Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Vocabulary of Library Home Pages: An Influence on Diverse and Remote End-Users

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Vocabulary of Library Home Pages: An Influence on Diverse and Remote End-Users

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the elucidation of vocabulary on library home pages. It examines the ability to communicate to diverse, remote users. Even a relatively low frequency of jargon is troublesome in view of the parsimony of the introductory home page. Nevertheless, Web developers should be sensitive to a variety of users and their dependency on this shell, which is the virtual gateway to a depth of information sources on subsequent Web pages. A variety of ways to elucidate library jargon is suggested.

Public service librarians assist library visitors in a space rich with verbal and nonverbal communication. However, an invisible part of the library's clientele attempts to use remotely library resources on the Internet. They may outnumber actual library visitors.

Increasingly, the home pages of libraries emphasize efficiency and simplicity. In response to clients' different capabilities of resolution and speed, the home pages on the servers of some libraries have developed a minimalist aesthetic. They function as a shell of hypertext links. The home page overlays referentially many Web pages dealing with collections, services, facilities, personnel, policies, and access to other networks. The brevity of some home pages places a semantic burden on the chosen vocabulary.

Studies have focused on the design of Web sites. The attention here is on the language of the home page. Some of our clientele can be confused by jargon of the home page. Since successful navigation of a large library Web site depends on the clarity of the home page, its vocabulary deserves scrutiny by managers of these Internet sites.

Library home pages have constraints imposed by software and hardware of servers and clients. However, this article suggests that some of the language available to identify resources and services can allow easier navigation on Web sites of our digital libraries and consortia.

Meanings depend on the particularities of context, which may be minimal on a home page. "FirstSearch" suggests a starting point, and "CARL" hints at a friendly navigational guide, although many users will find that they are neither. How does the virtual interface assist users of a library in the absence of the traditional facility filled with verbal and nonverbal cues and public service librarians? Public service librarians maneuver creatively in the reference exchange when an original choice of words fails its intended meaning.

When librarians talk to colleagues, ambiguous uses of professional jargon are resolved immediately. Technical communication utilizes with justification a level of jargon when an audience of specialists uses a similar vocabulary.(1) The present concern is how professional librarians communicate on the Internet with persons outside the profession. Many of our clients visit the physical library infrequently.

Experienced users of library resources are familiar with the jargon of the library profession. Yet they too can be surprised by new database names and platforms, such as "ECO," "JSTOR," "ProQuest Direct," and "EBSCOhost." Reference and instructional librarians encounter users who are infrequent library visitors and uncomfortable with the idioms. Our clients are delighted with the abundance of computer-accessible information. Their frustrations in using a digital interface to access this plenitude are obvious too.

Confronted with the typewriter, Nietzsche is credited with saying that "our writing materials contribute their part to our thinking."(2) Does the digital medium impose limits on the extent to which clear descriptions and explanations can be provided? Different server and client capabilities influence the composition of Web sites. This essay attempts to show that managers of library sites can improve the text of the home page and subsequent navigation through a library's Web site. Developers of Web pages can select a vocabulary so that reading and comprehension accommodate an audience with different degrees of familiarity with libraries. …

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