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FreePint BlogWhat’s in a name?

Monday, 14th December 2009 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By Tim Buckley Owen


By a significant majority, members of the Special Libraries Association have voted not to change the organisation’s name. It’s not the first time that a major information organisation has gone through a name change process in recent years – and the ‘L’ word remains remarkably resilient. Half of eligible SLA members voted, and the total of 3,225 ‘no’ votes against 2,071 ‘yes’ sends a clear message to the Association’s leaders, who were proposing it be renamed the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals or ASKPro. The proposal came out of SLA’s Alignment Project, a two-year research effort aimed at understanding the value of the information and knowledge professional in today’s marketplace and how to best communicate it ( The decision may or not be the best one from the SLA’s point of view – but the announcement by SLA leaders that members ‘failed to approve’ the change has had a number of them up in arms. Comment after comment points out that members didn’t ‘fail’ but simply rejected the proposal, and that the negative connotation put on the result sends out an unhelpful message ( At least two other major organisations representing information professionals have been through some kind of name change process in recent years. I can recall BIALL (the British & Irish Association of Law Librarians) considering a change when I had the privilege of addressing its annual conference in 2002 – although its online history pages make no reference to such a proposal ( Earlier that same year, though, the Library Association and the Institute of Information Scientists had successfully achieved their change of name, morphing into CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals – although that change was born of necessity as a result of their merger ( (Full disclosure: I was part of the management team responsible for bringing about the change.) What is significant is that, in all three instances – SLA, BIALL, CILIP – the word ‘Library’ or ‘Librarians’ has survived. It suffers from a persistent image problem, but as a compact way of expressing in broad terms where people in this profession come from, there doesn’t seem to be anything to improve on it What the word doesn’t necessarily do is communicate the value that information professionals’ management of their ‘library’ adds. That of course is the purpose behind SLA’s Alignment Project, and in this regard, a couple of SLA blog comments stand out. One expresses the hope that the Alignment process would include all viewpoints – traditional library, corporate and ‘far out’. And the other quotes the supremely successful change agent Gandhi: ‘We must become the change we want to see’.


About this item:

Tim is an information skills trainer and writer on the information industry with over 40 years' experience in the profession. His career has encompassed information management, writing, editing, training, government policy advice and corporate media & marketing.

Besides writing for FreePint, Tim runs courses for training providers and private clients on enquiry handling, abstracting & summarising, information packaging & presentation and information management. The sixth edition of his classic handbook Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time is published by Facet Publishing. You can find details of Tim's training services at

Tim can also be reached at

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