‘Don’t make me think!’ (On getting rid of jargon in the Library)

Librarians are pretty good at realising we are using jargon (at least in my experience) but we don’t seem to be able to stop using it. It’s not about educating our users to use our terms, we need to make a concerted effort to not use any terms our users don’t understand.

Jargon seems to be a recurring theme for me lately. Not least because my Library service is in the early stages of implementing a Discovery Tool*. The Jargon is everywhere: in the things the suppliers are asking me to do; the things I’m asking them to do; and more importantly in the interface we are planning to show our users.

As part of a county wide Health Librarians meeting, every quarter we look at a journal article, and last week’s meeting discussed, you guessed it: jargon! (This is not a coincidence, it was my colleagues’ turn to chose the paper!) We discussed Library Terms That Users Understand by J. Kupersmith, which summarised US university libraries’ usability testing of their websites, focussing on terms which users did/didn’t understand. It was interesting to see which were the more popular terms and which Libraries contradicted each other i.e. one library reported users understanding ‘catalogue’ and another reported they didn’t understand it. There was no way to make allowances for type of training/promotion done by the libraries, and I think the difference mostly comes down to user education.

It’s easy to conclude we should explain ourselves more, but I think we need to take it further than that. I can’t help thinking about a book I read when I did my Masters degree: ‘Don’t make me think’ by Steve Krug. It’s about web design and website usability. It suggests, and you’ve possibly guessed from the title, that users (whether for a website or I think for a library) shouldn’t have to think about their next move, it should be obvious.

The Kupersmith article asked the question ‘What do you want to do today?’ and I thought this would make a good starting point for how we phrase things. If we asked our library users this question, what would the reply be?

[*For those not familiar with this particular piece of jargon – yes I see the irony! -this is a way for our users to search multiple journal/ebook/book databases at once. There’ll probably be more detailed posts soon as this project gets under way!]


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