What’s in a Name: Does the GPO’s Name Change Impact Librarianship?

GPO

As of Wednesday, December 17th, the GPO is now the Government Publishing Office, a name change undertaken due to “the increasingly prominent role that GPO plays in providing access to Government information in digital formats”. Why did the GPO change their name and does this name change impact the library profession, which, similarly, has managed the transition from print to digital?

The key phrase from the GPO’s press release is “digital formats”: the standard format of information has changed, and so have the responsibilities of the GPO. This governmental agency now manages works born digitally, information disseminated electronically, and older works becoming digitized. As Davita Vance-Cooks, the Director of the Government Publishing Office states: “The name Government Publishing Office better reflects the services that GPO currently provides and will provide in the future.”

Upon the agency’s formation, in 1861, the dissemination of information required physical printing, the Printing of the GPO’s name referring to an actual printing press. Reading portions of 44 U.S. Code Chapter 3 – Government Printing Office, reveals various references to bookbinding, printing machinery, printing supplies, and other physical objects required, again, to physically print and distribute governmental information. Nowadays, the printing press has given way to the computer; the Printing in Government Printing Office did not properly reflect the agency’s workflow. And because digital publishing has largely trumped physical printing, the Government Printing Office name became a misnomer: the rebrand shows the GPO wanted to be seen as an agency that publishes, not an agency that prints.

From a perceptional standpoint, the librarian profession is linked to the physical library building. In reality, libraries are going digital, the physical spaces are becoming downsized and/or re-purposed, and librarians are managing these changes by developing skills suited for a new, digital world. The public opinion issue is when those outside the field assume a consequence of disappearing library buildings is disappearing librarians.

Though the economic crash of 2008 and subsequent downsizing certainly took their toll in the library (and every) industry, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook  United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% increase in library positions for the period from 2012 to 2022 (though it must be noted average growth is 11%).  We are looking at future predicted to have librarians, but perhaps not the physical libraries from where the profession takes its name.

The GPO’s response to a physical-to-digital transition was to rebrand itself with a name change—given its similar digital transition, is this something librarianship should explore? Does the profession need some type of macro re-branding? The issue has been explored before: recall the Special Libraries Association’s unsuccessful 2009 proposal to change its name to Strategic Knowledge Professionals (ASKPro). Why did that initiative fail, and what will be the ultimate consequences of the GPO name change? Are there other options to explore, like rebranding the actual concept of “the library” by promoting the concept of digital spaces? Again, our profession has responded well to a constantly changing digital world, but the question is how proactive do we have to be in letting the rest of the world know about it?

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