Library Names

October 6, 2008

Dan Maas writes at the Littleton Public School’s blog about a possible name change for libraries and librarians (thanks to Tame the Web for the link). Maas utilizes the ever-popular etymological argument: library = books. We know that libraries are no longer all about books and the printed word but Maas makes the case that our name should be something else…something more nebulous. His picks: Library to Scholar Center and Librarian to Scholar in Residence. Check out his post for the whole story and don’t miss the comments, particularly Maxine’s about A/V “Specialists” instead of “librarians.”

Regardless of the word choice, Maas brings up a valid point. Libraries are not all about books anymore. The question that no one has really been able to answer, though, is what do we do about our name?

Library Science nomenclature really is an issue in a 21st century library. We have tried “informational professional” but that hasn’t really stuck outside of our own sub-culture. Most users still call us “librarian.” Any time you talk about renaming a traditional service in any field there is a lot to consider. I work in Interlibrary Loan, but we don’t just deal in loans anymore. Sometimes we purchase the item outright and just give it to the patron. We also work with a lot of electronic PDFs which we allow our patrons to copy for their personal use–again, not a loan, since they do not have to return it. Resource sharing is a new buzz word in my field because we are more than loans, just like libraries are more than books. I suppose this is a more accurate, but similarly nebulous, description of what we do; however, to add more complication, our department section also includes campus delivery to faculty and graduates. We deliver books and articles our library owns or borrows to the various campus departments. I have considered switching our name to Resource Sharing and Delivery, but there is no Interlibrary Loan in that title. The main concern: will our users even know what we do?

Inevitable conversation I (at an awkward family reunion):

“What do you do for work?”

“Oh, I am an information professional.”


“You know, people who help others find research materials. I work with books, journals and databases to try to find the best information out there for my patrons.”

“Oh, you mean you’re a librarian.”

Inevitable conversation II (on campus):

“Where do you work?”

“I work in the Resource Sharing and Delivery department.”


“I find research materials for users at other universities or public libraries. The other libraries send their stuff to me so I can check them out temporarily to my patrons.”

“Hey–I know that place…interlibrary loan, right? I love that!”

“Well, we also deliver the materials to faculty and graduates around campus.”

“Oh really? So you do interlibrary loan and delivery? That’s cool.”

Inevitable conversation III (at the main desk):

“Hi, I am returning a book I borrowed through Interlibrary Loan. I tried to take it back to the place I picked it up but there is a new department there now–Resource Sharing something-er-other. Can you tell me where ILL relocated?”

“Actually that is just its shiny new name. The department still does the same thing.”

I wonder if the switch from stewardess to flight attendant shook up the airline industry as much as a switch to Resident Scholar would the librarian world… I mean the “information professional” world. All jokes aside, at least flight attendant has an internal explanation of the service built in, in fact, it is even more descriptive than its genderized predecessor. How do you define what a librarian does in one to two terms…and still have non-librarians know intuitively who/what you are talking about?

For now, I am a librarian and I work in the library in interlibrary loan.

Image originally uploaded by Faeryan