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.

19 thoughts on “The Letters And Titles You Add To Your Name

  1. your one “ouch” about a librarian at the checkout desk may not be a blunder. I have been known on more than one occasion to check out books to patrons even when I was serving as interim director. As far as the issue of degrees after a name, I added them to mine after I started working here at the community college (TC3) because I have an associate’s degree from TC3 as my first degree after I got out of the military in 1972. That means a lot around here along with my masters and bachelors.

  2. Brian – I’m sure there are occasional conversations about academic library issues via twitter, but I also know there is lot’s of noise and non-conversation (e.g., I’m having lunch now). The blog, while possibly antiquated, to my way of thinking is still a pretty good way to share some ideas about an issue of the day – and our loyal readers – some 5,000 a day here at ACRLog – don’t need to filter our posts from lots of useless information to stay informed about the important issues. BTW – I suppose you’ll be shutting down Ubiquitous Librarian any day now.

  3. Etiquette. This is a concept I struggle with. Too often there is no argument about what is best, but rather an attempt to “offend” as little as possible. How can someone be offended by a simple statement of your rank or education, especially if we have the same level/amount? No, I guess the better question is SHOULD people be offended by such things, and SHOULD offending them be avoided.

    Offense alone cannot be a good enough justification for disallowing something: If someone was “offended” by being served in a restaurant by a waiter of a certain race, ethnicity, gender role, etc. no one would start firing waiters that fit those descriptions.

    Instead, perhaps we should be talking about justified offense. Does it make sense to be offended by such and such? I think that it would hard to defend a position of offense without intention. Someone could hardly be offended by someone not intending to offend. Or rather the offense cannot last, once lack of intention is discovered.

    In this case, I’m not sure you can assume intention to offend in someone’s including their degrees or rank after their name. I know I wouldn’t be offended. Jealous maybe! lol In fact, most often, I’m disappointed when someone leaves out basic information about their qualifications like that. If I’m being trained in the use of a new database or interface, I’d like to know whether I’m talking to a person trained in education, librarianship, or sales. It makes a difference in how I interpret their provided assistance.

    It does depend on the situation though. If it’s just a comment on a blog (like here for instance) I really need that level of information. There’s not enough complexity to require more detail to base my judgment on. But in a journal article or workshop, I probably would like to know what degrees the author/instructor has and maybe what their title/rank is in their institution. It may not work in their favour, but I’d rather know that not know.

    Yes, some toes may be stepped on, and some toes should not be stepped on (I’m not walking around telling ugly people exactly how they look… I may get more information than I’d like myself. LOL) but some toes do. If it was standard practice for librarians (and others as you see fit) to regularly include these extra bits of information on their business cards, in their presentations, or wherever, then it would very difficult for people to be offended by it, and we would get more information about the people we are working with, and if librarians don’t want or can’t handle more information, who can, right?

  4. In my current position, professional librarians are tenured faculty. A few years back, we had a discussion of whether a second master’s degree should be required for promotion to full professor. I was against the proposal because the terminal degree for academic librarians here is the MLS or MLIS. I really don’t think listing the degrees is good when writing to other librarians. I earned a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies before I became a librarian, and that gives me some credibility with faculty outside the library. The fudd turned out to be helpful when I ran for chair of our faculty senate a few years back. So, I am sometimes tempted to include my degrees in my signature file. What I do as a compromise is to add the degrees when the person writing me has listed theirs and seems to think it is important or when I am dealing with an administrator whom I do not know. I’ll probably add the degrees to my new business card.

  5. Early in my career I was musing on this issue. Around that time I was at a faculty retreat sitting with several younger female professors in the sciences, all with earned doctorates, and asked them what they thought/did. To a person they insisted that students address them with their title (Dr. …), included their title on business cards, name plates, etc. It seemed as though they felt the need to make their status explicit, whereas for their older (and mostly male) counterparts, it might have been assumed.

    I, too, have an earned doctorate and haven’t made it a practice to list my degree in similar situations. I do add it to my email signature, but only when I want to make a point. And I ask for it in published listings when others also give their titles.

  6. OK, I’m not in the academic field, and clearly whether or not to add your degree abbreviation after your name depends on the context. But let me get this straight: I worked hard and went into debt to earn a MSLS, yet it’s uncool to say I’ve earned one? When every MBA, PhD, and Ed.D of the world can proudly trumpet their level of education on a biz card or in their sig file and that’s perfectly acceptable? Give me a break! I am so fed up with fellow librarians downplaying their achievements. This profession is fighting to survive–at least in the special libraries realm, where everyone is contract labor and companies are closing libraries right and left to meet short term financial goals–and y’all want to act like being a librarian is no big deal. If we continue to limit ourselves in this manner, then: a) this “profession” is not really a profession; and b) requirements for said degree should be downgraded to a Bachelors.

  7. I add my degrees to the end of my name on my business card because I work as a special librarian on campus, under a different job title, and not within the academic libraries, and I have had a few librarians challenge my right to call myself a “librarian” before they know I have the degree. I also agree with Karen: I worked hard for this professional credential and the designation does mean something to people who work in academia and in information studies in general, so I proudly have it on my business card.

