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SLA Name Change Proposal & Discussion (updated links & acronym update)

November 1, 2009

The proposed new SLA name:  Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals, or ASKPro.

(10/21/09 – SLA has decided not to use the abbreviation;  it will not be part of the vote)

What do you think?  Please use this post for PHT comments.

Links on the name change (updated 11/17):

14 Comments leave one →
  1. John Chu permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:03 pm


    I must say I am surprised (pleasantly). No more “information” or “library”. It’s a gutsy move and I applaud it.

    However, how effective is this name in terms of branding or instant recognition?

    Say you are meeting with lots of new employees within your company, or at a social occasion, or (heaven forbid) at career transition networking meeting. You are asked “…so what do you do?”. You say, “I am a strategic knowledge professional.”

    How will it be received? “Huh? Excuse me? What does it mean? Must be a new department? Could you explain it please?”

    You get into more details. Then you will most likely hear, “Oh so you are a librarian…” Back to square one?

  2. Jessica permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:43 pm

    Well, I was really expecting that the name change would not affect me one way or another – then they came up with this.

    I and my colleagues have discussed it (noticing the same things about pronunciation mentioned on Twitter), and we have decided that if they go forward with this name, we will probably let our memberships lapse. This is the most incomprehensible, meaningless name I have ever seen. If the point is to retain (and increase) membership, I give this an F-.

    This is group-think at its best among the board members. Also, if we (the membership) vote the name down – what is the next step?

    • Alexander Feng permalink
      October 15, 2009 1:02 pm

      To your question on if this is voted down – I believe the next step is we still remain “Special Libraries Association d/b/a SLA”

  3. Alexander Feng permalink
    October 15, 2009 1:00 pm

    One thing to think about with respect to the name – would we rather remain the “Special Libraries Association”?

    Interviews with over 800 people, including 157 C-level executives (75% corporate and representing the largest % of respondents other than Info Pros) showed that “Special Libraries Association” was not only disliked, but more importantly did not accurately convey our value. In the current economic environment, that’s not doing us any favors.

    Plus we already know that the Millenial generation associates libraries and librarians with “dusty old bookshelves” – I don’t think we want that image either – that’s not conveying value of what we do.

    Is this association name one that better conveys our value than “Special Libraries”? Absolutely.

    When I talk with directors and executives, would I rather be talking about a cohort of “Strategic Knowledge Professionals” than “Special Librarians”? Will they better understand what we do by using this language? Yes and Yes. The research proves it.

    Personally – I think it’s better than our current name (though I agree that it is a bit lengthy and the acronym comes off as a stretch).

    No, it’s not perfect, but let’s not sacrifice the good for the perfect.

    • Jessica permalink
      October 15, 2009 2:03 pm

      I am particularly wedded to “Special Libraries Association” and I thought that a name change was in order. However, I still am not sure who they think they will recruit. Is there a “strategic knowledge” industry? KM is falling out of fad, so referencing that is no longer adding value. (By the way, when were these interviews conducted? If it was during the height of the KM business trend, then did it influence the value placed on “knowledge”?)

      Personally, I would feel silly referencing my association as ASKPro, as in I am attending the ASKPro Conference. Also, how much does the name of our association affect our value in our organizations? Are you asked to report which associations you are members of in your companies? (I know this counters my earlier argument somewhat, but I still have to tell our users where I am going and why I will be out of the office for a week.)

      I think we do provide information that builds knowledge and aids in strategic decision-making. However, this name is a big jump in our role, and I think inflates it a good deal.

      I don’t think we are sacrificing the good for the perfect, I think we have over-inflated ourselves with a meaningless title. We provide information and/or knowledge – the strategic portion is handled by others (VPs and CEOs).

      • Jessica permalink
        October 15, 2009 2:04 pm

        As always, typing faster than proofing, the first sentence should read:

        “I am NOT particularly wedded to SLA.”

      • Alexander Feng permalink
        October 15, 2009 2:39 pm

        To your question of when the ASKPro surveys were conducted – I don’t know, though it was after the alignment project research was completed and before this week. We as alignment ambassadors didn’t know about the name until you all did, so it had to be fairly recent.

