Dropping the L

May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am 4 comments

“Aren’t you at Rutgers SCILS? What do you think of them dropping the ‘L’?”

Over the course of about two weeks, I was asked these questions several times. Fellow librarians from all over the country called or contacted me over IM wanting to know what I thought about the name change at Rutgers University SCILS. By the time news of the faculty vote to change the name of the school from School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) to School of Communication and Information (SCI) reached the national media in February, I had already known about the change a short while and I had an answer ready for my colleagues. It had taken me awhile to put into words what I was feeling. I wasn’t upset or angry-just sad.

Problems with the “L”

The “L” has apparently been an issue around Rutgers School for Communication, Information and Library Studies for quite some time. During the orientation to the Ph.D. program last fall, there were a few references to a previous debate concerning the title of the Ph.D. program. There are three departments in the school (Communication, Library and Information Science, and Journalism and Media Studies) and the doctorate in Communication, Information and Library Studies does not acknowledge the department of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS). Students in the JMS area receive a degree that does not mention their course of study but does mention LIS-an area of study with which most of the students are not even remotely associated.

It was also clear that some students in the PhD. program simply do not like graduating with a degree that includes the word “library.” Information” is okay, but “library” is not.
Even though the name of the Ph.D. program is not changing, the name change is not good news for librarians. Why don’t people outside of our profession want to be associated with us? What is wrong with “library”?

Librarians’ Problems

Librarians have not effectively proved the worth of our profession, our workplaces, or our schools. Librarians are underpaid, library budgets are highly contested, and library schools often close. We start major marketing pushes such as I Love Libraries and endlessly discuss the “future of librarianship.” Still, there is little change. Salaries are middling. Budgets are cut all over the country. Clark-Atlanta closed its library school in 2005. And Rutgers SCILS drops the L.

The responses posted to Library Journal’s articles on the name change clearly show that people are passionate about this issue. However, the posters also point to the “problem” with the term library. It is clear that many people, including librarians, simply associate libraries with books. One poster states: “School of Communications and Infomation [sic] Googlers! SCIG. No wonder book stores are closing down and Amazon is selling more non-book media.” Another writes: “My fear in dropping the word “library” is that increasingly the emphasis will be on technology and not on books and reading. As a middle school librarian…I believe my most important task is to market the books!”

These comments point to one of profession’s problems: a tenacious dedication to a particular format. I love books, but I do not believe it is my job as a librarian to market them. I want people to read but I have no problem with them reading on their Kindle. Our reluctance to let go of the book as an ideal format for information keeps us tied to a technology that is time- and place-bound. This is not surprising; people often become librarians because we love books and the place where we could get them for free. Other people do not share our affinity for books and libraries. And it is often these people that have control over our salaries, budgets, and schools.

Whither the L?

The truth is that by the time the issue of dropping the L came before the SCILS faculty it was already too late. We had failed in our quest to bring people’s perceptions of libraries and librarians up to date. The academy has decided that library science is important but not prestigious. Neither its research nor its alumni bring in significant amounts of money and the term sounds passé. Note that all of the remaining library schools have “information” in their titles. All are either schools of information or schools of library and information science.

Rutgers is not the first to drop the L and I suspect it will not be the last.

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School Library Media Specialists and Teachers- Can we really collaborate? 5 Surprises from first year as an MLIS

4 Comments

  • 1. Fiona  |  May 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    A somewhat unrelated comment…
    You think libraries have an image problem? A maths teacher and a librarian, both 30-something and single, were complaining to each other that when they met men, their job titles were a turn off.
    So one night at a club, they decided to “swap jobs”. All night, each time they met a new man, the maths teacher would say she was a librarian, and the librarian would say she was a maths teacher.
    At the end of the night…said the librarian, “You’re right. Maths teacher is much worse.”

  • 2. Anonymous  |  May 7, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I have a problem with the whole “library media specialist”/”library media center” nomenclature. It distances those of us working in schools from those working in libraries elsewhere – there’s not a Library Media Center of Congress, is there? Or San Francisco Public Library Media Center?

    I think Library and Librarian mean something. The Journalism students are right to want their area of study to be reflected in the name of their school and degree, but to get rid of the L-word doesn’t help them… or us.

  • 3. Phil  |  May 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    I’ve been writing about this very same issue within my own library. The upshot is that we’ve got so many generations of acculturation towards books that we’ve forgotten that they’re an information *container* but they’re not the information itself. So when the container starts to change, many librarians are lost.

    The good news is, many librarians are not lost. Many seem to be able to follow the *information*, as it were, and adopt whatever format works for whatever patron. It’s that resilience that makes me optimistic.

    And if our public needs to hear a different word in order for our role to make sense to them, well then, let’s change the word. I’d rather be able to do what we do for patrons under a different name than to keep the name and lose the role.

  • 4. Ammie  |  May 20, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I love being a librarian…but I have to say, dropping the L does not bother me that much. I feel as if I am more of an information specialist (getting them what they need, how they need it, with smile no less:). I graduated with my MLIS in 2007 and have talked to a number of my cohort and find them in a wide range of jobs that require them to be able to obtain accurate information in a variety of formats. In a way, this is what librarian’s have always been (not to mention scholars in a variety of subject). I don’t think “information” neccessarily means electronic vs. print. Informaiton (especially when you are doing research at 5am in the morning for a paper due at 5pm the next day) is good as long as it is accurate and available…no matter the form or if it is a librarian or information specialist who gets it for them.


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