Why do so many library catalogs have human names?

A question over on Ask MetaFilter which I don’t really know the answer to: why do so many library catalogs have human names?. It’s gotten some decent responses and I suspect there isn’t really one answer but if you have more information than the hive mind team over there, feel free to drop me a note or, if you’ve already got an account, log in and chime in.

10 thoughts on “Why do so many library catalogs have human names?

  1. i don’t get why each library seems to think it needs a cutesy name for its opac. can’t they just be named the [your library name here] online catalog? every time i visit another library’s website, i have to think, “ok, keep your eyes peeled for what these guys have named their opac.” GACK! maybe early on, to encourage use, it helped to make the user feel as if the opac was another (human) member of the library’s staff [speculating! this is totally a theory! no source to cite!]; but in our world of the web heterogeneity is not always advantageous.

    ironic that we have no controlled vocabulary to facilitate our finding each others opacs ~

  2. Here’s a story about how one library accidentally gave their OPAC a personal name:

    In 1999 I was working at a community college library, and we were about to go live with our first ILS. Judie, a staff member who had been with the library since it had opened, had retired the day before the server was to be installed. I had been promoted to her position, and so found myself, freshly promoted, standing in the server room with a half-dozen people watching the Sun technician set everything up.

    The Sun tech announced that he would need a name for the server. “Library” was the first one suggested. I recall that I suggested “Herman”, after George Harrison’s favorite drink. Someone else suggested “Judie”. We all thought it was fitting.

    Of course, we later found out that the name became part of the address of the server (http://judie.foo.bar) and that we couldn’t change it without a great deal of messiness. I felt we should go with the situation and and personalize the OPAC, but it didn’t happen.

    Five years later we bought a new server, changed the name to “Library” (and changed all our bookmarks, handouts, etc.) and went forth with a good, solid, generic name for the server.

    The best memory, for me, was that the real Judie wouldn’t believe me (or anyone else) about the server being named after her. I think it was several months before she finally accepted that we weren’t pulling some practical joke on her…

  3. I actually agree with Mary. I lived in Maine when the state-wide library system held a naming contest for the online resources they provide. Instead of going with something obvious and intuitive, that you wouldn’t need to be a librarian to figure out what it means (like “online resources”), they went the clever route and came up with the name MARVEL, for Maine Virtual Library or something. Not that I’m against being clever and creative, but the library profession has far too much jargon acting as a barrier to entry to uninitiated patrons. And this might be my only bad memory of Maine.

  4. On a related note, if CatNYP is pronounced catnip, how should one pronounce NYPL?

  5. It practice isn’t limited to libraries, I remember that when the first ATM machine came to our town it was called “Super Susie” and had a little cartoon of a bank teller on it.

  6. Don’t we always give inanimate objects names to personalize them? Like buildings from the turn of the century that have the builder’s name or a woman’s name on them. How many people name their cars? Mary’s right, it makes them seem friendlier.

  7. Simon — As a former NYPL employee, we pronounced it among ourselves as you might imagine we would have. Also, the main research library was “The Big NYPL”, the ancient bound catatlogs were “the old NYPLs”, etc.

  8. Not interested in paying $5 just to leave this comment on MeFi, so here it is: My undergraduate library named the catalog after the first librarian at the university. We had a contest to suggest names, and that was the one selected by the librarians.

  9. Personalizing technology with human touches like names, voices, and anthropomorphic interfaces is supposed to help us overcome our fear of new tech, become familiarized with it and use it more often. Of course, it is possible to go too far. But I think cute names, while perhaps cloying, are appreciated by students and community users. It’s a lot easier to refer to MORRIS or HOLLIS than, “Hey, you know how to use the OPAC?” So long as users find it accessible, I don’t have a problem with it.

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