Naming names – L/library and L/librarian

Someone recently found my blog using the search terms “Capital L library?”.  It might be too late for them, but here’s my interpretation for anyone else seeking an answer to this question.

Library-with-a-capital-L is a Proper Noun and refers to a named library such as St Hugh’s College Library or the Bodleian Library, which may be shortened to “Library” when referred to multiple times in the same document.  When referring to a library in a general way, little-l-library is appropriate.

What about Librarian-with-a-capital-L?  For most people, a librarian-with-a-little-l is a person who has a front-of-house role in a library and helps you borrow and return your books.  However, front-of-house roles are normally carried out by library assistants, while a Librarian-with-a-capital-L is an information professional with a postgraduate qualification in the field, who is more likely to be found doing staff management or budget planning than checking in a book.

Among Oxford L/librarians, this distinction is well understood, so I can introduce myself as the College Librarian and people know that this means.  Away from Oxford, I tend to say that I am the Library Manager, or something similar (Empress of Information?  I should try that sometime).

I think the subtlety of the L/librarian distinction also explains why some people find it hard to believe that I need any qualification at all to be a Librarian-with-a-capital-L, as they think I said librarian-with-a-little-l, and why would you need an MA to shelve books?



  1. Sounds like the difference between Conservative or conservative / Liberal or liberal – are you a paid up member of the club or do you champion the ideals? Which is most important? I’d say high service standards are the pinnacle, but I’m a little l, so I would wouldn’t I? Personally I find the persistent implication that I’m unprofessional offensive, to the extent that I’m so tired of aspiring to join the club that I’m considering doing something entirely different.

    • Hi Kathryn, sorry if you feel there is an implication that you are unprofessional – I don’t intend that. I think there is a massive difference between being unprofessional and just not having a qualification – in any field.
      Have you had other jobs in libraries other than your current role? It might be work trying a change of library before doing something entirely different, as libraries vary enormously and you might find that working in another library could be a really positive change for you.

      • Sure, I worked in the library at the university of Nottingham and in the institute for Chinese studies library at Oxford before I came to my current post. I actually love my job and am well involved in all sorts of focus / special interest groups in Oxford. You know what though? I’ve done plenty of work for the qualification but am too damn busy doing my job and taking care of my family to write up. There are so many people tweeting and blogging about being professional (no, not you) who I know are actually utterly useless. I’ve had trainees who have gone on to be high profile social networkers who I wouldn’t dream of working with again. It concerns me that professionalism and Web 2.0 are becoming confused. It genuinely upsets me that in the wider profession I am second class because of a stupid bit of paper. I am good, very good, I know that, and I’d be good at a lot of things. If I’d never heard of our esteemed professional body I would feel a great deal more appreciated and my wallet would be a great deal heavier.

  2. Hi – I’m a trainee in Oxford, and I’ve met loads of people both with and without the library qualification who are working in non-professional posts, and doing everything from updating websites, cataloguing, document delivery, getting involved with meetings, making podcasts, sorting out interlibrary loans and fielding complicated research questions from readers. They’re also doing this work enthusiastically and professionally on a low salary. Realistically, in the current economy, even though I plan to get the masters, I expect that I will be working as a library assistant for a good while afterwards before I have enough experience to be considered for professional posts, and I have friends who simply cannot afford to do the masters now it costs around £5000-£7000. While it is annoying to have your role devalued in the minds of the wider population, I’m not sure it’s helpful to counter this by devaluing the work of the many other enthusiastic and talented people working at all levels in libraries.

  3. This debate here is quite relevant to me at the moment. I work in libraries but am neither a Librarian or a librarian. And I don’t have a masters degree of any kind. I recently had a conversation with a senior rep. from our professional body about the need to develop ways of supporting and recognising a wider range of skills, roles etc in the sector. It was a very positive conversation and has been discussed since as part of their ongoing review. It certainly seemed to be something they recognise as an opportunity for development. Also, I know there are a lot of voices saying a lot of things on social media and we can’t agree with everyone all of the time. But I don’t think we should dismiss it as a tool for learning, debate and asking questions. Look at us – seems like a sensible and important conversation! My last point is on a more personal note because I sometimes do it too. I think it’s important, however, that we at least *try* not to compare ourselves and our choices to others because we don’t *have* to. We just need to focus on and take pride in what we do if we can because it takes all of us together to make the whole thing work anyway. Idealist? Me?! Peace (and all that.)

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