Following AASL’s recent vote to adopt the professional title of school librarians, I’ve been thinking a lot about identities and labels and what they mean for us as librarians.

And as media specialists.

And as library teachers.

And as facilitators of learning commons.

And as information overlords.

Okay, so maybe no one’s putting “Information Overlord” on their business cards (though I wouldn’t discourage it, personally)–but you get the point: we call ourselves, and our spaces, by a variety of names. During a job interview last summer, a principal asked me at one point what the difference was between a librarian and a library media specialist.

So what is the difference?

Your title, mission statement and the name of your physical space can say a lot about you and your program. Does it reflect your philosophy about teens and learning? Does it convey all you do?

Personally, I’m a school librarian. I’m certified as a library media specialist, but I don’t use that language to describe myself because I believe “librarian” is what I make it. I wouldn’t look down on anyone’s decision to use a different label for themselves–maybe you feel the same way about “library media specialist” or “library teacher”!

So what do you call yourself? How do you make sure the language you use supports the work you do, and vice versa?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

8 Thoughts on “A Library By Any Name

  1. You’re right: “librarian” is what you make it, ditto “lawyer” and “dentist” and “administrative assistant” and…

    I’m more concerned with what we’re doing to make the position important in the life of the school than I am with what they call me. As my grandfather used to say, call me anything, just don’t call me late for supper!

  2. I call myself a librarian. I work in a school library Media Center. But now that you mention it, Information Overlord does have a certain ring to it…

  3. Jonah S on February 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm said:

    How about “Library scientist”?

  4. To be picky, lawyer, dentist, etc. are not what you make it. Specific laws govern who can practice and what is required and what constitutes malpractice and what happens when someone who doesn’t qualify (for example, hasn’t gone to law school or passed the bar) practices.

    The dilemma with the “it’s what I make it approach”, which gives us all much needed flexiblity, is that it doesn’t provide meaningful language for nationwide (or even, schoolwide or country wide) discusson. Having one word, one label, gives more strength when lobbying for money, etc.

  5. Erin Daly on February 5, 2010 at 2:42 pm said:

    I call myself a librarian for the same reason I prefer to call the place I work a library (rather than an information or media center) because to me, it evokes Ranganathan’s laws of library science:

    Especially, number 5, that “a library is a growing organism” and can thus encompass the multitude of formats and literacies that a twenty-first century library ought to contain. So as a librarian, I am the custodian and caretaker of that organism, and I can contain the job descriptions that are necessary to my position a such.

    But that’s just me.

    I do spend a lot of time teaching or preparing to teach, so “Library Teacher” has some appeal. I’m not sure I’m draconian enough for “Information Overlord,” but it gives me a smile.

  6. Gwen Lehman on February 5, 2010 at 8:54 pm said:

    I find your post thought-provoking, especially the statement, “Your title, mission statement and the name of your physical space can say a lot about you and your program.” When I interviewed for my current position, the principal wanted to know if I could run a library media center. I said yes of course, but I wondered myself what it meant to be a library media center vs. a school library. I still haven’t figured out the difference, but your statement gives me something new to ponder as I look at our library and decide which it really falls in to–a library media center or a school library.

  7. Jonah S on February 8, 2010 at 8:03 am said:

    In response to Liz B:
    True, but the requirements to be a dentist are set down by law while the requirements to be a librarian are set by the institution. A library (ok, not necessarily *all* libraries) could decide to hire someone without an appropriate degree or certification while no dental office could, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable the candidate.

  8. Jonah, isn’t the “anyone can call themselves a librarian” part of the issue? With it dependent on neither degree, skill set or certification, it can create confusion. Add to the confusion if those who have the degree don’t use the word. When it comes to marketing, advocating, lobbying, it makes it that much more difficult.

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