What’s in a Name? On AALL’s Potential Name Change

AALL has begun the process to potentially change its name to the Association for Legal Information. Of course, the key change is the subtraction of the word “libraries”.

Motivating this change, AALL reports “today, 51 percent of AALL members do not have ‘librarian’ in their titles, and 57 percent work in an organization that does not have ‘library’ in the name”.

The potential name change was announced in the November 12th, AALL E-Briefing. The membership will be able to vote on this initiative on January 12th, with results to be announced February 11th.

The debate about dropping the “libraries” has, of course, encouraged passionate discourse on the AALL message boards. The feedback has generally centered on the questions: Is Association for Legal Information too vague? Does it connote a professional organization for legal content creators and publishers rather than curators? Should the name be expanded to something a little more career-specific like “Association for Legal Information Professionals”?

The larger, macro issue is what will our profession be called in the future? As reported above, 51 percent of AALL members do not have “librarian” in their title, but we have yet to reach a point where our job titles have reached some kind of consensus. We are Research Analysts, Information Professionals, Information Specialists, Online Resources Librarians, Electronic Resources Librarians, etc. Those of us in this profession know that being called a librarian no longer suggests that one works in a physical library. Physical resources have given way to digital content; it’s second nature to us that the library is no longer the central repository of legal information at firms, law schools, and courthouses–yet, this idea hasn’t gained traction among Joe Q. and Jane Q. Citizen. Compounding this naming issue is that the term “librarian” needs its own rebranding effort. For some reason, the public perception of the definition of “librarian” hasn’t jumped to a person who curates digital content, rather than solely physical. The public perception is librarians are still “just” keepers of the books. At least personally, when I state that I’m a “librarian” at a law firm the common response I get is confusion; I have begun to shift towards calling myself a researcher. It’s, sadly, a less loaded term. The term “librarian” is viewed as an anachronism, a profession that google and computers have done away with. And the honest fear is if those in charge of the budget view the name of the profession in this way too: “why do we need librarians, when we don’t even have a library?”

So, the goal, really, is for AALL to find a term that encompasses what librarians should be called in the future. Is a rebrand wherein AALL now becomes the Association for Legal Information—and those of us in the profession become Legal Information Professionals—the answer? Time will tell is an old idiom, but in this case February 11th will tell. And, I do have to say I’m glad we, as a profession are getting in front of this—better for us to start the discussion on what to call ourselves, than to have someone else do it for us.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? On AALL’s Potential Name Change

  1. So, the goal, really, is for AALL to find a term that encompasses what librarians should be called in the future.

    So, shouldn’t we at least wait until ALL and ACRL and SLA decide what to call themselves?
    …and what about those of us who are in the field/job/profession precisely because we want manage libraries as spaces and books as physical objects? If we’re irrelevant now, at least, just say say so. And I’ll confront you with print collection usage statistics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think law libraries, in particular (but definitely not exclusively among special libraries), has shifted drastically toward born-digital content, digital content delivery, digital curation, etc., meaning what works for ALL, ACRL, and SLA won’t necessarily work for law libraries. I’m not personally saying libraries or librarians are irrelevant–I’m saying those terms do not accurately reflect, at least in the sphere of public opinion, what law librarians are doing on a daily basis. I’m glad to hear you have strong collection and circulation usage–in the private law firm library, like the one I work, this is not the case. To cite DeweyBStrategic by way of American Lawyer Media: “according to the 2014 ALM Library Survey, 68% of ALM firms expect to eliminate their print collections in the next 5 to 8 years”. So, none of us want there to be a logical leap of “if we eliminate our print collection we should eliminate those librarians who manage the print collection too” because the name of our profession is tied to responsibilities we have transitioned away from.

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