Is this the right word?
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Is this the right word?

Yesterday was a Sunday, which usually means that I can be found sitting at my computer, working on my second book, while the rest of the world enjoys…well, everything else.  Suffice it to say, spending a gorgeous day inside working isn’t my favorite activity.  Which is why my mind was thinking about all sorts of other things…including the way we traditionally refer to library research databases.  Christian Sheehy talks about this in regards to marketing, in his brilliant post “Let’s Stop With the Databases Already.”  We’ve all known for a long time that the word “database” is a terrible way to refer to these things.   A few reasons why:

  • It’s a scary tech word, like something the IT person deals with  (via @epersonae)
  • It refers to the container, not the contents.
  • It sounds harder to use, like work instead of play (via @mutabilis)

So, I got to thinking about this yesterday. (Should have been writing, I know, I know!)  I looked over at my smartphone charging off my laptop, and I realized that, when I want to do something productive on my phone, I use something called an APP. I proceeded to tweet the following (yes, yet more procrastination)

Honestly, I wonder if library research database use would skyrocket if we just stopped calling them databases & started calling them apps.

Shortly thereafter, a veritable flood of retweets and responses came flying in. (Wow, I wasn’t the only person locked to their computer!)  Many added their agreement and additional points in favor of calling these apps.  (The discussion is just getting started, using the hashtag #callthemapps.)  Turns out I wasn’t the only one to have thought of this:  Heidi Roycroft, a middle school librarian, has been calling them apps this since last fall.  (Great minds think alike?)

“There’s an app for that!” says Apple.  Well, yes there usually is.   After all, what is an app, more than a specialized electronic resource?  According to Wikipedia, an app is:

Application software, also known as an application or an “app“, is computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks.

Just because the application is often accessed via the browser, does that really make a huge difference?  I’m thinking not.

People generally know what an app is.  Databases?  Not so much.  What’s wrong with calling these things something the public recognizes and probably associate with things cool or useful?

Sheehy suggested that we start a national revolution around changing the name of databases to “apps.”  Are you with us?  Comment here, or join the conversation on twitter with the #callthemapps hashtag!

There are 6 comments

  1. Doesn’t the word “app” also imply the container and not the content? Doesn’t “website” as well?

    I wondering if the reason the word “database” hasn’t become a household name that’s easily understand by the masses is because people don’t use databases in mass quantity, therefore the word only gets thrown around by librarians who know and understand why databases are different from apps and websites.

    The only reason “app” has become such a household name is because of massive advertising by smartphone companies who do a very good job of helping people visualize what the app does, how it would work and how to get it via a 30-second advertisement that then repeats this information on an infinite loop via your TV.

    Christian Sheehy suggests calling them “resources” which does work sometimes, and sometimes seems like a filler non-word.

    Truly don’t know the perfect answer to this, but I fear that “app” is going to be just as misleading, especially for anyone not yet on the smartphone train, of which there are many!

  2. I don’t like “Databases,” but I don’t like “Apps” much better. It’s misleading. An app is a mini-application loaded on my phone; it’s a specialized client program. If I saw on a library website that they had apps I could use, and they turned out to be links to EBSCOhost or NewsBank, I’d be pissed. And I would think that Library is lame because they don’t know what an app is.

    We use “Research Links.” But our young PR intern said, “Where are your ‘databases?’ Anyone who’s been through college knows to look for ‘databases.'”

  3. @Tamara Murray I agree that “resource” is often used as a filler non-word. I don’t propose that we adopt “resource” to replace database, just that we concentrate on customer-focused verbiage. Whether we push to use app, resource, or another word doesn’t really matter to me. I think that Laura would agree.

  4. Agreed, Christian. I think the main reason I like “app” is exactly that–it’s user friendly and people actually know what it is. I think having people recognize it is essential. I’m not glued to “apps” so much as I am to the idea of being customer friendly. I’m not sure I agree with Don about it only being limited to phone downloads…there are all kinds of digital things now being embedded in other digital things. Facebook apps are examples of this…they’re full-fledged applications embedded in what is essentially a website. Seems to me that one could call databases “apps you don’t have to download!”

  5. User-focused is absolutely key. I have such a hard time seeing the other side of things, because as Don mentioned, I became familiar with databases when I was in college, so at some point the term “clicked” with me. But I know that many of our public library customers haven’t had that “ah-ha” moment with the term.

    I have found that advertising our databases works best when we appeal to people with a specific problem and explain how the database would solve it, such as “Learn to speak Mandarin with Mango Languages. Just use your library card number to log in!”

    I think, too, a lot of people get stuck at the “Now, where did I put my library card?” stage, which is just as difficult of a hurdle as the “What’s a database?” stage! 🙂

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