Thursday, July 20, 2017

Upping Your Library Intelligence: Words Matter

Thinking statues
Thinking
In this first post of this series, I noted that expanding your library intelligence is important for MSLIS students.  I'll note now that it is also important for the rest of us, because we are in a changing field. Yes, it is changing, whether you recognize the changes or not.

Every field, industry or area of focus has its own vocabulary.  While some words are the same as in other fields, their meanings in the library context may be specific.  We don't, however, give new people to the profession a long list of vocabulary words for them to memorize. Yes, we may give them words related to a specific topic/class, and then hope that through reading and professional engagement that they will learn the rest. However, that combination may not teach a new person enough vocabulary.

I have been in situations where an emerging professional assumes the definition of words/phrases without ever looking them up or trying to discern their correct usage from how others are using the words.  Sadly, when someone talks about a topic and uses the wrong vocabulary, it can be a turn-off to those who are listening.  If that occurs in a classroom or on an assignment, there is an opportunity to make a correction. When that occurs on a job interview, it will likely lead to an unhappy ending (no job offer).  So for no other reason than employment, working to understand a field's vocabulary is important.  However, it is also important in the day-to-day work environment because it assures that we're communicating well.

The Internet has provided a way for all of us to discern the correct meanings of words through web sites, dictionaries, trade and peer reviewed articles, and eTextbooks.  For those resources to be helpful to us, we each need to take a few steps:
  • Keep track of those words you don't understand.  Write them somewhere, so you can look them up later.  I used to write words I didn't understand in the margin of my notes, so they were easy to find.
  • Look of those words you don't understand.  You can start with a dictionary, but you may want to check usage by seeing how the word/phrase has been used in an LIS journal.  By the way, your assumption will be that the way the word was used you heard/read it originally was correct; however, you might discovery that it had actually been used incorrectly!  (And, yes, faculty do sometimes use vocabulary incorrectly.)
  • Use the word - correctly - so you learn it.  That use might be in a conversation, a paper, or elsewhere.  As our K-12 teachers reminded us, when you use a word correctly, you are deepening your learning.  
Besides using words correctly, there are three other things to do:
  • Understand what the acronyms are in the profession.  While it is important to use them, it is also important to use their definitions.  For example, not all librarians work with youth and thus recognize the acronym "YA".  Show you library intelligence  to other LIS professionals by both using the phrase "young adult" and the acronym "YA", when you're talking about this group.  You are demonstrating your ability to talk without jargon and your ability to use jargon.By the way, remember to limit your jargon with your library community.  They should not have to understand our jargon in order to talk with us.
  • Spell library vendor names correctly, which includes capitalization and spacing.  For example, it is "LexisNexis," not "Lexis Nexis" or "Lexis-Nexis."
  • Recognize if specific words (jargon) are associated with a specific library vendor. For example, while some seem to use the word "libguide" generically, it actually refers to the SpringShare content management system.  If you're not using SpringShare, consider what word or phrase you might use instead.
If you are an MSLIS student, you might wonder how many new words you need to learn. The answer is "a lot."  The good news is that you do not need to learn them all at the same time. You will be adding new words each week as part of your classes.  If you also add words outside of class - and I'll be talking in the next post about how you're going to find them - then you should be in good shape.


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1 comment:

Rachel Ivy Clarke said...

I love the focus on words and vocabulary, especially since so many aspects of the information profession are built on words and labels! I wanted to point out two resources for library and information professionals that might be useful regarding vocabulary:
1) ALA regularly(ish) publishes a glossary, now in its 4th edition. This can be very helpful with library jargon and acronyms. http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=3306

2) I'm also a big fan of the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science: http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_about.aspx It's free and pretty thorough--I remember using it quite extensively when I was in school!