What’s in a name? SLA vs. ASKPro

Patty_Hearst.jpg, originally uploaded by ojo maravilloso.

Today, my professional association, currently called SLA, or Special Libraries Association, announced their proposed new name: ASKPro, or Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals.

SLA members have been waiting eagerly to see how the SLA Alignment Project would pan out. A similar vote took place in 2004 (when I was still an undergrad), and the members voted to change the name but rejected the proposed alternative, so we lived with SLA for 5 more years. Will ASKPro pass? I have no clue.

There’s been an interesting discussion about the name in the LSW FriendFeed room. You can see the ambivalence of SLA members, as well as the reaction of non-members. It ranges from apathy, derision for ASKPro, and derision for people who think ASKPro is rather silly. (That’s really the value of LSW, a whole spectrum of really opinionated librarians offering lots of food for thought.)

So will I vote to approve the name ASKPro? No idea. It’s too soon to say. I do want to just briefly go over some of my impressions:

  1. I’m not bothered by the exclusion of “librarian” from the name. Yes, I do work in a library but I know lots of people feel it’s holding “us” back. Whatever. It’s not that important.
  2. ASKPro and Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals just screams, “We picked the snappy acronym and then forced the meaning afterwards.” True, “strategic”, “knowledge”, and “professional” tested well with the focus groups, but string them together and they don’t make sense. What is a strategic knowledge professional? I don’t know, but I know what a librarian is.
  3. I am a little shocked that “information professional” is not a part of the new name, has the sun set on “infopros”?
  4. I said this on Twitter – if we really are professionals, we don’t need it in the name. Having “professional” in our association name just seems insecure to me, like we’re not entirely convinced we actually belong in the professional world.
  5. From all of the testing, it’s clear SLA/ASKPro is targeting corporations and managers who might hire us, not the members, to the apparent exclusion of the members from academic institutions. Does this mean the organization no longer cares about academic librarians in small, special collections? What about government librarians? Are we then expected to go to ALA, who doesn’t really fit our needs, or are we essentially out in the cold?
  6. Is ASKPro meant to help members get better jobs and make more money? Or is it meant to increase the organization’s membership with a catchy name? (OK, I’m just being cynical.)
  7. “Strategic” makes no sense and is as jargony/vague as “special”. I guess it’s an update for a new generation? Will that make the name obsolete in 5 years?

I really want to see what more people say. So far, following the #slaname chatter on Twitter hasn’t yielded much insight either way. I’ll be listening.

(Oh and the picture of Patty Hearst is because I’ve always been enamoured with the other SLA and when I joined this SLA, decided to get the hydra tattooed on me. (Not just because of my professional association, but also because I grew up a couple of miles from the old Crocker Bank and that SLA was a part of my childhood mythos.) I guess it’s pointless now?

8 thoughts on “What’s in a name? SLA vs. ASKPro

  1. “A similar vote took place in 2004 (when I was still an undergrad), and the members voted to change the name but rejected the proposed alternative…”

    Thanks for that tidbit Kendra. I wonder how the vote will be structured this time. Will it allow for a similar outcome?

  2. You are the new generation Kendra.

    How interesting that we’re both at academic libraries, in collections actually designated as special collections, and I agree–a name change is fine, if the proposed name has any merit.

    ASKPro does not.

    Immediate problem: the consonants do indeed soften in speech to sound like a** + pro. Didn’t anyone at SLA say this out loud, like, even once?

    And yes, using a word like “professional” implies some Napoleon complex about not being a professional. “Strategic” in the name implies there’s a sense that we’re not all that strategic.

    Where to from here?

  3. “From all of the testing, it’s clear SLA/ASKPro is targeting corporations and manager who might hire us, not the members, to the apparent exclusion of the members from academic institutions.”

    This concerns me the most. SLA (or at least parts of it) have been making an effort to retain and attract academic members. However, I can’t see this name being attractive to anyone in an academic setting. Can you imagine telling a professor that you are a “knowledge professional”?

  4. As a corporate librarian, I think the new name will gemerate a lot of dumbfounded looks. Not to mention the Seinfeld – Kramer allusions.

    I think the main problem lies with how the SLA Association Professionals (AssnPros) view us. They think spending energy on changing our name will make us earn more money — if only it were that easy.

  5. Thank you all for the comments! I am looking for support for ASKPro from somebody other than board members or SLA leadership. ASSPro seems to be the running joke from SLA members and the library world in general, which isn’t surprising I suppose.

    Tara, I wonder what the Academic Division thinks about this. I know we were trying to find ways to lure more subject specialty librarians into the fold. Why would a business or chemistry librarian choose ASKPro over ALA/ACRL?

    Nancy, thank you for that insight. I was hoping I wasn’t being overly cynical since I’m not a corporate librarian. What would you want in a name?

  6. Kendra —

    I’m cynical by nature – so no offense is taken.

    In my current position, I selected my own title and choose Electronic Resources Librarian. I put some thought into using the “L” word. While there is much to be said about the word conveying a quaintness or being old-fashioned, in the end, I thought librarian conveyed the image of professional and personal service the job demanded.
    As to our association’s name, I’m not passionate about changing the name at all. It’s just a name, it’s not me. If anything, it should stress the individual over the institution because it’s supposed to work for me, the member. I really wish they would focus on more important things.. like making professional development more available or at least clarifying what they offer me.
    In the end, a name is only a starting point; reputations are built on actions.

    Prunes or Dried Plums — they are the same and are just as attractive if served plain on a paper plate.

  7. I also wonder what the Academic Division thinks.

    “Why would a business or chemistry librarian choose ASKPro over ALA/ACRL?”

    I think SLA offers more subject-specific content, as well as a different perspective from ALA. It’s good to get ideas from outside the public/academic context. But AskPro just sounds SO corporate to me.

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