Last week was the most exciting thing to come out of New Jersey since Frank Sinatra. Well, maybe not quite that exciting, but a lot of librarians were interested. It seems that the Rutgers library school – or, rather, the school at Rutgers that houses the MLIS program – is going to change its name to become "more competitive." You can read all about it right here at Library Journal. (I never read LJ until I started blogging here. It’s amazing what you can learn about libraries these days.) From the story:
"Another graduate school serving the library field is about to lose the “L” name. The faculty of Rutgers University’s School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) voted 30-10 to change the name of the school to the School of Communication and Information."
According to the story, the initial announcement claimed that the New Jersey Library Association had been informed and supported the move. Apparently that wasn’t the case at all, but just something someone at Rutgers made up. Maybe they should consider changing the name to the School of Miscommunication and Disinformation. It’s just a thought.
A couple of my New Jersey informants informed me that a number of New Jersey librarians (mostly Rutgers graduates, as I understand it) were up in arms at the proposed change because, you know, it’s important to have the word "librarian" in the title if you’re a librarian. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to any of these graduates that none of the Rutgers faculty who voted for this change are actually librarians, which supports my position that there is a huge disconnect between what goes on in libraries and what goes on in library (or information or whatever) schools.
Does the word "library" really matter that much, though? After all, Michigan doesn’t have "library" in its name, and I’ve heard it has a pretty good library school. Of course, neither do Missouri or Valdosta State, so that’s not much of an argument. Let’s reverse this. Illinois still has "library" in its title, and it’s got a good library school. Wait, so do Clarion and South Florida. This isn’t getting us anywhere, is it? No. Let’s move on.
Rutgers says the change will make them "more competitive." Considering they’re the only ALA-accredited library school in New Jersey I’m not sure who they think they’re competing with. Ah, wait. I see it now. They’re not trying to compete with other library schools. They’re trying to compete with other "communication" and "information" schools. The MLIS degree they offer will still be there for those poor folks who can’t escape New Jersey to go to library school in the Midwest where all the really good library schools are, but I’m pretty sure that attracting more library school students isn’t a high priority for them. The library school students will go anyway, because Rutgers seems to be the only public university library school in the region, and thus cheaper than the private university schools in New York and Philadelphia. Library school students might make up 27% of the Rutgers SCILS graduates, but that large minority isn’t going anywhere.
Some librarians are certainly making a big deal about this. According to the article, NJLA president Heidi "Cramer, who noted that NJLA faces more pressing issues, such as a legislative attempt to halve library funding, said that “a lot of librarians are very passionate about deleting the name ‘library.’ It’s not that they’re changing the name. They’re keeping part of the name, and removing the part about libraries.” She said she personally opposed the change."
How strong is this argument, though? Sure, a lot of librarians are passionate about deleting the name, but will anyone else care? If the NJLA and New Jersey libraries are facing such pressing issues as reduced funding, what importance should this minor name change have? It’s not the librarians who are out funding libraries. Do we really think anyone in the state of New Jersey besides the librarians and the Rutgers SCILS faculty care one way or another what this school is called? Will there be a legislator who says, "Oh, the Rutgers library school dropped ‘library’ from the name. Let’s follow suit and drop ‘library’ from the state budget!" Has that happened in Michigan or Washington or Texas or Tennessee?
Let’s consider another perspective. Library schools have nothing to do with libraries, so librarians have no reason other than alumni sentimentality to care what they do. The permanent faculty at library schools aren’t librarians. What they research and teach has only the most tenuous connection if any to libraries or librarianship. This isn’t a put down of library school faculty. I don’t blame them at all. Librarianship has its moments as a profession and libraries have a valuable role to play in society, but teaching library studies must be about the most boring activity in the university. Cataloging? Boring. Reference? Boring. Government documents? Please don’t let me fall asleep. We won’t even mention classes on storytelling or videogames. The faculty in these schools might do some interesting work, but it doesn’t have much to do with us.
Thus, this is nothing for librarians to be concerned about. We are librarians working in libraries, not audience development officers working in infotainment provision centers. The library schools can call themselves what they wish and it will have no effect on us whatsoever. Everyone knows that once you’re a librarian, nobody cares where you went to library school. That tells us something important about the names of these schools. A library school by any other name would still be irrelevant to the concerns of actual librarians.