by Ken Fox, Librarian
On November 24 of this year, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries / Association Canadienne des Bibliothèques de Droit (CALL/ACBD) held a “Town Hall” meeting via Zoom, and discussed, amongst other matters, an organizational name change.
Principally, they want to remove the word “library” from their name. And I couldn’t agree more. In fact, in 2016, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) voted on a similar proposal to change its name to the Association for Legal Information (ALI), which occasioned the following comments, originally posted on March 8, 2016, and repurposed for the present discussion.
But in the case of the AALL, the membership voted overwhelmingly NO to the name change … and I am still stunned.
Don’t they know that “library” means “place for books”? Old, smelly, dusty, obsolete books! Don’t they know that research is now done online? People, the world of legal information is leaving books and libraries behind.
Every word means exactly one thing, and the meanings of words do not change, ever. Library means books, and books are made of paper, and paper is a thing of the past.
Do they imagine that an electronic text can in some way be called a “book” – perhaps by putting an “e” in front of the b – to wit, an “ebook?” And then, in their bizarre fantasies, the people who still want to be called “librarians” and “library technicians” could organize their collections of “ebooks” into some kind of “e-library?” That would be like creating a digital analog for mail, and rather than choosing a sensible, contemporary name for it, simply sticking an “e” in front of the word “mail” – thus “email.” Who would ever use such an antiquity?
The business software market provides us with many examples of such linguistic anachronisms. Who would use a computer program that features “pages” and “cutting” and “pasting” – like your monitor is made of paper? Who would use an operating system that deploys “documents” that are organized into “files” and “folders” – as if there were cabinets and drawers inside your hard drive? And some have proposed that such documents and files could be stored in a web? Or a net? Or a cloud? What does that even mean? With such confusing, outdated terminology, it is little wonder no one uses such technology or takes it seriously.
It’s even worse. The world of computing has tried to bring back ancient scrolls and icons, as if computers have religious powers. And they will even try to sell us tablets, which are traditionally made of stone and have not been in fashion since the days of Moses. I guess it is appropriate that tablets were first introduced by a company (now bankrupt, I would assume) named after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. And just last week I caught my son using the word “avatar” in a computing context. So naturally I explained to him that an avatar is a human incarnation of a Hindu deity – nothing to do with computers, smarten up boy! Computers are very now, but if such antediluvian terminology persists, they might take us back to Old Testament times.
Thankfully, it is perfectly obvious that few people would use a computing device that features icons, scrolls and avatars, and of course nobody living in the 21st Century would ever, ever purchase a tablet.
And who would ever use the electronic version of a library, whatever that might be. Or an archive, for that matter. An archive is a place for old bundles of paper and film strips and magnetic tape and other assorted artifacts stored in boxes. A digital text archive? Managed by digital archivists? The notion is absurd.
The world of legal information is now a vast virtual space of discrete packets of data, variously owned, and employing diverse, complex organizational systems of metadata, requiring expert knowledge to effectively catalogue and retrieve – who would ever dream of naming such a thoroughly modern superstructure a library? And who would ever take seriously someone who purports to know something about such a structured information complex, and yet still calls themself a librarian or library technician?
Yes, the AALL should have changed their name to the Association for Legal Information. And the American Library Association should be the American Information Association (AIA), and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations should be the Canadian Information Federation (CIF), and so on – that way everyone in today’s world will know exactly what our associations are about, and not associate them – and us – with old dusty books from a bygone era.
We are living in the information age, and our professional designations should reflect that reality. Computer programmers have already wisely rebranded themselves Information Technicians. And writers, since nobody actually “writes” with quills and pens anymore, should be called information engineers. And publishers can be information producers. And librarians and library techs can be information professionals and technical information professionals. These few modest changes would end much of the confusion about who does what in this brave, high-tech world.
So when CALL/ACBD puts forward its motion to rebrand as the Canadian Legal Information Association (CanLIA) – I’m voting YES.