“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Clearly William Shakespeare never had to deal with issues of marketing or branding experts.  Names are a big deal, especially when dealing with professional organizations.

My main professional organization, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), is currently in the process of trying to decide whether or not to change its name to the Association for Legal Information (ALI).  The membership will vote on this beginning next month.  As the present moment, I’m not entirely sure which way I plan to vote.

My main problem with the new name is that it shares initials with the American Law Institute, a widely known publisher of legal materials.  It is also an organization with a membership body from the academic, practice world and courts, so no matter what type of librarian you are, it’s likely that your employer will be familiar with the O.G. ALI .  Thus one would have to repeatedly offer the correction of “no, not that ALI, the librarian ALI.” when asking to go to conferences, explaining committee work, etc.  Any new name should make the ask to employers and explanations to outsiders easier, not more confusing.

I made it one paragraph into my explanation before saying “The L Word.”   Librarians and libraries of all stripes from around the world seem to be doing everything they can to run away from that word and the main professional organization for legal librarians doing so as well is sadly not surprising to me.  It seems to be a deal breaker for many AALL members in considering a new name.  I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker for me, but I can’t say I’m happy about it.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t worked in a library in a little over four years, but I still identify myself as a librarian first when introducing myself in professional settings.  To me, librarianship is a profession that provides a context to looking at the world and informs professional activities, regardless of actual job title.  A frequent argument for leaving behind librar* is that job titles and work locales change and everyone just associates librar* with books. (Dusty books at that.)  Instead of a generic name or dozens of specific names, why not make librar* the big tent that welcomes knowledge managers, competitive intelligence workers, archivists, data analysts, research attorneys, etc that maybe, just maybe, work in rooms that don’t have bookshelves?  I don’t run from the librarian title, I like to ride in on it like an elephant at an Indian wedding.  “Let me show you how awesome librarianship is an all the things it can do to make your life easier!”

So, yeah, I guess I do wish some form of the term librar* was in there.

I don’t want to get bogged down in discussing the process of the name change, but I do wish we could see the other suggested names that the brand consultants came up with.  Because I would like to see a new name for AALL – it’s always bothered me that its name is the American Association for Law Libraries, which is not reflective of an international association of law librarians.  I can come up with alternatives, like Legal Information Association, Legal Knowlege Workers United, etc.  But I’m not a branding or marketing expert, and I have this perhaps naive belief in letting professionals do what they’re experts at.  So I want to see the alternatives…maybe ALI is the best alternative out there?

Changing the name of a 100+ year old organization is a once in a lifetime opportunity. When and if it happens, I definitely want to make sure that the choice is a good one likely to stick for the rest of my professional career.  Does ALI meet that criteria? I’m just not sure.


  3 comments for “ALI or AALL

  1. Jenny Rensler
    February 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Love your post, thank you! Fix your typo: it’s not the “Association of American Libraries” but the “American Association of Law Libraries.” 😀

    Best regards,

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