Library jargon

I come from a linguistics background so I've always been interested in the language we use as librarians and how it's different from the language our users use. This inspired the topic for my MLIS research report.

Students' natural use of language for academic library concepts


Library jargon is a barrier to users in their interactions with library staff and systems. Comprehension testing has shown that many students do not understand common library jargon. Usability testing and preference testing have successfully sought user feedback in order to develop more user-friendly interfaces.

In this study into language preferences, a questionnaire was based on 20 concepts taken from New Zealand university library websites. Participants were asked to label these concepts with terms of their own choosing. New Zealand university summer school coordinators were asked to forward a URL for the web-based questionnaire to students in their classes. Fifty valid responses were received.

Concepts that were central to students' library experiences were labelled with as few as 4 different terms, while less central concepts were labelled with more than 30. Library jargon was an important influence on students' choice of terminology. For many concepts, however, students used terms that had not been found on library websites.

Further research is recommended into a broader range of concepts, and into whether user-derived terminology outperforms library jargon in whole-library context usability testing.

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