What’s in a Name?

A few weeks back, a very nice librarian from a large university in the Midwest came to speak to a group of us in my own library who are involved in eScience. For the sake of the reader, I’ll spare the details of what eScience is and what libraries/librarians are doing in this field. Besides, it’s not necessary in order to understand the point of this post.

This very nice librarian gave a very nice presentation about some of the projects being undertaken at his library. Good stuff, interesting projects, new and relevant things, and a lot of takeaways for work we’re doing in my library. But I got stuck on the slide where he outlined the staff working on said stuff, including himself. His job title: Research Data Scientist.

And so here is my point: A research librarian is not a research scientist, even if s/he stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Calling one’s self something isn’t all that it takes to make it so. I know there’s a tendency within our media culture to repeat things over and over and over again, believing that such insidious repetition will in fact give the thing credence, but really all it does is give one a headache. And a deep desire to tune out.

So I asked the very nice librarian why his job title is “Research Data Scientist” instead of the more appropriate, “Research Data Librarian”. He referenced a text on the subject of scientific data management where the term “Research Data Scientist” was used and said that there was agreement among his library’s administration that the role described in the book for this position was exactly what librarians do, i.e. “We add value to the data.”

All well and good, and most importantly, true, but my unvoiced follow-up question is this:

If what a research data scientist does is exactly what a librarian does, then why not simply call the position research data librarian? Why is “scientist” chosen over “librarian”? The consensus wasn’t “That’s exactly what scientists do,” but “That’s exactly what librarians do.”

A parallel thought came to me over the weekend as I saw numerous ads in a magazine offering certification in becoming a Celebrant. In case you’re unfamiliar, per the Celebrant Institute, “Celebrants are people in your community who are trained to officiate at, compose and perform the highest quality personalized ceremonies for couples, individuals and organizations.” In a former career, I officiated and performed very personal ceremonies for any number of occasions from weddings to funerals to commitment ceremonies to Gay Pride events. You know what I was called?

A minister.

So is there some relationship between librarians and ministers, something that makes it so that when people decide they want to do whole or part of these vocations, they feel the need to call themselves something else? Have we done something to offend, we librarians and ministers? Are they so out of date and out of touch that we just don’t want to be associated with such labels anymore?

I don’t know, but I do wonder.

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