This article was updated to more accurately reflect UC Berkeley’s relationship to the document.
On February 29, Library Terms That Users Understand by John Kupersmith, a reference librarian at UC Berkeley, was added to the University of California’s eScholarship repository. The document reviews 51 usability studies, most of them conducted by university libraries, to determine “test methods and best practices for reducing cognitive barriers caused by terminology.”
Key findings include that the average user success rate for finding journal articles or article databases is only 52 percent. Commonly misunderstood terms include acronyms and brand names, subject categories, and the words “database,” “library catalog,” “e-journals,” “index,” “interlibrary loan”, “periodical,” “serial,” “reference,” and “resource.”
Common correctly understood terms include “find books”, “find articles” and other combinations using natural language target words that correspond to the end product the user is seeking.
Kupersmith recommends that libraries avoid frequently misunderstood terms; use natural language equivalents on top-level pages, and adding explanations of potentially confusing terms in mouseover, tooltip, glossary or graphic form. He also recommends that if a top level menu choice is ambiguous, libraries use an intermediate page; and provide an alternative path for predictable wrong choices, as well as being consistent across publications.
Kupersmith further recommends that libraries test what terms users understand, and take advantage of data from libraries with similar user populations; the document offers an array of testing methodologies.