        I can only speculate as to the various motivations behind the name change but the main items which were repeated often by the SLA Board were:
        – We need a name change; Special Libraries doesn’t cut it.
        – We are not just librarians (there’s a reason you don’t need a MLS to be in SLA), and in fact across SLA there are thousands of job titles.
        – We should be looking to include more information professionals who do what we do but without the “info pro” or “librarian” title. They do similar things, they just aren’t librarians and so may not join SLA for that reason.
        – The name should be using the same words which were tested to be impactful to executives in the alignment project (hence “strategic” and “knowledge” as part of what we do / how we provide value)

        David Hook on the DENG list said the following, which fully encapsulates my (personal) view:

        -> I think that the question of ‘what do you think of the new name?’ is the wrong one to ask because it will lead to either people idiculing the new name or suggesting their own personal favourite choices instead. I think the better question to be asking is ‘Is the new name an improvement over the existing name?’ …

        He continues:

        -> I can’t say that I have any particular great love for the new name, and I find that acronyms that are intentionally created to spell other words look cheesy. But on the other hand ‘special librarian’ is very limited and really doesn’t describe what I do. I don’t think I’d ever call myself a ‘strategic knowledge professional’, but at least its vague enough that it encompasses the work that I do. So in short, yes, I think it is an improvement.

  4. Alexander Feng permalink
    October 16, 2009 2:17 pm

    From Stephen Abram:

    I hope that this is a helpful contribution to this step in the discussion about our Association’s name.

    Regarding the name upon which we’ll vote, Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals, I am supportive for a number of reasons. The main one being is that this is aligned with years of deep research that has been shown to echo with the folks who employ and compensate special librarians and other information professionals. If we’re not willing to underpin our decisions with research and study, then I don’t know how we can represent that to our organizations!

    I’ve been following the last few days debate with great interest. I wonder if there is any other profession that would have more debate over the initialism of the name – especially when it’s not part of the voting ballot. Can we turn the conversation to focus on the name of our Association (not our profession or or job titles)?

    Anyway, on to the substance of the name, we have seen many members expressing confusion about the words strategic and knowledge and feeling uncomfortable with that positioning and expectation from our employers in the context of our work. That is a real core problem of association and profession-wide proportions.

    Many people have made the point that we are in difficult economic times. That’s true. They ask why we would invest in this alignment strategy, part of which involves a naming change, now. Here’s my short soundbite of why we need to change the name to change the game:

    1. Information is a cost center. Knowledge is an asset. When you’re making executive budgetary and investment decisions you protect knowledge assets and services, and reduce investments in non-strategic or duplicated information services and data. You may take some things on hiatus if they are easy to ramp up again – like training budgets. Libraries are not easy to ramp up.

    2. When you are choosing who to keep and whom to lay off, just ask yourself: “Will I lay off more strategic employees or non-strategic employees?” If you can’t promote yourself as strategic then, simply, you’re at risk. And simply, if your Association has to dig itself out of the ‘special’ hole to promote you, then you are handicapping your representative there as well if you don’t let your Association promote you as strategic.

    3. Also, when you are choosing who to keep and whom to lay off, just ask yourself: “Will I lay off more of the employees who provide good service that can be acquired from others externally or those who provide professional service that is founded in the unique knowledge required by our organization?” “Will I lay off anyone who is tied to the strategic knowledge that underpins our organization’s competitive advantage?” In reality sometimes you’re Enron’ed or Nortel’ed but that’s just the headlines.

    I think it’s clear from the research that these words resonate with the people who matter in these tough times. We have to provide our Association with this next step in promoting our real value to our organizations and society. I already have heard from members who have successfully used the research to protect positions and increase salaries. For those who don’t read, discuss and absorb its insights and implications, then they’re choosing to remain uninformed and unarmed. They’re open to people lying to them that somehow this is against the librarian job title – which is so untrue and silly but apparently some people are easily lead. They’re not real information professionals in my view since they’re not informed and they’re relying on their gut and experience instead of the fuller picture.

    I really hope that we can make this step. Those who are uncomfortable with an added-value based position in this century as a foundation for our careers and profession and our Association, have made a bigger and more dangerous decision than they are probably aware of.

    I’ll be voting yes on Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals. I truly want our Association to have the tools it needs to help carry us all forward.

    Strategic: “highly important to or an integral part of a strategy or plan of action”
    Knowledge: “The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned”
    Professional: “A skilled practitioner; an expert.”

    Now who would vote against that? We’ll soon see.



    Stephen Abram,MLS, FSLA
    Vice President Innovation
    Chief Strategist, SirsiDynix Institute
    412-120 Perth Ave.
    Toronto, ON M6P 4E1

  5. karen erani permalink
    October 16, 2009 3:03 pm

    I need to think about this. While an association called ” Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals” sounds ok (although not any more intelligible than SLA) and “strategic Knowledge Center” if you still have a physical space is ok … I, like Jessica, think that Askpro conference does sound kind of silly.
    My main concern is what we call ourselves. I agree with John, I am not sure I am confortable introducing myself as a Strategic Knowledge Professional. I am not being modest about what we do and I do believe we should promote ourselves, but does Strategic Knowledge Professional do that??
    On the other hand, we can always introduce ourselves with whatever title we choose; we don’t need to be Strategic Information Professionals do we?

    • Alex permalink
      October 16, 2009 3:32 pm

      Thanks Karen!

