What’s In a Name?

It’s been years (!) since I wrote about Punk Rock Book Jockeys, and I still love that title and the movement that it began. The only down side to it is that it really hasn’t done anything to change the public’s understanding of what a librarian is or should be. To the majority of people, it’s still “if you work in a library, then you’re a librarian.”

For decades, our profession has been working hard to educate the public about librarianship, and from what I’ve seen, it hasn’t been effective. Furthermore, it has left out the thoughts and feelings of the thousands of library workers who work alone in their small community’s libraries. They are, and will forever be, librarians to everyone in their towns.

One of the most persistent arguments that I’ve heard throughout the years from librarians goes something like this: “You wouldn’t go to a hospital to have a nurse perform a complicated surgery on you – and that’s how it should be in libraries. You wouldn’t want a paraprofessional handling information for you.” I bring this up in order to return to it in just a bit, since this argument helped me get to the entire point of this post.

I think that it’s safe to say that most of us know that there should be a change. But what I’m trying to say is that we could be going about it in a much more compelling way. It’s hard to make people change something ingrained in them by arguing that a large segment of workers they have known, and who have touched their lives, are unqualified.

So, here’s my proposal: change the name of what a librarian with a master’s degree is called. After all, to go back to the hospital analogy, there have always been different terms for hospital employees (doctors, nurses, etc.) – those workers have never been called “hospitalarians.” The medical field has differentiated the job titles since hospitals came into existence – so the analogy doesn’t quite hold, but it sure got me to thinking.

And while working on a presentation about paraprofessionals and librarians working together, I had a lightning bolt realization of what I thought we should consider calling librarians with MILSes. Are you ready? Here it is:

Master Librarians.

Boom. It says what it is, and is what it says. It would be a conversation-starter with anyone who hears it. Libraries everywhere have librarians, but not all libraries have Master Librarians. I think that many people would be incredibly proud to be called a Master Librarian after putting in all the blood, sweat, tears, and money (oh so much money) that it takes to earn a master’s degree.

Really take a moment to consider what could happen.

What if, in a sweeping motion, the American Library Association declared that “all who work in libraries are librarians.” To those outside of our profession, it may seem like they’re stating the obvious, but to us insiders? It would be epic. I believe that the ALA would seem more welcoming and worth the investment to all the library workers who were made to feel less-than.

And if the ALA took it a step further and gave a new name to librarians with master’s degrees? That would both honor and elevate those who have dedicated a great deal of their lives to our profession. Plus, people might begin to truly grasp the importance of librarianship. I know that my community would be incredibly proud that their library has two Master Librarians serving them.

Think about it, and then share – with me, with coworkers, with mentors – with anyone who will listen. These conversations could potentially lead to a healthy revolution within our profession, and that’s an exciting possibility.

Side note: you can click on this post’s lone image to get a super-big high-res version of it to use however you’d like! Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

  1. While it is a clever idea to introduce the title of “Master Librarian”, and maybe on the surface seems to solve the problem (or causes more confusion not to mention more resentment as “Master” elevates us even more among the ranks), it still begs the question why it should be necessary to contort the language with a built in redundancy (“Master Librarian”). What is the goal, to appeal to a watered down sense of identity among all of us, degreed and non-degreed? Does it serve as a short cut to a fuller profile of what we do and what we have been trained to do? We continue to fail to inform our library users why we are any different from anyone else in the library and risk a label of elitism and outcry of the loudest sort if we attempt to do so. The fact remains we are not all librarians who work in a library. Pointing out the success stories of deeply meaningful service on the part of those who did not obtain the degree does not change that fact. Small library Boards are delighted with our watered down version of ourselves, as it reflects a slipping identity much cheaper to employ and to retain. It is a group-think that becomes the reality we most fear.

    • Hi, Mary –

      First and foremost, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. Your questions really made me step back and think critically about both my thoughts and writing.

      I should clarify that I’m focused on public librarians since that is my background where I have the most knowledge. There are many other library positions out there who should have degreed-librarians (such as within schools). But, for example, over 90% of Nebraska’s public libraries are in very small rural towns where there is only one librarian, no library board, and is paid whatever the city can afford. I believe that if we were to make a degreed-librarian the only option, then this would kill libraries where they are deeply needed.

      As for the elitism, it’s already very present and incredibly toxic. I can’t blame degreed-librarians for their frustration in that the general public doesn’t get why their hard-earned degrees matter. I also can’t blame paraprofessionals for their frustration that they are considered very much less-than for working for lesser-pay but still trying to do their best for their communities. I’m one of those, and someone who has had devastating interactions with MILS holders who brought me to tears. Thankfully I have a dear group of wonderful Master Librarian mentors in my life, and on my library’s team, who help to take away the pain of those experiences.

      Finally, a big part of my background is in marketing, and that’s the main perspective I bring to this conversation. Library Science has been around since the late 1800’s, and yet the general public still seems surprised that a Master’s of Library and Information Science is a requirement to be a true librarian. If we haven’t educated the public in that span of time, then something isn’t right and we should use all of our skills and talents to figure out what will work. It may or may not be rebranding of the name, but I think that’s one area that we should seriously consider.

      I must say that I’ve rewritten my above thoughts many times, which I hope is a small indication of how much I appreciate your insights. Your concerns should be a part of this conversation, and for that I am grateful. If you feel that I have misunderstood or not addressed anything that you have brought up, then please help me understand what those things are.

      – Rebecca

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.