Sunday, January 26, 2014

Words as a Barrier to Understanding. Is It Time to Evolve Beyond Library and Archives?

You say library. They say books...They say books are dead.

You say archives. They say paper...They say everything is digital these days.

I rolled words through my head when I suggested this week that a student should consider a job in the library field and it got back to me that her mother said this is a bad idea. "'Libraries' probably won't exist in a few years, " she apparently told her daughter. I thought back to when I started in this job.

"Do you want to be called the 'Librarian' or 'Information Specialist,' Melissa?" they asked when I began. They were getting ready to put my title on my office window.

"I don't care what you call me because I am confident in what I am and I can explain it to others," I said. I thought the term "Information Specialist" was hoity-toity. I told myself that I've always been a librarian and an archivist.

A few months later I remembered that I coined "cultural heritage consultant" for my work with ArchivesInfo because the words DID matter. No one knows what any of it means, but cultural heritage consultant showed that I did something outside of JUST archives and libraries, whatever the audience thought JUST archives and libraries were. Once I grab someone's attention, the door is then open for me to explain more about what I do.

When I said to my student, "you may want to work in a library," it served as a brick wall. People have preconceived notions of what a library is. Yet, the cultural heritage professions have anything but preconceived notions these days. Libraries, archives and museums are community centers, storage facilities, places for research, knowledge centers, places for networking, educational facilities, creative hubs...We are striving to open doors and our traditional words can be limiting. Indeed, we have also had concerns about our words being hijacked and re-purposed. For example, "archive" as a verb has been discussed at length. Maybe we do need to find new words and phrases that better explain who we are and what we do?

"Information Specialist" connotes knowledge of a wide-range of information beyond the book. I've come to like the holistic feel of it.  It can mean anything - an understanding of where to find any information at all is how I like to think of it. The term applied to me and to what I do also takes into account my archives background and the school archives I am beginning. It acknowledges the crafting we do in our library, the makerspace we are beginning, the music we introduce to our students, the exhibits we set up... So, I now go by Librarian / Information Specialist. I want the idea of books in my students' heads, but I want the idea of libraries and librarians as evolving beyond the book in there too.

So who are we and what do we want to be as professionals? Do we need to take a fresh look at our job titles to better explain what we do now and where our professions are going?

No comments:

Post a Comment