What’s In A Name? – School Libraries
As Juliet says,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”.
Does the same hold true for libraries?
What is your library called?
My principal recently asked me what I’d like our school library called and I had the opportunity to rename both my own role and the name of my school library. I had to ask myself if I should I stick with the word ‘library’ or should I look for something else?
My school is very innovative and my principal extremely supportive. I could have plucked out a new name and it would have been allowed, perhaps matching it to our unique pedagogy or approach to learning at the school.
There was a recent article I saw about the school district of Winnipeg in the USA calling for their school libraries (or those that were left after the district had all but destroyed them with poor funding and few staff, but that’s another matter entirely) to not be called libraries, but instead use titles like Curiosity Spaces or other similar names. https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/2022/12/31/its-not-a-school-library-its-a-curiosity-space
It’s curious, isn’t it. Does the name matter? I’ve known many incredible school libraries. Some were called ‘libraries’ and others had other names. Like Mt Alvernia College’s iCentre. They run a fabulous program and wonderful school library. I’ve equally heard stories, similar to the tale of Winnipeg’s school libraries, where libraries have been completely under-funded or under-supported, have few – if any – qualified library staff running the space and yet hope simply changing the name will bring life into a space they have destroyed. I’ve also heard hilarious tales of new names for libraries created, only to have to be changed as they made a faux pas with the name, later realising the acronym was dreadful or the shortened nickname rather not what they were hoping for.
All this I pondered when it came time for me to think about if I should change the name of my role and the name of my school library.
Actually, let’s be honest, I didn’t ponder all that long.
I am very firmly in favour of retaining the name library for my school library.
I think you could argue that most, if not all, parents, staff, students and community members would know what a library is. Yes, their ideas might be a little outdated, but you say library, they are not going to need to ask ‘what’s that,’ in the same way they might for your ‘place of curiosity’. Recognition is important. If you don’t have a library at your school, even if you do have a ‘creative space’ it only takes a change in vision or direction or leadership for that ‘place of curiosity’ to be so easily removed. And yes, you could argue the same for school libraries, but again that recognition and tradition of the word holds a little stronger.
Sharing the same name with other libraries means there is also that connection to other libraries. And it’s easier for your school library to be supported by school library associations, school library campaigns, school library awards and school library celebration days. That link becomes a little tenuous if you are called the ‘place of wonder.’
Even if you do rename your library, your students and staff might refer back to the space using the traditional name of libraries. Old habits are hard to break, so why not stick with that?
We all know that a library is far more than a room full of books, but books are still important and the name of library carries that concept. If you are a ‘place of curiosity’ what place do the books have and how easy is it to remove them?
In much the same way as resources, a library comes with a librarian. Again, my argument is a little undermined by the fact that so many library staff have lost their jobs and libraries are left without staff to run them. However, retaining the name does carry some weight. It was the same when it came time to ponder what to call my role. I wanted to stick with library, as I am a librarian and proud of it. I want that in my job description and title.
With a new name, you’ll have to spend time marketing that name. I’ve been through the process of trying to rebrand our library platform and, let me tell you, trying to get students, staff and even school library members to call it by its fancy new name was hard. And some times, pointless. It didn’t really achieve anything except confusion. I just needed students to know what it was – the library platform – not what it was called. If you are changing your name, think about the time you’ll need to spend marketing that name which takes time away from everything else you need to do.
Okay, but what happens if you want to redefine yourself? If you, like me, are in a very innovative school, your library needs to reflect that. Or maybe you do want to reinvent the school library. I knew I needed to reinvigorate the school library. It needed to grab the attention of our users and we needed to let them know that while some things stayed the same, there were lots of new and exciting opportunities and changes.
But should I do that under the banner of a new name? I decided to focus my efforts on educating everyone what a library can and should be rather than changing our name. Our reinvention was in everything we do, as well as continuing on the incredible things already being done and the work done by those who came before me. I told my principal ‘I want to redefine what everyone thinks about the library, I don’t need to change its name.’ So, when it came time to decide on what my role would be called, I decided to stick with head of library services. Yes, my role includes so much, but for me, calling it ‘library services’ can encapsulate all that and so much more, anything I want or need it to be. If someone doesn’t understand what that is, that’s something I can work on changing. My work speaks for me, not what my title is.
It’s the same for our space. It’s our actions that will speak loudly and I’ve already received so much positive feedback from staff and students about the changes we’ve made. I didn’t need to change our name to let them know about all the things they could do at the library and all the different things the library could be and do for them.
The word library carries history, tradition and legacy. But it also brings with it the opportunity to change, to expand and constantly update. School libraries looks so much different from the libraries of old. We don’t need to change the name to make changes or try any and all opportunities, I just need to let everyone know that the incredible things we are doing are happening in the library, so why don’t they come and check it out.
Do you agree? Do you heartily disagree? Do you use the name school library for your school library? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below or get in touch.