special Libraries,” either. But I just read that incorporating the word librarian into your job title is somehow career-limiting, and that is something with which I do not agree. I do agree that right now, the word librarian does carry some image issues, but I think it is wrong and frankly lazy to simply eliminate it instead of working, on behalf of all librarians (“special” or otherwise), to change its connotation through innovative and inspiring work. I aspire to be a librarian, and if that means advocating my essential role to an organization, and demonstrating the new information and knowledge contexts in which a librarian may operate in the 21st century, then I will be more than happy to do so.

The debate rages on:

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3 thoughts on “An outsider’s perspective on Strategic Knowledge and Special Libraries

  1. Daniel,
    Ah, the dreaded “L” word: librarians. Also: “libraries”. This is a debate that started in the late 1980s when I was a student at SLAIS. It was also the beginning of a number of library schools becoming ‘information schools’ and excising the word librarian completely. To whit: the MISt at the University of Toronto.

    I have to admit that I would like to see the Canadian Health Libraries Association change its name to the Canadian Health “Librarians” Association. But that would never fly as we move into almost 40 years as an association. Ditto the “Medical Library Association” which goes back to 1898. It would never change either.

    Perhaps I should never say never. I commisserate with SLA. They’ve boxed members in now. If they note the name down, it’s end of story; if they vote to take the new name watch for mass exodus from the association.

    Dean

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  2. I’ve also been struggling with the little details of the proposed name, as have many other SLA members. For one, what is it that’s strategic? The knowledge? Or the “knowledge professional”? Both?!

    Regardless of the direction it is headed, I appreciate the association’s efforts. It shows a significant level of commitment to the profession and to its members. This name change business has inspired me to look further into the alignment project, and to question if I agree with their vision of the profession’s future.

    BTW, nice set of links, too. Thanks.

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  3. I do see what they are getting at. How frustrating is it when people automatically assume you are a librarian because you like books. Even other people who work in the same library as I do have trouble seeing outside the box. I find this same paradigm occurs when discussing records management. This is an area I am very interested in, and yet, when I discussed with my coworkers my interest, they had not even considered using a librarian’s skill set to successfully manage a records management program. The name change makes sense to get others thinking about, and realizing what librarians can do outside of the walls of a public or academic library. On the other hand, I agree with you Daniel, that we should be demonstrating what librarians can do, and should not necessarily have to change the name of an organization to get this point across. Don’t actions speak louder than words?

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