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.

Fast? Slow? Timing? Luck? Contemplating The Secret To Success

The one time I wrote something on the personal side the nature of the post was achieving success in academic librarianship. I asked how you know if you are where you should be in your career? For the most part the response was positive, although a number of you, particularly the younger demographic, thought my formula for success depended too much on a slow but steady approach. Well, get ready to start hearing a whole lot more about the nature of success, what it takes to achieve it, and on what terms you should define your own interpretation of a successful career. I’ve recently come across some different perspectives on being successful or reaching your potential, and they are showing up in some fairly different sources.

One individual who will be driving the conversations about the nature of success is Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell, best known for his popular books The Tipping Point and Blink, has a new one coming out this fall and according to a recent NYT article, it may be even bigger than those previous two books. A clue as to the book’s content appeared in a May New Yorker article by Gladwell titled “In the Air“. What we do know is that the book is titled “Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t” and that it promises to show that the ways we think about success and how it is achieved are all wrong. The clues suggest that Gladwell will make the point that success is often more about where you are at a particular point in time and whether you have the smarts, intuition and ability to spot the right opportunity and grab it “out of the air”. I think we all know there is something to this idea. In our profession the difference between success and mediocrity can be getting the right student internship, being on the staff at a library that has the right resources for a timely, innovative project or disseminating your ideas in a blog post ahead of a colleague with the same thoughts.

But even if you aren’t in the right place at the right time there may still be some strategies you can use to get on a better path to achieving success on your own terms. The key is to take personal responsibility for your career. That advice comes from an article in the July-August 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Reaching Your Potential” (subscription required). Career success, as defined in this article, is not necessarily about getting to the top. Rather, the author says “It’s about taking a very personal look at how you define success in your heart of hearts and then finding your path to get there.” Getting there involves three accomplishments: knowing yourself; excelling at critical tasks; and demonstrating character and leadership. All careers, even the rewarding ones – as I said in my post – are a series of hills and valleys. This article wraps up by pretty much saying the same thing, but points out that the challenge for many of us is to not abandon our career plans when we hit the valleys. That’s when we each must take responsibility for the management of our own careers.

Finally, there may be something to gain from taking things slowly in your career. Though you may scoff at my source, an article in the August 2008 issue of Best Life talks about the virtues of taking it slow in life. As the author writes “Apparently, slower is the secret to success.” Surprisingly, there are more than a few things in life where you may actually do much better if you slow up and take your time. It can be difficult to be patient when it comes to career success, making a name for yourself, being in the limelight – whatever you want to call it. But sometimes being deliberate about taking your time can make a difference in whether or not you succeed. The opportunity for success you think will be gone for good if you fail to rush to “grab it out of the air” may only be replaced later on by an even bigger and better one.

So keep in mind that there is more than one path to success, and that career success is based on your own definition of what it is.