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

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

Reference Desk: What to Call It?

The phone rings at the Reference Desk. I pick it up to answer:

Me: Library Reference Desk, may I help you?

Patron: Umm…I don’t need you to be a reference. But can I ask a question?

Me: (Not missing a beat) Absolutely!

So, did the library patron really think the Reference Desk was the place to call to have someone vouch for them on a resume? Sigh.

What should it be called? Information Desk, Research Desk, Help Desk? I just don’t think the term reference registers with a lot of users. I also struggle with using the term reference when I do library instruction. I generally don’t even say “reference books”–instead, it’s background info, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.

I worked at a library where the Reference Desk was known as the “Research Assistance” desk. That made sense to users (this was an academic library). The students knew to go to this desk and get help from the librarian.

I also like “Information Desk”: questions = information. That’s easy to understand. “Help Desk” is a perfect description, too. However, it has been co-opted by information technology departments. Would users assume that a “Help Desk” is only for technology questions? Although, many libraries do already answer many tech questions anyway.

Which name do you prefer?

The library I currently work at recently installed a merged circulation/reference area. Now I struggle whether to refer separately to them as “circulation desk” and “reference desk,” (they are technically two desks, separated by small opening) or some new name?

After the re-model:

I’d love to hear from other librarians who have merged circulation/reference areas. What do you call it?