Job titles – what’s in a name?

In the course of ordinary conversation, I am often asked about the job I do.  I used to reply that I am the Librarian at St Hugh’s College, and this answer was well understood among colleagues at the University of Oxford or in academic circles at Cambridge.

However, to those who aren’t familiar with these universities, or academic libraries in general; this answer doesn’t tell them much about what I do.

To many people, a “librarian” is someone who staffs the enquiry desk at a library.  They don’t recognise any difference between “librarian” and “Librarian-with-a-capital-L”.  The difference between “Librarian” and “Library Assistant” is lost on many people.

I have started describing my job in terms such as “I run the library at St Hugh’s” or “I manage an academic library” to help the listener more accurately imagine what my job involves and understand why an MA/MSc is required in order to do the job.

I am beginning to wonder if making a change to my official job title (e.g. Librarian-in-charge) might help other people to understand my role better.  And since “librarian” is such a generic word to the general public, perhaps using a different (new?) word for people who manage libraries might be a more effective way of having our professionalism recognised than trying to re-educate people about what the word “librarian” means.

Are you a Librarian, Learning Resource Centre Manager, Information Assistant, Assistant Librarian, Senior Library Assistant, Academic Liaison Librarian, Graduate Library Trainee or similar?  How closely does your job title describe the role that you actually perform?

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2 Comments

  1. Great post Laura, and something I’ve been thinking about too lately, especially since reading a post by Andy Woodworth on a similar topic, but taking a different view (http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/bikes-branding-and-bellyaching/) I tend to agree with you more than Andy.

    On a lot of online forms where you have to choose your job from a drop down menu, there’s (maybe) an option for librarian, but that’s about it. It’s silly but I kind of felt guilty for filling out car insurance forms online and saying I was a librarian, I mean, I’m a lowly graduate trainee, I bow down before the *real* librarians!

  2. Hi Annie, thanks for your comment. There’s nothing lowly about being a graduate trainee! GTs are great for bringing a fresh perspective and new skills to a library team.
    Maybe we need some completely new job titles – Emperor of Information, perhaps?

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