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3/14/2006

Terms Library Users Understand

Periodicals, pathfinders, online resources – what do these terms mean to you? According to recent usability studies of common library terms found on library websites, these terms are confusing to users …

Library Terms that Users Understand


Library terms evaluated in usability tests and other studies


Terms found on usability-tested library homepage


A good resource for any redesign or library web project.

1 comment:

Sarah Poole said...

I couldn't agree more. In the Communications department we see this all the time. Replacing library jargon and abbreviations that are meaningless to our "patrons" is a major part of the editing process. (We even consider the word "patron" to be library jargon because it can also mean "one who gives money to an organization." To avoid confusion, we try to replace this word with phrases like "library users" or "cardholders" during the editing process.)

Using plain language can a battle. Some library staff are so steeped in the jargon that they really don't believe that a library user might be unnecessarily confused by abbreviations like "Join the WBL Book Club" or "go to the CKO desk".

Two real-life examples:

1.) I recently received an e-mail notification telling me that my item could be picked up at Main Library, followed by this cryptic phrase: "Cornelius (NCO Closed)". As a staff person, I knew this three-word message meant that the e-mail was being sent by Cornelius branch because the library from which I originally obtained my library card ("NCO," more commonly know as "North County Regional") was closed for roof repairs. But what user would have been able to deciper this?

2.) I recently lost a battle over the signage for our new self-sufficiency service, launching in 16 new locations. I suggested that the sign say "Pick up holds here" (or even "Pick up reserved items here"), but I was overruled by the librarian who wanted it to say "Patron Holds Pickup". This librarian obviously felt most comfortable with the phrase "Patrons Holds," so her perspective won out. (Librarians - 2, "Patrons" - 0.)

Many readers can also be put off by technically-accurate, but confusing phrases like one that appeared in a recent research tool description: "Search the bibliographic citations and full text of all monographs and serials." (I was tempted to add "Now with extra whitening power!" to the end of this description, simply because I knew that very few library users would have continued reading beyond the word "monograph."

If we're ultimately serving as information facilitators, we have to make sure we're not speaking to our customers in a foreign language.