Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Acronyms, Jargon, and Other Obfuscation

There isn't much about my beloved profession that bothers me more than the way so many librarians unknowingly hide meaning (and I hope I'm right in assuming the "unknowingly" part). You may have gathered this if you've been reading my blog for a while, since I've written about it time and time and time again. So what has me up in arms enough to write a fourth post? This time my dudgeon is being caused by our love of acronyms. (Also, I know we're not the only ones with acronymaholism, but this is a blog about librarianship, after all.)

Okay, I get it. It's a heck of a lot easier to say, "ACRL," than it is to say, "Association of College and Research Libraries," but come on people. Using acronyms is one thing, but the presumption that everyone knows what your acronyms mean is quite another. The rule is, and has been as long as I can remember, that you spell out the thing, whatever that thing is, the first time you name it, and then you use the acronym or abbreviation. Why do so many people disregard this convention? And yes, I mean you, person who sent that solicitation out to a listserv looking for new people for that thing your roundtable does. I also mean you, person who tweeted something similar. And I most certainly mean you, webmaster for that regional organization where I had to dig and dig to figure out where the heck you all are located. Before you complain that you don't know what to do when you only have a limited amount of space, I've got the answer: link to something with an explanation of the acronym.

Please, my beloved librarian brothers and sisters, take this to heart. Following my advice will certainly endear you to me, but ignoring me will do more than make me dislike you. It might make me avoid anything sponsored by your organizations, but at the very least, I won't join you because I'll have no idea what you do.

And, on that note, ttfn.


  1. I'm getting ready to go to my first ALA conference and I've spent a good part of it staring in confusion at all the acronyms. I know they're useful but most of them are just close enough to leave me unsure of what I'm looking at.

    1. Absolutely. However, it can be a good networking conversation starter. See an acronym on a ribbon that you don't know (or can pretend you don't know): "Oh, ABDCLMNOP? What's that?"

  2. Sometimes I'm not sure which I detest more: initialisms or acronyms. Especially when people use those acronyms in meetings and those acronyms sound like actual words. Or, say, when I realize that I'm mispronouncing an acronym that I've only ever seen written.

  3. Yes, that is the standard rule in technical writing. And if you've got something with a lot of text and multiple sections that people might be skipping around in, you would spell it out at the beginning of each section. I think about this every time I mention the MLA (Massachusetts Library Association) to my professorial friends, who have their own (much bigger) MLA.

  4. Yes! It instantly creates and insider/outsider culture. This was incredibly difficult when I was a newbie librarian and frankly, it's still pretty tricky and now I'm in the "should know by now" group, as is the message that "we're doing the same thing we did last year" and forgetting how many people weren't here last year or maybe just forgot because of the 9 billion other things they were doing.