5 (Actually, 6) Three Letter Acronyms for Librarians


What it stands for: Three-Letter-Acronym

What it should stand for: Lazy Coder’s Obfustication Device

How to recognize it: Three letters; used in place of actual words without explanation.

What it does: Makes computer geeks feel a little bit more sophisticated than they really are.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Don’t be afraid of it; Google it or Wikipedia it and use this glossary to see if you can make some sense out of it.

Similar to: Technical Jargon, Library Jargon, General B.S.

My mission in blogging life so far has been to make the very technical or confusing just a little bit more easy to understand for librarians who tend to teeter on the edge of coding expertise and wishing the whole technical aspect of web design would just go away.

One of the very things that appears to stand in the way of understandability in technology concepts is the TLA, described above. So, I decided to provide a brief glossary of 10 three-letter-acronyms to see if I can make it a little simpler.

Here goes:


What it stands for: eXtensible Markup Language

What it should stand for: Esperanto for Computer software.

How to recognize it: Diamond brackets and forward slashes.

What it does:

  • It describes data, including the data that may, in the end, describe data.
  • It acts as a standard so different computer languages can talk to each other.
  • It is a format for other standards, such as RSS and TEI
  • It can also be used as a text-based database, or in tandem with Database systems such as MySQL or PostGREgreSQL.
  • Various related standards is also used in templating (XSLT), web services (SOAP) and even Browsers (XUL).
  • And it is the source of many other TLAs if you hadn’t already noticed.

What a librarian needs to know about it: It’s a standard; it’s cataloguing (or at least source description); it’s widely used by coders of all types; it makes stuff more “open” and available to others.

It’s similar to: JSON, HTML, SGML, MARC


What it stands for: Application Programming Interface

What it should stand for: “Mi Casa, Su Casa” Software;

What it does:

  • Provides the language and instructions so coders can bring the features of an online service into their own website.
  • It lets people do Mashups with your service.
  • It frees your data.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Information wants to be free, so you should be asking for one of these any time you buy a product — especially if that product houses data that belongs to you. Oh yeah, and your programmer folks will need to learn a few of these if they want to apply something like Google Maps, Facebook Apps et. al to your services.

It’s similar to: XUL, Widget, Mashup


What it stands for: Cascading Style Sheets

What it should stand for: “Hey I Just Completely Changed My Website in the Blink of an Eye!” language

What it does:

  • Provides style and colour instructions for the html on your website.
  • You can say things like “Anything within a ‘paragraph’ tag in my html ought to be yellow and Arial font”
  • It saves you the pain and suffering of re-writing lots of html just to make a simple stylistic change.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Besides saving you time it can also save the load time on your website because it prevents you from having to use tables to style your pages. Although that theory is under dispute.

It’s similar to: XSLT-FO, Skinning, Templates


What it stands for: Personal Home Page, PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor

What it should stand for: “Hey Server, Starting Thinking for the User” Programming Languages

What it does:

  • Tells the server to do stuff, based on user-input, time-of-day, or any other parameters.
  • It displays the stuff in a database or xml file in nice, clean html.
  • It makes your websites a little bit more difficult to troubleshoot, burping when something happens unexpectedly.

What a librarian needs to know about it: A PHP (or other language)-driven website is automatically more complex than one that is straight-forward html. On the other hand, it is more dynamic and make wonderful things happen for your customers.
It’s similar to: ASP, JSP, Ruby


What it stands for: General Public License

What it should stand for: Take My Code, Please!

What it does:

  • Gives permission to coders to re-use and/or the code of software possessing the license, so long as their product uses the same license.
  • Drives open source software and ensures that affordable software continues to exist.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Like Creative Commons and a variety of other licenses, GPL is an opportunity for users and developers alike to create, explore and play with new technologies.

It’s similar to: Creative Commons, BSD

There it is! Anyone else have a TLA that gets overused in library land without explanation?

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