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Magazines > Online > Sep/Oct 2003
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Online Magazine
Vol. 27 No. 5 — Sep/Oct 2003
What's in a Name?
By Marydee Ojala • Editor

Juliet in Act II, Scene II, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, famously posed the question, "What's in a name?"--"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." She's talking about Romeo being named Montague and she Capulet. If both would simply give up their names, she naively believes, conflict will be avoided. Gertrude Stein weighed in on the issue decades later and a continent away. "A rose is a rose is a rose." Never mind the smell--the name is all that matters.

After years of discussion, task forces, and meetings, the Special Libraries Association voted on a name change at its annual meeting in June 2003. The options were to use the acronym, SLA, or to move to something completely different, Information Professionals International. The third option was to retain the current name. The final vote (with about 7.5% of the membership actually voting) was to remain as Special Libraries Association. For some, this was nothing less than an identity crisis. Was this an association for librarians or not?

What's in a name? What does special mean when applied to libraries? What is special about special libraries? Are both words, separately or together, open to misunderstanding? In today's online world, when people access information via computers, what, exactly, is a library? Is online information the equivalent of a library, perhaps even superior to a library? Or does obtaining information solely from online sources limit its amount and quality?

Even the word online is ambiguous. Is ONLINE online? Sounds like a trick question--and the answer is a definite maybe. Selected full-text articles from ONLINE are on the Web site [] as HTML documents. All the articles appear in several full-text databases resident on traditional online hosts (Dialog, EBSCO, Factiva, LexisNexis) as ASCII records (dates of coverage vary). The original coining of the word online implied a telephone dial-up procedure to "go online." If I access the Internet on my mobile phone, PDA, or other wireless device, I'm online even though there's no line. Online, then, is more than on the line. It's also more than the Internet.

What's in a name? Is there a difference between a search engine and a search tool? Or are they different names for the same thing? One view is that search engines spider the Web while search tools involve human intervention and organizing of data. Where, then, does traditional online fit into the continuum? Can we talk about a Dialog search engine or a LexisNexis search tool? Should there be another name for the search operations performed by traditional online? Or should we not restrict the meaning of search engine to the Web and spidering technology?

I've often wondered why an organization of individuals, such as Special Libraries Association, should be named as if it were an association for institutions and buildings. It isn't the libraries that join; it's the librarians. As for online, I'd like it to have the broadest possible meaning. Online goes beyond a technology, encompasses more than the Internet, and implies future growth. Online Professionals Association, anyone?

Marydee Ojala [] is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to

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