Words Are Our Story: Mark Funk, Janet Doe Lecturer 2012

T. Scott Plutchak introduced Mark Funk as the Janet Doe Lecture for 2012. He reminded us that Mark is someone who doesn’t forget to have fun, and he certainly had fun creating an engaging lecture.

Funk talks about how he prepared for the lecture and states that while reading other Janet Doe lectures he noticed that there was a lot of ‘philosophy’ involved and a lot of very strong personal viewpoints.  He promised not to bombard us with his philosophy on librarianship and said his main philosophy is simply ‘Have another Cookie.”

In order to create his fantastic presentation, there was much preparation.  He decided he would take the approach of telling our story by using our words.  What does that mean?  He scoured the MLA Bulletin for the most used words from a period from 1960-2010.  He downloaded articles from PubMed Central, copy and pasted these into MS Word, and then analyzed word use frequency.  Included almost everything but excluded book reviews, proceedings, obituaries, and no bibliographies.  There were some problems, of course. Words have multiple meanings, there were issues with OCR and scanning PDFs which had to be fixed manually.  All told, he spent 225 hours on this project.  After identifying top words, he developed a system using ‘sparklines’, something Edward Tufte, a data visualization guru, utilizes.  From here he came up with 4 basic categories from the corpus of words: Environment, Management, Technology, and Research.


Use of the word librarians increased, but the word library dropped. (People are becoming more important than places.) We don’t talk about catalogs as much anymore, nor do we talk as much about books.  But we really like to talk about journals and we are talking more about licensing.  Reference remained steady. We talk a lot more about searching and more about filters.  Resources trended up, information rallied and access is considered more important.  There’s a rise in evidence, more about training and instructing than teaching, and we are talking less about medicine and more about health care.  We are more interested in reaching out to clinicians and we leave the library and there are two new groups in our lexicon: patients and consumers.


In the 60s we didn’t talk much about management but there was a peak in the 80s and 90s as books like the One Minute Manager became popular. Words like challenges, barriers, opportunities, collaboration, teams, mission, goals, target, enhanced outcomes were some of the more popular terms used during this time.  This is evidence that we are no longer running our libraries like academic departments, but more like businesses.


Funk briefly asks the audience to hold up any devices they might be using.  An astounding amount of the audience held up their devices and as evidence that yes, we are truly tech geeks. The word computers has remained steady, but the use of the word machines has dropped. Automate is no longer a word of choice, but digital and digitize is popular.  We care more about software today than hardware.  Internet exploded in the early 90s but dropped off in recent years to be replaced by web-based.  We seem to be more concerned with helping our users navigate, improve interfaces and we like usability.

And the winner is….

Mark takes a break to introduce the nominees for the Burj Khalifa award, or the word with the sharpest rise and fall.  The nominees were: CD Rom, Mosaic, PDAs, Gopher.  Most of the audience chose PDAs as the winner, however, the Burj Khalifa award went to: Gopher.


We are doing more scholarly work now. The word introduction has remained fairly level, methods had a rise in the 80s as did results.  Discussion has largely remained the same. The thought as to why there was a rise in the 80s is that the MLA Strategic Plan was developed to include a goal that encouraged people to do more research.  Other words are bibliometric, participants, randomization, significant results, valid conclusion.

And the hockey stick goes to….

This award goes to the word that has had the steadiest clime over time.  EHR, Cochrane, Google, Literacy, and Sustainability were the choices – the audience chose EHR as the winner.

Funk states that our words reveal change in our profession, they are our story, they don’t predict what will happen next, they just tell us a bit of how did we get here?  He wondered if ours is a never-ending story and he took a bite of another cookie.

MLA honored Mark Funk with a well-deserved standing ovation.  Congrats Mark on a job well-done!

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