What’s in a Name?

What do we call ourselves?  How do we describe ourselves to others?  What adjectives should (could) we use to describe ourselves?

I started thinking about this today as I sat in the communication sciences building, back at my office hour.  I’m sharing the closet office with two undergraduate advisors, and our three name tags & titles are on the door, like this:  Person 1, undergraduate advisor; Person 2, undergraduate advisor; Stephanie Willen Brown, librarian.

I thought:  what if I called myself a “library advisor”?  That might make more sense to students.  Several years ago, I stopped telling students I was “on the reference desk” from 2-4 and started telling them that I had “office hours” from 2-4.  During classes, I could see quick comprehension in their eyes when I told them my “office hours.”  Similarly, I now use the phrase “search engine” when describing PsycINFO (as in, “PsycINFO is THE search engine for psychology!”); that seems clear to the newer students and usually gets a laugh from the more experienced ones.  I wonder if I would help students make a similar leap in understanding if I called myself the “library advisor”  for communication sciences.

As I was mulling this over, I read the FemaleScienceProfessor blog, noting especially last week’s Rename the Professors Poll.  She is tired of “the unsatisfactory nature of the current terms for professorial ranks,” noting that ” ‘Assistant Professor’ is particularly annoying and kind of demeaning as a term, and ‘Associate Professor’ isn’t much better.” Her riff on endowed chair names is very entertaining. She’s written about the issue of faculty titles a lot, and she’s now running a poll which “focuses on the Big Three (replacements for Assistant, Associate, and ‘full’),” noting that some “categories are versatile enough to permit some fine-scale additions to the Professor rank.”  As I write this, there are 13 comments and over 500 votes.

Would it make a difference if faculty were called Lieutenant / Commander / Admiral?  How about One-star Professor / Two-star Professor / Three-star Professor?  Or if librarians were called “library advisors?”  Let’s start our own poll.  What could we rename ourselves to more clearly describe *to our students* how we can help them?

8 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Stephanie,
    What a great idea! I look forward to reading many creative suggestions. Off the top of my head: Info Specialist, Information Maven, Library Advocate, Library Consultant.

  2. I’m reminded of a cartoon my sister sent me several years ago: a librarian sitting at a desk, but instead of “Reference Desk” the sign said “Search Engine”! I’d still like to distinguish myself from a software program, but academic advisers don’t always get a lot of respect on my campus (in part because students often have 4 advisers in 4 years — difficult to build a relationship around that!).

    I think I’d rather stick with the title “librarian” and make it comprehensible and memorable to students by my work with them.

  3. I have to agree with Marilyn…where I work, a small liberal arts college, Lander University, the name librarian means as much sense as anything to our students. We are “Faculty” which means certain things to certain people, but librarian works for us. I think the larger question, and maybe one deserving of a blog post (or several) would be how do we market ourselves and our services…we could always be called information professionals…but that can sound a bit cheesy depending on context.

  4. Regarding the professorial rank, I can see two sides to identifying oneself as Assistant, Associate, or full Professor. On the one hand, when dealing with faculty members, it may be helpful for them to realize that you too are tenure track and that you have to go through the same processes that they do. Basically, it puts you on the same playing field. On the other hand, some people who don’t realize that (some) librarians have to make tenure might think that the librarian who puts a rank after his or her name thinks highly of him/herself.

    Personally, I think I’ll just stick with Librarian. Most students and faculty should understand what a librarian is. Many students probably could care less about your rank – whatever that ranking system may be. After all, how many times have you heard people say that so and so is a librarian just because he or she works in a library. So, I’ll just stick with librarian. It’s easy to remember and you don’t have to explain yourself.

  5. I often joke with students about being a “Human Search Engine” (and I like the idea of calling specific databases search engines to get through to the freshman community college students I see every day), but as for myself, I’ll proudly wear the title “Librarian.” The college considers me a “Library Specialist” even though I have my MLS, so I am quite content in the informal Librarian moniker I carry here. Eric above made the the comment that students don’t really care about “rank”, and I agree with him completely (though I admit that it sometimes “rankles” me! ::grin:: )

    And even with the wide range of students we have here – middle-agers training for a second career to dual-enrollment high school students – they all know what a librarian is and how we can be of assistance. They come to me for help with all manner of things and I do what I can to assist. And for me that’s the most important thing, regardless of my title!

  6. Wouldn’t a “library advisor” give advice to libraries? (or am I just trying to keep the parallelism with “undergraduate advisor” too strictly?)

    Granted, it’s kind of catchy; and probably communicates well enough; but if I were an undergrad seeing “library advisor” on a nameplate, you can bet I’d be making comments like this one.

  7. Well, how about “Research Advisor” instead? 🙂 Although, I guess I’m stuck with my Systems Librarian title. “Systems Library Advisor” or “Systems Research Advisor” doesn’t sound right. 😉

  8. One of the sessions I attended at the last ER & L conference suggested “User Intervention Specialist.” Kind of long, but definitely unique. I still like Librarian or Reference Librarian though.

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