Choosing a new name for a professional association ranks right up there, in terms of difficulty, with winning the lottery or climbing Mount Everest. Library association members are loathe to walk away from the “L” word. Meanwhile, other associations appropriate the word “information” into their names, possibly to the detriment of library-related associations’ sustainability. What are we to make of this, and what does it say about the future of information professionals?
In early February 2016, the American Association of Law Libraries rejected a proposal to change its name to the Association for Legal Information. AALL reports that 59.1% of its members voted, with 80.11% opposed and 19.89% in favor. That’s decisive!
The Special Libraries Association tried twice, in 2003 and 2009, to change its name. It failed both times. The Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals was the name on the table in 2009, bypassing both libraries and information. To avoid using “Libraries” in its name, it now prefers to go by its acronym, SLA.
In 2013, the U.K.’s CILIP (Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) decided against pursuing a name change. Under consideration were Information UK, Info Pro UK, and the Knowledge People, but since the idea was scratched before getting to an actual name, those were never voted on.
When name changes are voted down, you never truly know whether it’s a desire to retain the old name—out of nostalgia, being change-resistant, or firm adherence to librarianship as a profession—or a dislike of the new name and/or its acronym. For AALL, SLA, and CILIP, it could have been either.
Other associations have changed their names, opting to put “information” front and center. AIIM says it’s the “global community of information professionals.” Like SLA, AIIM wants people to focus on its acronym, not its actual name, which is the Association for Information and Image Management. No more microfilm, AIIM’s aim is now on risk management, automating business processes, content management, and using information to gain business insights.
The acronym ARMA originally stood for the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. Rather than go through a complete renaming exercise, it became ARMA International, ditching that musty “records manager” designation and embracing a global audience. Its mission statement talks about “governing information as a strategic asset.”
Where does online searching for information fit into these associations? Librarians were the first online searchers and are still more concerned with research using external information than internal. The Associations Unlimited database tells me there’s no association with online searcher or online searching as its name. While 162 associations have “libraries” in their names, only 56 have “librarians” in the names. Yet it’s people who belong to associations.
Rebranding is tricky. Online searching is only one aspect of what information professionals do. And what information professionals do doesn’t necessarily happen in a library. We need to embrace information as fully as we embrace libraries and librarians. We need to position ourselves as being in the forefront of the information economy, not necessarily by discarding the “L” word but by proclaiming our role as information experts.