Thursday, November 12, 2009

Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals: Why I will be voting "Yes" to the SLA name change

I have remained fairly quiet about the proposed name change for the Special Libraries Association until now because I have been giving it some good thought, and watching the various conversations unfold. Change is not always easy, and it has amazed me how seriously people take the names and labels we apply to ourselves.

This is why I will be voting "Yes" to the name change. Take from it what you will:

  • I have always found "Special Libraries Association" to be problematic. The term "special library" is not clear, and people outside librarianship do not understand what it means. I always say "specialized library" to clarify, and still that is not completely accurate. Aren't all libraries specialized in some way? I also object to it being "libraries" instead of "librarians" because it is not our libraries that are members. And even so, SLA includes more than librarians, so that would not be accurate as well. And ever since the Symbionese Liberation Army, the abbreviation SLA has had negative connotations in my book. At any rate, I have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to move on to another name.
  • We all can come up with a name that we prefer for the Association, but the truth is everyone else will think his/her own idea is better. We are never going to come up with a perfect name that everyone adores. SLA is just too big an association for that, and our many members are just too diverse to all completely agree. This is not a bad thing in my books--the diversity is what helps us to see things from other perspectives and makes us strong as an organization, and helps feed me as a member.
  • In today's world, one cannot just make up a name and go with it. There has to be availability as far as business name, trademark and domain name. And it has to work on a global level, not just in the U.S. As we know, easier said than done! I always find naming things (blogs, my company) the most difficult part of any new project, and adding this layer of obstacles makes it near impossible to come up with an original name. I am impressed that the SLA Alignment initiative took it even a step further and ran focus groups, and tested the names they came up with against the market, and found a clear winner.
  • The research SLA did with marketing/branding experts Fleishman-Hillard was pretty intense. For the record, I was part of one of the focus groups here in Toronto. I learned a lot about attitudes towards librarians from the others (non-librarians) who also took part. It became even clearer to me on that day that a change is needed.
  • It is time to open up the possibilities for ourselves. While I love being a librarian, and will always consider myself one, the name of my occupation can cut two ways. There is a lot of respect for libraries, but we are often seen as the people in the back quietly making things run. And yet, my skills are so varied I can be involved in many aspects of an organization to help it run more smoothly: library, information management, knowledge management, and records management to name a few. Why restrict ourselves to library? Where are the librarians who are CIOs?
  • A lot of money, time and effort has gone into this name change proposal. If we do not seize the moment and change it now, it is unlikely a chance will come around for a very long time, if at all. I highly doubt SLA Executive Boards in the near future are going to want to risk yet more rejection if we do not accept this name.
  • The proposed new name, Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals (ASKP), is one I can live with. Actually, I really like it. But the key is that we have to be able to live with it, even if we don't love it. The term "strategic" places me right where I want to be, leading projects and organizations in their goals and objectives, and helping them in their accomplishments. I tend to talk about "information professionals" rather than "librarians" (because my profession includes more than librarians) or "knowledge professionals" but the truth is those in IT have sewn up the term "information" so it is difficult for us to differentiate ourselves if we use that term. If we get into semantics, I see "knowledge" as building on and going a step further than "information" so this is a positive difference. While all members certainly don't work in knowledge management, we are all smart knowledge workers (as originally defined by Peter Drucker) in our own right. So, this is appropriate. And we are all professionals. This is an association of ambitious, smart people who approach their work in a professional manner. And many of us consider our work to be not just a nine-to-five job, but a vocation.
The more I think about it, the more I see this name change as a positive change. I have heard so much negative feedback, I thought it was time to put in a positive voice.

For additional information, visit the SLA Name Change Info Center. If you are on Facebook and are also thinking about voting for the new name, join me on the page YES to Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals. The vote begins Monday, November 16 and ends on December 9th.

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