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1 Apr 2009 / Julie

a thought on language (and signs)

Information Commons. It’s the “thing” to have now, instead of a monolith reference desk or multiple services at multiple points.  It’s multiple services at one point. It’s cross training staff.  It’s annoying.

Someone said “hey, the reference desk is dead” and so we all gravitated to (well, mostly academic libs) the “information commons” concept. (Have you noticed we tend to be big on stuff- we hear it somewhere and latch on like leeches until way beyond the point that the thing is dead? no? well…)

But think about it for a second. Information Commons. WTF does that even mean!? I mean, to a non-librarian human. To a student. To a customer. Or a potential customer. “Information Commons” it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a phrase that is used anywhere else. Google “information commons” and then filter out the library results. and the .edu results. you get bupkiss. It doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t tell me what it’s for. It’s not intuitive.

Libraries, on the whole i think, are bad at signage. “Reference” instead of “Information” or “ask me.” “Circulation” instead of “Check out” or “customer service” (read: accounts). “Databases” instead of “the stuff we pay a ton for that’s really useful but no one uses because it’s ‘hard to search’.” Okay, not much improvement on the last one. How about “better than Google Scholar but harder to use?” Nah.

But seriously; why don’t we name things intuitively instead of “what we’ve always called things?” Good grief, what would happen if we broke the mold and labeled things so that our CUSTOMERS COULD UNDERSTAND IT! Even better, why don’t we ask what they’d like stuff called!

Just a thought.

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