We are Polyglots: Why It is Okay to Use Business Concepts in Libraries

Libraries have a vast and specific vocabulary. We speak librarian with each other and with our patrons.  We really speak our own language which includes a healthy dose of acronyms: MARC, RDA, ALA, IL, ISBN and ILL. From annotated, Boolean, and bibliographic utility, to stacks and truncation, we are finely tuned to talk about the library world and its contents. Sure, some of these terms are known outside of our world, but they are common and everyday for our work and communication.

But we also speak other languages.

We speak tech. Our extensive use of technology has expanded what we do and what we can offer. Algorithms, relevance, platforms and operating systems are integral to the library world. We speak HTML, WordPress, JavaScript, Python, and more. We know the cloud and we investigate new apps with regularity.  We use social media to promote our services and communicate with our audience. Given the vastness of technology, I would say that technology is actually a collection of many languages that we speak instead of one uniform language.

We speak our organization’s language. Whether we work for a city, county, nonprofit, campus, or corporation, there is a vocabulary and set of cultural expectations embedded in the organization. Sometimes we translate librarian to our organization’s language when we talk to administrators or donors.

We could say that we are polyglots. On any given day, we speak several languages without skipping a beat. We even take time to learn new languages, to keep up with the pace of change.

Some of us balk at speaking business. I wonder why? We are polyglots and we navigate several different languages on a daily basis. Perhaps we think that business–numbers, competition, and profit–is a different world, and perhaps a world that has nothing in common with us, who live in such a specific world with specific values.

Instead of considering it too far outside our realm, I like to think of the power we engender when we can bring together the best of business concepts and ideas with the best of library ideas and thinking. The smart ideas and the best creative thinking from the business world are great assets for us.

In future posts, I will talk about business concepts and ideas, and books and thought leaders that I think are valuable for our work.

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