New and Old Words: Pick Your Poison

One of the bloggers I follow, Melissa Mannon of ArchivesInfo, recently posted about the titles used for professionals within the LIS community.  Her point was that traditional terms such as “librarian” or “archivist” generally evoke responses commenting on the diminishing importance of analog records.  As a result, the ever-increasing role of computers, digital technologies, and the digital humanities in the LIS profession is lost.  While Mannon suggests that, for her, the combined title of Librarian / Information Specialist reflects the responsibilities of her position, I wonder about the true effectiveness of professional rebranding.

When asked about my future career aspirations, I generally say that I am interested in being either an “archivist” or a “digital archivist.”  Both terms are loaded, and neither truly conveys the whole of my interests.  The former is of course the traditional title for anyone working in an institutional repository.  As I suspect is universal nowadays, I often get comments revolving around the “fact” that paper communication is dying.  The arguable legitimacy of that statement ignored, my near-automatic response is always to point out that while documents from the past can be digitized, their analog presence cannot be ignored.

Contrary to popular opinion, archivists and librarians do use computers. Some of the machines are even newer than this model!

The latter title, although often more clear for members of my generation, garners equally mixed results from those of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  Further, the term “digital archivist” indicates, at least to me, a concentration only in born-digital records.  This also fails to indicate my true interests, which more accurately reflect a mixture of both titles.

Surprisingly enough, I have met at least two people who were under the impression that archivists did not use computers at all, but still actively maintained and expanded upon card catalogues.  While convincing a general audience that archivists and librarians do, in fact, use computers is an easy task, it can be more difficult to explain complex computer-driven responsibilities, such as the creation of digital humanities projects or digitization initiatives.

I have equal issue with many of the new titles currently thrown around in the LIS profession.  To me, terms like “information specialist” and “database manager” conjure images of IT professionals.  Alternative titles like “E-librarian” or, as LibraryJournal reported in 2013, “databrarian” are equally dissatisfying, as they do not give any easily recognizable idea of what the job’s responsibilities entail.

These newer titles, it seems to me, are trying to rebrand what an archive or library truly is.  While I certainly think that the modern-day work of the LIS profession needs to be better disseminated to the public, I do not think that playing around with job titles is the best manner of portraying our ever-changing responsibilities.  My own preference would be explaining to people that an archivist does in fact use a computer, instead of trying to comprehensibly describe what a “digital content manager” is.

What are your thoughts on titles within the archives and library profession?  What are the more interesting/unique titles you have had or heard of?

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