I got back from JCDL a few days ago, and I keep meaning to write a post about some impressions & observations from the conference. Maybe I’ll even get around to doing that. But the first observation I want to make is this: there seems to be some semantic slippage happening around the term “digital reference work.” Specifically, there was a paper titled A Dynamic Ontology for a Dynamic Reference Work, and a poster titled Understanding Target Users of a Digital Reference Library. Those are the two things I can point to. (The former is about the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, & the latter about the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative.) But I noticed in a few presentations, presenters used the term “digital reference work” to refer to online ready-reference-style information sources: Wikipedia and other like things. On the one hand, I’m pleased that the JCDL community — generally very CS-heavy — has started using the term “reference work” to refer to things that librarians would refer to as reference works. On the other hand, there is some ambiguity here, particularly in a community that relies on author-assigned metadata, as is required by ACM pubs. If a term does not uniquely identify a concept, then it’s a bad term. Or, I suppose more accurately, if a term identifies multiple concepts, then the term needs to be split. I suggest that we should all use the terms “online reference source” and “computer-mediated reference work.” “Work” is so ambiguous; “source” is way better. And frankly I’ve never liked the terms “digital reference,” “virtual reference,” or “real-time reference”: they’ve never been well-defined. I like “computer-mediated,” to put reference work on equal footing with computer-mediated communication. So there you have it: my attempt to control the evolution of language usage. Talk about swimming against the stream. Appropriate though, I suppose, as JCDL was in Vancouver, home of much salmon.