Monday, October 26, 2009

Whole Earth Discipline mini quasi-review

I went to a book signing last week -- Tuesday, October the 20th to be exact. Stewart Brand was in town pushing his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto at the Tattered Cover. The presentation was associated with the Rocky Mountain Land Series. (See also their library.) I last saw Stewart Brand speak at the 2003 SLA conference in NYC.

Anyway, the presentation was really good. I learned about some new types of small nuclear reactors that are being developed. The best part of the talk for me was his discussion of the recommended reading list. I am glad that my academic library already has most of these titles, and I plan to buy the two books we don't already have.

Monday, October 19, 2009

SLA Name Change: First Impressions

I am not quite so keen on the proposed name change for SLA. The leadership announced about a week ago that they would like to change the name of the organization to the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals. This is all part of a strategic "alignment project". They say "this alignment project will not only help refine our current positioning in the marketplace, but provide a framework for discussing the inherent value in the profession and the Association in a clear, compelling and cohesive voice."

Some other relevant sites are the portal, research from Fleishman Hillard (ppt) and the SLA Name Change Info Center and the name change discussion forums. Many people have left comments on this post.

One of my first thoughts was that while the individual words strategic, knowledge and professional are all well and good, I was not sure if I liked the combination. It could be like throwing filet mignon, gourmet chocolate ice cream, and a nice dijon mustard into a blender. Yes, they are wonderful ingredients, but I am not so sure about the combination. Over the last week, the three word combination is starting to grow on me, a little bit.

However, I was a little perturbed when Stephen Abram wrote: "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."

To say that librarians (or information professionals or knowledge professionals) who read, discuss and absorb the insights, and STILL disagree with the proposal are not "real information professionals" is ludicrious. That attitude will not win over many votes.

One of the aims of the proposed name change is to make it clearer to the decision makers in our organizations what the association does. I am not sure that the name change makes it any clearer.

The vote is NOT on the acronym, ASKPro. However, SLA leadership and the companies that helped in their research did consider the acronym when proposing the new name. Gloria Zamora noted that "we also eliminated names that did not have good acronyms or shortened versions associated with them." I do not like the acronym all that much for a variety of reasons, but since we are not voting on it, I won't go into any more detail.

I am also not pleased with the fact that only 25% of the survey population were librarians or information professionals. The rest were marketers, C-level execs, HR people, etc. Many of the librarians in SLA are academic librarians. I would guess that the majority of the STM librarians in SLA are academic. Where are the academic leader responders to the survey? They were not represented. As an STM academic librarian, why do I care what a C-level executive thinks of the word "library" or "strategy" or "knowledge" or whatever? Yes, I know that the majority of the members of SLA work in corporate libraries, but it seems like the survey ignored the academic, government and non-profit sectors. [10/20/09 changes. Two of those groups were represented in the naming survey, see slide 8 of the "PowerPoint summary of that research". More discussion is here. However, it is not clear if the survey was of academic and government librarians, or academic and government administrators, or a mix of the two. I also don't like the sentence on slide 9 -- "They are accountable for ensuring businesses have the right information to grow, succeed and benefit the bottom line." I don't work in a "business"; I work in a non-profit educational institution. A LOT of SLA librarians don't work for "businesses". This assumption is just plain wrong. All this talk about the bottom line, competetive advantage, and "having access to the right information for the best business decisions" is not relevant to me.]

Michael Fosmire brought up the point that the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the IEEE have no (or little) problems with their acronyms. As long as we have innovative people in the association that can attract more innovative people, then why bother with the name change? Will changing the name of the association really attract more innovative thinkers to become members?

Hilary Davis of NC State (and chair-elect of the ST Division) asked a small sample of people about the proposed name, and 9 out of 10 preferred the "Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals". However, one of her respondents said it "sounds more cerebral and formal, but I doubt anyone outside the librarian world would realize it had anything to do with libraries or librarians." Thus, does changing the name make it any clearer what we do as information or knowledge professionals?

Right now, I would vote for Information Professionals International if I could, but that train left the station years ago. I am leaning against the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals. Who says they are a "strategic knowledge professional"? When I talk to strangers when they ask what I do, I say either librarian or an academic librarian, and they have a sense of what I do.

Yes, I know that the association wants to reach out and attract more members, particularly IT and other information workers, but is this the best way? If it passes, I will deal with it. I will continue to be active in an organization that houses innovative thinkers and knowledge workers. And librarians. And we can also be strategic. But the full phrase -- "strategic knowledge professionals" is a mouthful. Maybe I will get used to it if it passes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New version of the Periodic Table

This MIT Technology Review blog post explains how a new graphical presentation of the periodic table of chemical elements was developed. For more background, take a look at the PDF of the research behind the idea.