STEP ONE: STOP CALLING THEM DATABASES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

July 13, 2007 at 8:48 am 22 comments

A friend of mine has said many times that she believes we in libraryland need to stop calling databases databases, and I have always agreed, but I have not done anything about it. I haven’t written about it, talked about it, blogged it, mentioned it, or thought about it any more than that.

When I hear the word “database,” and if I didn’t know what it was, it conjures up for me some really complicated spreadsheet system or, well, database, that is way too complicated for me to figure out and use, and that is TOTALLY BORING – not exciting or attractive to me in anyway, doesn’t sound useful to me and doesn’t make me want to use it or care to find out how to use it at all!

Well, yesterday this flew out of my mouth (or my fingers rather) in a twit over on twitter when someone mentioned they were changing their database descriptions to try to at least better reflect what they were to try to get their students to use them…. I put out my thought that if we really want to become more “2.0” and more valued and user-friendly, we need to stop calling databases, databases and do it now! More like do it yesterday!

This created a nice little chat discussion on twitter about what we SHOULD call them and that led to another nice little discussion about what they really are and what the users think they are and want to call them.

I want to thank Rochelle, KGS, Pete Bromberg, Library_Chic, cindi, wanderingeyre, awd, and everyone else for that twit yesterday. I am using the verb to twit as in a chat, to chat here …

This was also a great example of a nice use of twitter…. a quick IM-like conversation between a few people that was captured in the twitter program for me to go back and look at today.

It wasn’t an IM session – that in most cases would be between two people and wouldn’t necessarily automatically have been captured for me to refer to today. It wasn’t a chat room, it wasn’t e-mails, it was a quick conversation among some professionals that was saved as it happened. We commented back and forth while doing other things on this topic – in the 140 character limits of twitter – so we had to be brief and concise – no waste! I thought it was great!

Today I could go back and refer to all the suggestions and thoughts and questions and compose this post over here on Blogger.

So, to get back to the issues of the databases…. Really now, what can we call them so that people

1. Want to use them
2. Get the idea of what they are
3. Don’t be made to feel stupid (see the excellent post on this over at Tinfoil Racoon’s blog)
4. Don’t feel intimidated or turned-off by them
5. Find out the value of them

The twitter conversation went something like this:

Databases are mentioned.
I say we need to stop calling them that.
Someone says, then what do we call them? “…those article thingies?” *
We decide to “brainstorm” this

Someone says “Find good stuff with these search tools”
I say “yeah, search tools, electronic resources – still “eh” on those”
Someone adds, “search tools for [discipline(s)”]?

This causes me to start wondering if the databases are search tools or the resources within them? “but is the database the search tool or the gold in the mine!?”
Another adds, ” “library resources”? “resources to use in your research”? “

Then, of course, we got a little silly with:
“crap that your professor wants you to use so just do it already”?

And then in response to “tool” vs. “gold mine” we got to
“The trick is the meta-search of multiple indexes and then cross-linking to the full text in their respective happy places “

Which resulted in
“tool to find happy place of needed articles” 😉


“that’s the problem. Catalog = search engine, inventory control, or lipstuck pig? Database = search or result or full-text?”

At one point, the brilliant KGS characteristically asked, “why don’t we ask the user?” and
someone replied, “*has* anyone asked the user what to call it?”

Then a few “gasp! ask the user!? oh no!” comments and jokes twitted by and then we continued questioning “well what is the database TO THE USER, not TO US!?”

Someone comments that their kids say the databases are websites, “database, electronic resource, etc=”website” “

Which gets a reaction of “knee-jerk reaction “no it’s not!!”…but really, isn’t a database just an iteration of a website? at least to the user? “

We get a little silly again:
“goldmines of knowledge” is suggested
“Goldmines of knowledge = databases, I love it. Is hilarious and descriptive”
“what to call databases: Stuff you need to convince your teacher you used more than wikipedia “

“Infopools, factipiles, report’o’calls” (some of my personal faves!)
and finally,
“Put on your hipboots, kids and wade into our authoritative, full-text Sludgepits o’ Knowledge”

Okay, okay we were getting a little out-of-hand toward the end, but you get the idea….

So, c’mon everyone: What are we going to call these things that are expensive, incredibly powerful, valuable, under appreciated, under marketed and UNDERUSED!?

I KNOW we can do better than databases.

STEP 2: Get everyone on board calling them by their new name……..

* I have decided to not cite who said what in case anyone wouldn’t want their terrific twits shared with the world – I am not trying to withhold credit, but protecting against exposing anyone – if you want to claim any of those – go ahead – and/or tell me and I’ll give you credit where credit is due! 😉


Entry filed under: Twitter. Tags: , , .

Are We Getting Warmer? Query Clarification in Virtual Reference (ALA Redux Part 2) Pimp Yourself


  • 1. Frank & sisters  |  July 13, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Your blog is very interesting!
    Please, send me the photo of your pc desk and the link of your blog.
    I’ll publish on my blog!.
    Thanks Frank

  • 2. Frank & sisters  |  July 13, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Your blog is very interesting!
    Please, send me the photo of your pc desk and the link of your blog.
    I’ll publish on my blog!.
    Thanks Frank

  • 3. HCPL Techincal Trainer  |  July 13, 2007 at 11:27 am

    In our system, we keep struggling with this term. When I give trainings, I tell the students that these websites you access via HCPL are “accurate websites” or “electronic encyclopedias” that we picked because the information is accurate and up to date.

