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25th Anniversary 1978-2003

Vol. 25, No.2/Winter 2003

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Notes From the Chair: Conference attendees will vote on name change
By Michael Jesse

Those of you who will be attending conference in New York this coming June will have an additional responsibility beyond the conference programs, networking and vendor demonstrations which are the primary reasons you attend.

As members of the Special Libraries Association, you will be asked to vote on whether the association will change its name. You may have heard at various times the past few years about the "Branding Task Force" which was charged with studying the name and recommending whether it should change.

I will admit that my reaction to this in the past has sometimes been (1) "branding" is just a bunch of superficial marketing crap, and (2) they'd better not take "libraries" out of the name because, dammit, I'm a librarian, not a "knowledge worker."

However, having now thought about this for longer than the 30 seconds or so I invested in it previously, I have come to realize that this is, in fact, an important and perhaps even a vital issue for the continued viability of our organization.

The hard truth is that SLA membership has been in steady decline for years and that trend seems likely to continue. Most of our members are closer to the ends of their careers than to the beginnings, and fewer younger people identify themselves or their jobs with SLA. In the News Division, for example, we have many people -- including myself -- who still consider themselves librarians and who are willing to explain to other people that no, we do not just check out books all day and no, the Internet is not replacing us. We also have members who are no longer called librarians but are news researchers, copyrights administrators and even Web site designers.

Down the hall at your news organization there are probably several young people putting news on the Internet who think that "archiving" just means not deleting yesterday's files. These people could learn a lot at a SLA conference, but they would not be caught dead there because they are, like, you know, so not librarians.

And it is not just the L-word in the name that is a problem. The S-word doesn't help much either because over the past few decades the word "special" has become primarily associated with disability organizations.

If you survey people about the name "Special Libraries Association" -- and the branding task force has done so -- you get a lot of guesses about libraries for those with special needs. That is a noble profession; it just isn't ours.

There is something wrong when the name of your organization requires five minutes of explanation. And if you are trying to convince your new boss to send you to conference you have just used up 95 percent of his available attention span trying to explain what SLA is.

The task force concluded -- and I agree -- that our organization should have a new name and a broader identity. It absolutely must remain inclusive of librarians, who will remain its core, but it should also be inviting to people in other information-related fields as well. Many of those jobs did not exist a decade ago and professional associations are still emerging. If we include them in our association we would benefit tremendously -- and once we have them we will teach those whippersnappers a thing or two about "metadata."

So . . . what should we call ourselves? At the annual meeting in June, members present will be asked to choose between two proposed names: "Information Professionals International" and "SLA."

The "SLA" name may not seem like a change, but it is similar to what many companies have done -- keep the familiar initials but discard the phrase from which it came. IBM and 3M are examples of this.

The other choice -- "Information Professionals International" -- accomplishes two things: (1) it uses a broad definition of our profession which is inclusive of librarians but open to others in similar fields, and (2) it emphasizes our organization's effort to also grow beyond North America.

Under the new bylaws, a name change will require two votes. First there will be a vote between the two proposed names, with a simple majority carrying. Then, there will be a second vote on whether to change from "Special Libraries Association" to the proposed new name. This second vote requires a two-thirds majority to be enacted. If it passes, the name would not change immediately but perhaps six months or so later after the lawyers do their work changing contracts and so on.

If this is enacted, the next steps would involve promoting the association to professionals who are not librarians exactly, but who work in related information fields and have similar challenges and goals. Our specific division would not radically change -- though we, too, would have opportunity for growth -- but the larger association might soon have a new division for Web site developers or "business-to-business extranet managers."

If you consider yourself a librarian -- as I do -- you will still be a librarian afterwards. You can even be "special" if you want. This is not about your title or your identity, but about broadening the identity of the association.

Last Updated: 2/4/03
Ron Larson