This edition of HILJ Club has been prepared by Catherine Jenkins, Health Literacy Project Manager, North East London Foundation Trust. @CathLynneJ

The paper for discussion is Kiely, Helen (2020) Library jargon creates barriers for potential users of health library and information services, Health Information and Libraries Journal, 37(3), pp. 228-232.

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This paper is based on a Masters dissertation. It captured my interest because I’m undertaking information science research at the moment, so I’m eager to learn from the dissertations of other researcher-practitioners in the field.


The objective of this paper was to explore the extent to which users of a healthcare library service understood common terminology used by clinical librarians.


This study was comprised of a survey distributed to staff and students at an acute NHS Foundation Trust. 108 people participated over a 4-week period and were asked to provide definitions to terms commonly used by the healthcare library service.


Analysis of the responses for accuracy and common themes indicates that jargon can be a barrier to user access. Recommendations are made with respect to the need for outreach to users and ensuring that the language used is accessible.


Terminology that might be assumed to be commonly understood in NHS services, such as Open Athens, is not necessarily fully understood by users despite repetition at inductions and training sessions. Further research is needed in this area to examine whether a standardised approach across Trusts would improve results, or whether the ability to adapt to local language could create better accessibility.

Questions for Discussion


Why are library and information professionals using terminology that is unclear to users, and how can such terminology be changed or the messages from services made clearer to embed more inclusive language choices?

So what?

This was a timely article for the peri-pandemic era, when it is more important than ever that health-related communication choices are aligned with users’ (and our own!) ‘healthcare library literacy’.

Now what?

A lack of terminological understanding is something that healthcare library and information professionals must take into consideration when developing their outreach and promotional tools, and when speaking to users. The onus is on us as professionals to ensure that are services are inclusive and informative – not exclusive and confusing.

Consider the following questions for discussion:

  • How can healthcare library services commit to embedding more accessible and inclusive language into their practice?
  • Could serious games, like Dr Jargon, help healthcare library services to consider their language choices more carefully?
  • Should there be a style guide for healthcare library services to follow? (see possible models below).

Please join in the discussion and let us know what you think of the article. If the article has affected your practice, do let us know below!

Further reading

NHS Digital, 2021. A to Z of NHS health writing.

Sørensen, K., Okan, O., Kondilis, B., Levin-Zamir, D., 2021. Rebranding social distancing to physical distancing: calling for a change in the health promotion vocabulary to enhance clear communication during a pandemic. Glob Health Promot 28, 5–14.

Thomas, H., Hirsch, A., 2016. A progressive’s style guide. Sum of Us.