You may have already heard that the Special Libraries Association (SLA), as a result of their extensive research during the alignment project, have proposed a name change. The new name, to be voted on by SLA members next month, is the “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals”, or “ASKPro“.
I’ve waited until now to blog my thoughts on this because I wanted to give the matter the consideration it deserves (and not at all because I am too easily distracted to blog on a regular basis…). I support the alignment project generally, and do see the need for a new name, but I’m not entirely sure that ASKPro should be it. However, I realise that my initial dislike of the name could have more to do with the fact that it’s New and Different and therefore Scary and Unnatural, so I have been giving it some serious thought over the last few days. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
For the change:
As was pointed out in the email announcing the proposed name, John Cotton Dana (founder of SLA, as if you didn’t know!) said in the first place that “The name Special Libraries was chosen with some hesitation, or rather in default of a better…”. The name doesn’t really mean much to me, and certainly means far less to non-librarians. When I first applied for the ECCA last year, on reading the stipulation that candidates “must have an interest in special libraries”, I had to do a fair amount of Googling to find out what constituted a special library. I wasn’t much the wiser after my Googling, either. Most people I told about the award didn’t know what it meant either – one library colleague said “Special libraries… Do they mean prison libraries?” It’s possible that the term is more widely understood in the States, but even so, I doubt the majority of SLA members actually consider themselves “special librarians”.
Add this to the fact that the alignment research has shown that the term “library” itself has low value to executives in charge of setting our budgets and making hiring decisions, and it’s clear that the name is not useful to us as a profession. SLA have also stated that the new name was chosen in part to “fulfil the desire frequently stated in member discussions for a name with a meaningful acronym or shortened form” – I can’t say that this is massively important to me, but it’s true that “SLA” is not a particularly memorable acronym.
Against the change
Perhaps this will vary depending on the speaker’s accent, but “ASKPro” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue! The K and P sounds together make it, in my opinion, slightly difficult to say – and drop the K and you have either “ass pro” or “arse pro”, depending on accent – not an improvement on the innuendo-free SLA! (Someone who shall remain nameless also pointed out that “ASKPro” reminded her of “Reference services from -ahem- ‘ladies of the night'”. I hadn’t thought of that before she mentioned it but am finding it hard to get past that image!).
I’m also not entirely sure what a “strategic knowledge professional” is. SLA have been very keen to emphasis that changing the name of the organisation does not mean changing the name of our profession – individual members are still free to call themselves librarians, information professionals, knowledge warriors, or whatever they like really – but that the new name has been chosen because it “ties special librarians and information professionals to the strategic goals of their organizations, increases the perceived value of their services, and stresses their professionalism”. I’m not really convinced though – if someone asks what I do and I say I’m a strategic knowledge professional, are they any the wiser than if I’d said “librarian” or even “information professional”? Then again, would it leave them any less informed? My fictional conversationalist would be just as baffled by “information professional” as “strategic knowledge professional”; and would probably be misled by “librarian”.
I’m not really sure what the purpose of adding “strategic” into the name is, other than to make a meaningful acronym: my immediate reaction on hearing the new name was that it sounded incredibly American. “Strategic” always strikes me as one of those management-speak nothing-words – it’s filler, added in to make things sound more important than they are. According to the SLA alignment research, it’s one of the words that tested well when added in to a job description, as a way of helping non-librarians understand what we do; but I wonder if that applies more to American audiences than elsewhere.
So overall, basically, I’m still undecided. I do think we need a new name, but I still wish that it could have been something better than ASKPro. I don’t actually have any better ideas, of course! I honestly don’t know which way I’ll vote next month, so am looking forward to continuing the debate. If anyone has any compelling arguments either way, feel free to share!