      I think you put it well – it’s one thread that is coming out of both the Twitter and HQ discussions – we all do have different titles and no one is suggesting we change them at all by this name.

      The idea is to give us as a group / cohort a name that better communicates our value, especially to the executives (remember this was tested with execs, HR, and marketing folks) than “Special Libraries”.

      • John Chu permalink
        October 23, 2009 2:09 pm

        Hi Karen,

        Thank you for agreeing with me!

        OK what do we call ourselves (jobs and titles) after the current name change? Are we ready to revisit this website, or is this initiative sort of obsolete now?


        Would the DP&HT Board members have any thoughts on revisiting?


        John Chu
        Manager, Literature Resources
        Medical Services
        Gilead Sciences, Inc.

      • Alexander Feng permalink
        October 27, 2009 12:46 pm

        Hi John,

        Unfortunately, we just had a board meeting Friday, so it just missed being discussed. One thing that has been emphasized in the discussion about the SLA name change is that there is no expectation that position titles change – if you’re a librarian now, you’ll still be a librarian Dec. 17.

        But it is a good question. At this point, it’s probably best to wait until after the vote. If the name change passes, it does merit consideration of if/how it all impacts us going forward, and the previous position profiles project.


  6. David Midyette permalink
    November 1, 2009 9:18 pm

    I heartily agree that it is time for a name change, but an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary change. This is simply going in the opposite direction and excluding a segment which actually started the organization. Why not select a name that is inclusive of what we do rather than select one that is so tied to the whimsy of executives. This is making me wonder if the association is for us or for corporate execs? I cannot help but feel that this was done in secrecy (there is a discussion on the DBIO list about the fact that the board trademarked only a single name back in July), and is being railroaded through the membership. In watching the many discussions about being inclusive and changing to help employers understand who we are and what we do, I see plenty of talk about how c-level executives do not like the term library and how they do not understand what we do. I fail to see how this name change will drastically alter that situation beyond the fact that they will at least like the new name. For that change, I think the association has wasted a ton of time and money.

    Furthermore, I agree with Jessica about discontinuing membership. I have found SLA to be a very valuable resource, but I fear that there is a push by certain elements to take the association in an entirely different direction which I cannot support. ASKPro does not represent me now as an academic or in the previous six years as a corporate pharmaceutical librarian. I spent the majority of those six years shifting from a small department library in Drug Safety to the corporate library which supported all divisions in all countries. I know, that is a big “Yeah Me” moment, but it can be done. If anyone thinks for a single moment that changing to ASKPro and becoming “strategic knowledge professionals” will change anything, they have simply had too much of the Kool-Aid the board is pushing.

    In the long run, I think that ALA has done a far better job of inclusion and has room for many different subgroupings of information professionals. Now, if SLA were for corporate librarians, then I would think that ASKPro might be more acceptable. However, there are many librarians out there who choose to build on our past and present to produce a secure future. I believe that it is far easier to educate someone about what librarians do and what librarians can do (or information professionals) because they at least have some idea about what a librarian is and they can easily conceive of information professional. However, I do not believe that they will have a clue about what a strategic knowledge professional is or does or knows. It smacks of corporate level post-modernism.

    I firmly believe that if this change goes through, then we will be addressing this (assuming I stick around) again in the next 10 years or less when these same executives fail to understand what an “SKP” is or does. In a phone conversation with Gloria Zamora, she pointed out that this type of name change was attempted in the 1950s (Documentalist Association). I do not see the current situation as anything different. If there is to be change, it should come from the membership not the board. They are certainly welcome to pursue information, but I feel like this whole alignment ambassador thing is leading us down a pre-determined path, and I for one am not going along for the ride.

    You can cite whatever research you wish, but until you look at that research with some level of time-depth (e.g. what would someone have said about the same thing 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, etc.) I will not buy into what the current crop of executives are saying. They will change their minds, their terminology, and their opinions just like they change their socks. Anyone with any depth in the corporate world will see how terminological fads come and go, yet the librarians and information professionals are still there like we have been for 100 years. If it was not important enough to change the name in the boom of the 1950s, then I hardly see how a change in the current bust will make any difference.

  7. Alex permalink
    November 17, 2009 5:28 pm

    From Gloria Zamora:

    Dear Leaders/Ambassadors,

    The Board has received a lot of feedback from leadership and alignment ambassadors, and we have heard the membership on the issue of the acronym.

    We have decided that we will use the full name, Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals, at every opportunity to introduce the association. There is discussion on alternative abbreviations whose URLs were purchased just for this kind of situation. HQ Staff and the Board of Directors have not used the acronym since the end of the first week of discussion and I believe we will seek alternatives to use should the name pass. The vote is on the full name of the association and there is no acronym on the ballot.

    Please inform your members and please remember to vote.

    Thanks so much for this and all your work.


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