    Of course I would love a better/more accurate shorter description of these databases would be a good thing.

  • 4. Cynthia  |  July 13, 2007 at 11:33 am

    What’s wrong with good, old fashioned reference sources. That is exactly what they are. Patrons know what that means. Older patrons who fear electronic sources may feel more comfortable with the term (and then hopefully the product). Younger patrons will understand the term and be delighted to see that they are electronic.

    I was recently discussing a related issue: several young students insisting on journal articles from paper sources (because the teacher/professor demands a paper source). I try to explain the the electronic reference source is often just an electronic copy of a paper journal and would meet the requirment, but they say no. So instead of searching the NY Times via an electronic source, they take the old route. Do they not understand? Is it the educators that don’t get it?

    “Databases” are new to more than patrons. Perhaps we need more outreach to teachers to help them to understand what the resources are and how they differ from Google searching.

  • 5. John Klima  |  July 13, 2007 at 11:38 am

    At our college library we mostly refer to them by name, i.e., PubMed, Ebsco, etc.

    Could you call them ‘article search engines’? ‘online collections’? ‘e-branch’? ‘iArticles’? ‘Lots of places use ‘online resources’…

  • 6. Dances With Keyboards  |  July 13, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Hi! I work with hcpl_technical_trainer. My role is to train librarians to search those “d-word” things and to use the internet to find information. I also work with the public on a daily basis. When I have a need to name the sources we use, I always DESCRIBE them.

    I do say “databases” and I do say “websites,” for lack of better terms to use, but I usually make sure they understand what I mean – that the information on the internet needs to be evaluated for authority, timelines, yada-yada-yada, and that the “databases” contain information that has been edited, published, vetted, yada-yada-yada. I make the effort to explain this each time.

    We need a word to save time. hcpltechnicaltrainer and I discussed this, and he thinks that we need to use a “sniglet” to describe what we mean. Remember Sniglets? Words that describe ideas or things that should have a word, but don’t already? We need some NEW words.

    Our library system has an “Educators’ Training Team” whose job it is to go out, school-by-school, and show the teachers what we have to help them become more comfortable with the resources. We do have students who still say they “cannot use the internet as a resource,” or “we can only use one website.” Many interpret this as meaning they can’t use it if they accessed it via the Internet. Depressing. Doubly-depressing, since we often only purchase the electronic version of some things nowadays, in the interest of saving money and space.


  • 7. Dubber, Aaron the Librarian  |  July 13, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Hey, I recognize some of mine in there.
    Good idea on the non-attribution as some folks might get dunned for “wasting time” on Twitter at work.

    Happily, I have been able to show that Twitter (and Meebo Rooms, too) is a great tool for quick thinker’s block removal for me. (Yep, I got “caught” typing away on both by the ubiquitous and dreaded “they” when I was getting productive help there).

  • 8. leo  |  July 14, 2007 at 5:46 am

    At one point, the brilliant KGS characteristically asked, “why don’t we ask the user?” and
    someone replied, “*has* anyone asked the user what to call it?”

    I was waiting for this little tidbit of reality to slip in at some point in the discussion. 2/3’s of the way isn’t that bad I guess.

    You’ll soon realize that all the alternatives to “database” are far worse. In fact, prior to “database” many library websites used “Resource” as in “Electronic Resources” — as if that meant anything.

    The question isn’t whether we like the word or not — it’s whether the word makes sense to our users. This is something we can actually test.

  • 9. Amy J. Kearns, MLIS  |  July 14, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Leo, I agree and I think we should see if it makes sense to the users – but I’m thinking it doesn’t – I’d like to find out though….

  • 10. Anonymous  |  July 14, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Did most people know what a google was before 1999? (For that matter, does anyone know what it is now, apart from the Capital “G” version?)
    My point is: we can call it whatever, as long as the relationship between what it’s _called_ and what it _does_ becomes embedded in the users mind.

    But I guess the problem is that, unlike Google, Ebsco and InfoTrac and etc. haven’t been in the users’ experiences for as long. Which complicates this whole matter of relating the name to the purpose. They’re just not familiar enough with databases to have name recognition of the product.

    But I argue with myself. (In fact, I’m not sure I’ve contributed anything to the discussion at all.) :o)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a combination of using a descriptive name as well as familiarizing the user with the product. (And I don’t necessarily mean library instruction… just marketing, in general.) I don’t think we’ll ever find The Perfect Name for databases.

  • 11. Stacy  |  July 14, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    1. Subscription Article Finder
    2. e-Articles and e-References (by subscription)
    3. iResearch (.99 for each reference, or 9.99 for a full reference list? j/k!)

