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2008-05-14

Desiring Sexy Digital Librarians

Recently on the Information Architecture Institute listserv there was a thread regarding job titles. It was merely the latest among many such discussions I've been party to among information workers. Like most information professions, which are by and large still in their relative infancies, information architecture is working out its identity and justifying its existence.

This IAI listserv is private and member-driven, so I won't quote from it or name any of the posters who took part in the thread. I will say that the general tone of the thread was that job titles don't matter—job descriptions, experience, and work samples do. A noble and meritocratic sentiment, one that echoes a larger cultural attitude against pigeonholing people into roles. But I couldn't disagree with this trend more.

Labels and categories can be confining when misused, but they're quite useful, too. And no one should be more aware of this than an information architect, whose sole purpose is to make an information object better, simpler, easier to use. If accurate and descriptive, a job title can be a meaningful thing, and it can do a lot of the heavy lifting up front when it comes to job justification.

I've heard of librarians who, when given the option to assign their own job title, choose "information alchemist." This may be fun and playful and perfectly appropriate to their workplace, but it doesn't tell the average patron what that person can do for them. In fact, the average patron might be a little wary of approaching an "alchemist" for help with homework or finding a good book to read. Furthermore, would the HR manager, or the machine resume screener more and more HR departments are using, know which job the alchemical applicant wants?

The point is that information workers should care about labels. It's what we do. And rather than throw out a whole category of labels as inherently bad, we should be striving to set an example and make them better.

As if to prove my argument that titles matter, my site statistics program tells me that this and this are my two most popular individual entries.

2 comments:

Steve S. said...

Couldn't agree more. Perhaps labels shouldn't matter but they do. They matter when you apply for work. They matter (as you have so correctly noted) when dealing with public expectations. Labels often save you from having to explain your creditionals every day to every patron. They can also prevent less qualified people from claiming that they provide the same level of service.

librarian@play said...

Here I am, trying to be all contrary, and you had to go and agree with me!