Daily Archives: August 17, 2008

The Letters And Titles You Add To Your Name

Not unlike the “we need tenure” / “we don’t need tenure” debate, librarians appear to be quite divided on whether members of our profession should add their degree(s) to business cards, on their e-mail signature or elsewhere. In a discussion taking place on this topic on friendfeed (thanks to StevenC for pointing to it) librarians are expressing their opinions on the merits of putting MLS or MLIS after their name and whether or not doing so is an act of pretension. The decision to add one’s degrees on the business card can have special implications in higher education. I think the question is not whether it is pretentious to do so, but whether there is any point in doing so at all.

For me the bottom line is that it should not be necessary to make a point of one’s degrees. All that should matter is whether or not you individually add value to the work and lives of others so that it gives them meaning, and whether you contribute to your organization’s capacity to deliver a great library user experience. But the reality of academia is that we all do carry different degrees, and that sharing which ones you hold can deliver a message and may have potential value to colleagues. Like the adoption of leadership techniques, the listing of degrees on a business card or signature file should be considered situational.

While you could add MLS or MLIS to your name, as some folks pointed out over at friendfeed, there’s a pretty good chance that your academic colleagues won’t know what it means or probably won’t care to know. Just last week I was reading a faculty blog post where the author indicated that some of the nicest people she encountered as a grad student were “the librarians at the checkout counter” – ouch! Heck, many faculty still without a clue as to who is a professional librarian and who isn’t. What might be of more interest is to specify subject masters degrees and advanced degrees. That could carry more weight with faculty and give them more insight into an academic librarian’s capabilities. I deal frequently with administrators from other campus offices, and occasionally faculty, and I think there is value in having them know I have an Ed.D. (I add that but not the MLS) – moreso with the administrators than the faculty I’m sure. In fact it sometimes leads to better relationships. I’ve gotten into some good conversations with fellow Ed.D. holders and those who ask questions about pursuing the degree. If I had just listed MLS some of those collegial relationships would probably have never developed.

For many academic librarians, a more relevant question may be what to do with an academic rank or title. Is it pretentious to add “Associate Professor” to the business card? More or less pretentious than adding MLS? Adding this to the business card or signature file is probably of greater value locally. There may be some worth in communicating one’s rank to the faculty. It may inform administrative colleagues that librarians can hold a faculty rank. But to use it in your communications with the library community, such as adding it to the title slide of your presentation, will likely strike some fellow librarians as pretentious. Why do other librarians need to know – or why should they care – that you hold a rank at your institution? Most of these titles are just assigned upon hiring, not unlike being assigned to the rank of L1 or Associate Librarian, and may have no bearing on any sort of contributions one makes in a professorial way. At a prior institution I worked I recall adjucts who would routinely – even those teaching their first semester – sign off on their e-mail as Professor Jones. Of course it was absurd and insulting to the tenured faculty.

I know that librarians who have these titles are proud to hold them, and many have worked hard to earn them. When I see “assistant professor” after a librarian’s name in a journal it tells me is that he or she is likely on the tenure track, but beyond that I believe it means little to most librarians. So in this great debate perhaps the rule of etiquette is this: In your own community – sure – go ahead and create an alphabet soup of degree abbreviations and add a helping of titles and ranks. But when we’re amongst our own, let’s drop that stuff. All we really need to know about each other is where we’re from and what we do there. Let our conversations lead to the discovery of our professional DNA.