Wednesday, March 19, 2008

¿Como se huh?: Adventures in apparently archaic acronyms

A high school classmate of mine wrote ¿Como se huh? in my yearbook ages ago and every once in a while it pops in my mind when I'm reading something that I know I should understand but in reality I haven't a clue.

After coming across an acronym I didn't know 7 times in one discussion thread, I knew I needed to investigate further. As a librarian I'm used to being able to find an answer that satisfies my own information needs relatively quickly. I'm still working on achieving that same efficiency for others but luckily I'm learning from the best of the best in the field and shouldn't be a total newbie for long.

I wasn't surprised that I was able to come up with a definition quickly, but was surprised that it meant absolutely nothing to me. SDI = Selective Dissemination of Information with an indication that this is a dated term that predates the Web.

I studied that for a bit, emailed an instructor for help assuming I was the only one who didn't know what others were talking about.. and she didn't know either. I finally bit the bullet and posted for help, and two people responded: it just means a search strategy you set up in a specific database that you can get weekly/monthly/whatever updates on via email/RSS/etc.

I know all about what that is but have always called it 'setting up a search strategy in *insert dbase here*'

What I found most interesting is that I never heard this term mentioned a single time in all my medical & regular librarianship coursework or the bajillion journal articles we read, and I do have a health informatics track specialty. I thought I knew most of the basics. I can throw specialized medical librarianship acronyms around like nobody's business until eyes glaze over!

Now I'm left wondering if the use of this term to describe a search is a regional preference similar to soda v. pop. I'm a fervent soda living in a land of pop with a son who prefers the southern Coke! I don't know if all those who used it in the discussion thread are on the East Coast; the instructor I emailed for help is also on the West Coast, and my education is from Texas. Could it be a generational difference? I casually plunked my own search strategy in our literature (SDI[All Fields] OR "Selective Dissemination of Information"[All Fields]) AND ("Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA"[Jour] OR "Bulletin of the Medical Library Association"[Jour]) and the most recent mention of the term is 2003, with plenty of mentions in the 70s and even 1968.

I'm sure no one else finds this fascinating, but with my sociocultural anthropology background I'm intrigued. What other terms (let alone acronyms!) between different regions/generations are out there in libraryland that refer to the same concept in completely different ways, yet it is assumed everyone knows what the other is referring to? We focus on reference interviewing, needs assessment & other methods to understand our users' needs, but are we truly all speaking the same language ourselves in the first place?


Alison said...

I had to look up that same acronym just a few weeks ago!! I blamed it on a regional difference in terminology (my excuse for a lot of things) but your search is really interesting. I would have called it "current awareness service" or something like that. The SDI terminology may be outdated, but the service is still really important and will hopefully be making a comeback thanks to RSS.

BTW, I'm really glad you are taking this class. I hope you'll tell me all about it at some point :)

The Eagle Dawg said...

Thanks Alison, I'd love to share! "Current awareness search" sounded vaguely familiar to me (probably from journal articles), but I'd never heard anyone map that term to SDI. I think most of us are doing these, whatever we call them, with email batch results. Hopefully more librarians & users will be comfortable with the non-inbox-cluttering feed reader as they become more familiar with the interface :)