  8. I added my degrees after my email signature when I was not working in the library but in another department on campus. I did so mainly because my position was temporary and I was looking to perhaps stay there and apply for a librarian position in the future. I was worried about looking pretentious, but then I remembered how long I was in school and how much I spent on my master’s degrees; so I made the decision to forgo feeling ashamed about the pretentious-ness of it.

  9. In response to Douglas Anderson’s comment – there’s a long recent discussion over at Crooked Timber about the difference in the way male and female professors are perceived by their students. What’s emerged in that thread are some pretty clear reasons why faculty use their titles, especially female faculty.

    I earned a PhD before entering my MLIS program, and I haven’t been sure how to treat the title. As a young-looking woman, I had been encouraged to display the degree in my old context, but I want to adopt librarian norms now, and it’s frustrating to hear that there’s not a full consensus! :) It sounds like the best I can do it take it out of my sig file and use it on a case-by-case basis.

  10. This is a really interesting debate. I never thought twice about adding my MLIS to my sig file and business card when I first started my job a year ago — probably because my colleagues already had their degrees listed and I followed suit. I really don’t think it’s too big of an issue whichever way you decide to go. Personally, I think it reminds professors on my campus that I *do* have faculty status and, as some others commented — I’m proud of my accomplishments so why not throw my degree on the business card? I never would have thought it would come off as pretentious.

  11. Etiquette. This is a concept I struggle with. Too often there is no argument about what is best, but rather an attempt to “offend” as little as possible. How can someone be offended by a simple statement of your rank or education, especially if we have the same level/amount? No, I guess the better question is SHOULD people be offended by such things, and SHOULD offending them be avoided.

    Offense alone cannot be a good enough justification for disallowing something: If someone was “offended” by being served in a restaurant by a waiter of a certain race, ethnicity, gender role, etc. no one would start firing waiters that fit those descriptions.

    Instead, perhaps we should be talking about justified offense. Does it make sense to be offended by such and such? I think that it would hard to defend a position of offense without intention. Someone could hardly be offended by someone not intending to offend. Or rather the offense cannot last, once lack of intention is discovered.

    In this case, I’m not sure you can assume intention to offend in someone’s including their degrees or rank after their name. I know I wouldn’t be offended. Jealous maybe! lol In fact, most often, I’m disappointed when someone leaves out basic information about their qualifications like that. If I’m being trained in the use of a new database or interface, I’d like to know whether I’m talking to a person trained in education, librarianship, or sales. It makes a difference in how I interpret their provided assistance.

    It does depend on the situation though. If it’s just a comment on a blog (like here for instance) I really need that level of information. There’s not enough complexity to require more detail to base my judgment on. But in a journal article or workshop, I probably would like to know what degrees the author/instructor has and maybe what their title/rank is in their institution. It may not work in their favour, but I’d rather know that not know.

    Yes, some toes may be stepped on, and some toes should not be stepped on (I’m not walking around telling ugly people exactly how they look… I may get more information than I’d like myself. LOL) but some toes do. If it was standard practice for librarians (and others as you see fit) to regularly include these extra bits of information on their business cards, in their presentations, or wherever, then it would very difficult for people to be offended by it, and we would get more information about the people we are working with, and if librarians don’t want or can’t handle more information, who can, right?

  12. “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.”
    And “ouch!” back at you — I am a librarian and an adjunct assistant professor. My title is on my business card, and I do add it to my e-mail sig when corresponding with people outside my library. In your view, does one need to possess a doctorate to be called Professor? (Then what does “Doctor” signify in an academic setting?)

    In a perfect world, “Librarian” would be a title of equal respect with “Professor” and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But this isn’t a perfect world and my institution confers faculty status on librarians simply to emphasize that we are education professionals, too. I think adding your degree(s) to your business card is another way to inform non-librarians that ours is a profession with standards like any other. For academic librarians who don’t hold faculty status, it may be the best way to convey that information and certainly should NOT be seen as pretension.

  13. I use my credentials in my signature and my business card because I work for a vendor and want the libraries I work with as customers to know that I am one of them.
    However, as a librarian abroad, the issue lies in the fact that the MLS really means nothing outside the USA. Librarians elsewhere have other programs and use different letters to indicate honors.

  14. I work in a public library and I just started putting my degree on my business cards. One reason is that most people don’t know that librarians have an advanced degree and I have since gotten comments like “I didn’t know you had to have a degree to be a librarian.” That is why I use it.

  15. My, what a profundity of views. Traditional etiquette says using your ‘letters’ on business cards and in signatures is pretentious. That being said, the practice is popular with younger graduates and possessors of ‘soft’ degrees such as Education and Library Science. I know a student whose e-mail sig reads ‘PhD student in School Psychology,’ let us pray that she matriculates after so many years of advance marketing.

  16. I realize I’m coming a bit lat to the conversation, but I thought I should point out that the designation “MLIS” after one’s name is actually a trademark owned by International Risk Management Institute, Inc., indicating that one has passed IRMI’s exam to earn the designation of “Management Liability Insurance Specialist.” (see http://www.mlis-ce.com/info/terms.aspx.) So, perhaps using that designation is not a good choice for librarians … unless the librarian also is a management liability insurance specialist, that is.

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