It has long intrigued me why libraries (or maybe librarians) like to use different words instead of the words that our users would commonly use. The issue/discharge, check-in/checkout, return/borrow terminology always used to seem to me to be at odds with how users thought of the processes. In most cases in my experience library users (borrowers, readers, patrons…) would say ‘I want to take this out’ or ‘I want to bring this back’ but I’ve never yet seen any library that uses those words to describe the processes.
And we’ve carried on this process into the web-sphere, as this recent report by John Kupersmith from Berkeley ‘Library Terms that Users Understand’ clearly identifies. Looking at 51 usability studies he has picked out several terms that users simply don’t understand (shown in the image on the right). Terms like database, periodical, serial, and resource are included in the list and they are all familiar from usability tests we’ve done ourselves. Database is one that I always find particularly interesting. To most people a database is something like Microsoft Access and few people outside libraries would ever consider them to be a collection of library stuff.
It’s good to see recommendations about the use of natural language such as ‘Find’ in the report. That certainly matches what we have found from our own work and we’ve ended up going with ‘Find’ for our search feature on the home page of our website. Journals, articles and ebooks may not be quite the best terms to use with Find maybe.
I am slightly surprised to find that users aren’t that sure about the term ‘Library catalog’ but maybe I shouldn’t be, as I think that libraries themseleves are maybe slightly confused about what is in a library catalogue these days, in the age of knowledge bases and discovery systems. Is your catalogue just a list of printed materials, or a list of everything owned or licensed by the library? I wonder whether users were any clearer about what a library catalogue was in the past?