  • 12. Amy J. Kearns, MLIS  |  July 14, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Anonymous – really interesting contribution thanks – and Stacy, iReference is pretty cool – but anything is going to be hard-pressed to cut it bc I think Anonymous has a great point about familiarizing people with the term and term being descriptive of what the thing is.

  • 13. Stacy  |  July 15, 2007 at 9:07 am

    (Sorry… I’m “Anonymous” too… posting @ 2:45 yesterday. I forgot to log-in the first time.)

  • 14. Janie L. Hermann  |  July 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I have been teaching computer classes to the public for 12+ years and in that time I have seen a significant increase in the number of students who understand what a database is and when to use one.

    When I first started teaching classes I would often get a completely blank stare from every single person in the class when I said the word Database and I would often need to spend a good chunk of time explaining what it was in general before we could even talk about when to use it.

    I find that in the last year to 18 months there has been shift. I say Database and at least half the people know immediately what I mean and when you use one. We do a lot of marketing of our databases and we have lunch time sesions called DataBytes that help teach our customers how and when to to use them.

    I am not sure if there is a better name… I think marketing and education is the key.

  • 15. Cindi  |  July 19, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I’ll kill two birds with one stone and “pimp” myself in my first comment to Library Garden: My contributions to the twitter conversation regarding renaming databases were “library resources,” “resources to use in your research,”


    “crap that your professor wants you to use so just do it already.”

    See how I can work both sides of things? 🙂

  • 16. Vicki  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I’m not sure what to call them, but I noticed that my local newspaper’s web site now has a section called Data Central ( Right underneath that name, it says “more database searches>>”. Here’s how they describe the page: “Data Central offers free access to data that are often hard to find or search. The links below allow you to search databases ranging from local crime maps to recent home sales.”

    If newspapers are using the term, it’s possible that people may gradually learn the term, for lack of a better one. I think the real issue for non-use is the general lack of federated searching to facilitate serendipitous discovery of the databases. After all, is it strange for patrons to expect an all-in-one search of all the library’s resources? Then, they wouldn’t have to know what they are called.

  • 17. Deborah  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:02 am

    At one point, the brilliant KGS characteristically asked, “why don’t we ask the user?” and someone replied, “*has* anyone asked the user what to call it?”

    I studied this for my MLIS research report and couldn’t find anyone in the literature who had, outside the context of website design. (In that context, people seemed mostly interested in changing to links like ‘Finding an article’ rather than renaming ‘database’ across the board.) A fair number of people had done tests on whether students understood that and other library jargon; a very small number of people (like, count them on one hand with fingers left over) had asked students what terms they’d use, but not for the word ‘database’.

    I did a web survey of 50 students in New Zealand – non-scientific sample, but very interesting. I described a concept like (in this case) “A computer system you can use to find articles about your area of study is a:” and asked students to fill in the blank with the word they’d use. 25 gave a term consisting of or at least including ‘database’; 9 gave a term consisting of or including ‘catalogue; and 9 others gave some other answer, eg “research index”, “reference”, “course section”, “journal search engine”, “e journal”, “network”, “intranet”. I also got answers ranging from “blessing” through “piece of —-” (sic) and of course “??” and gaps (for various reasons I’d decided to allow non-answers).

    (Some of the catalogue/database confusion went the other way too, with people saying ‘database’ for the system used to find books etc.)

    I keep meaning to get my report into our digital library – oh, in the meantime I’ll at least put it up on my skeleton Google Pages site: skeleton library jargon page. The appendices include the questions and full results. Hours of entertainment. 🙂

  • 18. Kristin  |  July 31, 2007 at 4:56 pm


    Subscription Reference Sources

    Subscription eReferences

    Online References

    Online Subscription Sources

    I like the idea of including the “subscription” piece so that students can distinguish these sources from sites on the free web.

  • 19. Anonymous  |  August 2, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Wonderful discussion…we’ve been struggling with this too.

    For a snigglet idea, how about

    e-search (a la e-mail?)

  • 20. Webgurl  |  August 7, 2007 at 2:32 am

    I’ve always cringed when people talked about “databases”. I manage the website for a public library and call them online resources.

    I have a line on the front page with links that says, Search from home: encyclopedias | newspaper & magazine articles. I’ve found this works well.

    I organise the online resources list according to rough subjects – Arts, Biographies, Encyclopedias & Dictionaries, Health,
    History & Geography, Newspapers & magazines, Reading & Libraries,
    Science & Technology, Other

    Cheers, webgurl

  • 21. Webgurl  |  August 7, 2007 at 2:40 am

    Just re-read my last comment and thought I should elaborate. Perhaps we shouldn’t get caught up with what to name them.

    Perhaps people would click on the links to them if they related to an action such as search encyclopedias, search newspaper articles. Anyhoo that was behind my reasoning to make the links for the Search from home: encyclopedias | newspaper & magazine articles.

    Cheers, webgurl

  • 22. Library Goddess  |  August 13, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    We’ve been working on this and have come up with the following:
    Each library’s home page has a Search button or bar. This leads to a page that says: What Are You Looking For? and gives links to the library catalog, databases, web sites, etc. Each is described in what we hope are user-friendly terms, rather than library-ese. You can see what I mean at

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