How have library and information job titles evolved, and does it matter?
by Clare Brown on February 4, 2021
It looks like another debate is about to kick off. It came to my attention that the Canadian Association of Law Librarians (CALL) will be hosting a Special Meeting to vote on proposed changes to the bylaws. The agenda includes a Town Hall to discuss a possible name change for the association. How helpful is this? Just because an association has the word library in it, doesn't mean that it isn't relevant, alive or forward thinking.
Ditto job titles. I have a lot of sympathy for Dave Shumaker, who said earlier in the month,
"Our profession is not our job title. This is an essential point; much of the heat in the debates over nomenclature comes from failing to recognize the difference. The professional identification as “librarian” comes from the factors mentioned in the previous paragraph. The choice of a job title is a tactical one: It’s a word or words we decide on to convey what we do to an audience—customers, bosses, and peers—in a specific social and organizational context".
How many librarians are there on LinkedIn?
What about numbers? When I was originally updating this post which was originally written in early 2017. It stated that "a quick LinkedIn search reveals that there are 158,455 Librarians, 71,224 Information Officers and 10,479 Knowledge Managers on there". I refreshed this search in late 2020 and found the following:
- 471,000 Librarians (158,455 Librarians)
- About 3,760,000 Information Officers (71,224 Information Officers)
- About 2,090,000 Knowledge Managers (10,479 Knowledge Managers)
These are incredible increases, and illustrates what a vast social network LinkedIn is. But also that the job title of librarian or information officer remains popular.
Preconceived ideas about the role of the Librarian
The librarian job title brings many preconceptions with it, some positive and some negative. Many incorrectly perceive librarians as being old fashioned and obsessed with books and print resources. The role is seen as static and behind the times.
Librarians are often assumed to be based in an expensive physical library building. In a time where budgets are limited, space and resources are at a premium. Indeed if you can “just Google it”, why does one need a librarian at all?
These misinterpretations of the profession act as significant barriers to reaping the full benefit of your organisation’s library service. One of the most positive aspects of the COVID pandemic is the realisation that library and information professionals are actually essential for continued information flow.
The reality of the information professional world
The figures quoted above demonstrate that information people are more numerous and visible than ever. Today’s reality sees a fast paced organisation with constantly moving parts. The information service is ever changing to meet the continuously evolving needs of its organisation. Indeed, the service acts as a shop that will sell or source anything its customers need.
- Information people can tailor knowledge and information to meet the needs of their end-users. Their service guarantees the firm’s competitive advantage.
- Information people are embedded within the communities they serve. Libraries are more than a physical space, they act as a service which listens to the needs of colleagues.
- Information people are tech savvy and far more competent that the average information consumer. They offer training to their colleagues on research techniques and guide their organisation through information best practices.
- Information people are able to curate content into a single digestible information package.
- Information people know how to search. In a world where 80% of content is below the surface, they can find niche resources, vet the most accurate sources and judge what is already out of date in our ever evolving industry.
Then there’s what goes on behind the scenes. Budget management, strategy, planning and negotiations all eat up a considerable chunk of the information professional's time. They must think strategically and forecast the needs of an organisation doesn’t even yet know itself. They must predict the future whilst analysing the past.
It is now clear that there is a general shift away from titles which contain the term librarian. Job titles include information, knowledge, analyst, data, curator, metadata, cybrarian(!) and other broader, more encompassing information based titles.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a library as, primarily:
a building, room, or organization that has a collection, especially of books, for people to read or borrow, usually without payment (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020)
Whilst information is defined to be:
facts about a situation, person, event, etc. News, facts, or knowledge (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020)
The reality is that information is found in library collections - ready to be turned into actionable knowledge by legal or financial professionals. Realistically, what is in a name? Whilst their implicit definitions may seem vastly different, a job title doesn’t tell the whole story. Chances are, librarians, information officers, knowledge analysts are doing the same or similar things in their roles, just with a different heading.
The librarian’s title may well bring with it many stereotypes but for many it also brings a sense of prestige and authority [possibly but it is just a job, after all!]. So by changing the name, what are we really altering? Should we be working to change the stereotype instead? Or have the name and the stereotype changed together?