Periodicals and Other Library Jargon

Interesting comments over on the LIBREF-L discussion list about what constitutes library ‘jargon.’ The librarian originating the discussion wanted to know a more “user friendly” term for periodicals, as the staff spends time defining it to users.

So what do you call it? Whether it be for library instruction, or signage, I try to avoid anything that may be too jargon-y. I prefer a simple “journals & magazines” label, or a separate “newspapers” label.

One of the respondents to the question made an important point: for academic libraries, it is necessary to separate journals from magazines and newspapers, as many professors will want students to use scholarly literature. Most students coming into college are already familiar with the terms magazine and newspaper–and they’ll become all too familiar with the term journal soon enough!

However, the respondent felt that “periodicals” was the most appropriate label. It’s a “catch all” term: Periodicals cover journals, magazines, AND newspapers. The respondent also made the point that students learn jargon in their discipline, so “one more won’t kill them.” Now that I tend to disagree with. An academic library can often be the most intimidating building on a college campus: difficulty navigating, unfamiliar organization of materials, overwhelming, unhelpful/unfriendly staff (a perception). Using user-friendly terms helps mitigate this.

Roy Tennant, on his Library Journal blog, posted a list of words librarians shouldn’t say or use. The one that caught my eye was OPAC. Now I know our profession loves acronyms. But OPAC just has to go. It means nothing to our users. But what about terms that librarians hold dear to their hearts: databases? indexes? full-text? circulation?

A brief look at library websites shows many use the term databases. Some even use the term indexes (please ban this term, too, Roy!) I use the term database in library instruction, but always with an explanation that it’s the place to go for articles. More user-friendly library websites use  simpler language such as “Find Articles,” or even “Find Books” for the library catalog. It’s not “dumbing down”–it’s about making access easier.

The term full-text is another one that bugs me. I know the term is often driven by the database vendors, but we need to speak up! Just changing full-text to “click for article” or something similar would help. Countless times at the Reference Desk (or is it Information Desk?) users come up wanting to know how to get the article when the full-text link is right there!

As for circulation, I’d put that in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. Most users have a sense of what this term is. But I’m not opposed to a simplified “check out” sign, either.

So, what library terms do you see as library “jargon” and what would you suggest instead?


Periodicals signage at Allen County (IN) Public Library. Courtesy of ACPL on Flickr.


4 thoughts on “Periodicals and Other Library Jargon

  1. I get that this isn’t really jargon, but it does bug me that our library has a classroom called the “training room.” Why not just call it a classroom? That’s what our students call it.

    I totally agree that the word “periodical” is very confusing. I never knew exactly what it was referring to until I went to work in a library. Instead of interpreting it as a catchall term, I thought it was yet another type of publication in addition to magazines, newspapers, and journals.

    And yeah. OPAC has got to go. I also noticed on an academic library website a link for “DCA”. Turns out it went to the Digital Collections & Archives, but who would know that other than the people who work there? What we need to do is go home and ask our moms what they think these words and acronyms mean. Then ask our nieces/nephews/kids. Put the results together and you’ll easily know what makes sense to our patrons and what doesn’t.

  2. I agree with Alice on the “training room” name. And I know libraries that also use their “training rooms” as computer labs, so this makes everything confusing for that room. It has a couple different purposes.

    Ugh, Reference Desk has to go. I think the reason why I get asked so many random questions is because no one knows what the Reference Desk is for! And then when you actually do help a student with a reference question, they seem so overly grateful like you’re going out of your way. But this is my job right?

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