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Standardizing language and terminology in addiction is a matter that is highly relevant not only to addiction professionals, but also to those of us who work as information professionals in the field. We have the task of using language effectively when indexing for information retrieval, thus ensuring that researchers and practitioners can find literature and resources easily and quickly.

ELISAD (European Association of Libraries and Information Services on Alcohol and other Drugs), in its Gateway project to develop and maintain an online database of evaluated European addiction websites, had to deal with the issue of different terminologies, concepts and understandings. Our approach was to develop an English language taxonomy with agreed definitions for each term to use when indexing and evaluating websites in order to make subsequent searching and retrieval effective. The taxonomy was translated in to 14 European languages.

This task was challenging both intellectually and culturally. Developing an accepted taxonomy which could be understood, translated and used requires patience, time and an awareness of the differing approaches to addiction across Europe.

Babor & Hall [1] call for a consensus conference on alcohol and other drug (AOD) terminology. Based on our experience in working on the ELISAD Gateway terms, we can vouch for the productiveness of this type of meeting. At the end of our project, the outcomes were not simply a set of agreed terms but a far greater understanding of the issues faced by those in other European countries and, in particular, those whose first language is not English. As information specialists, we found our retrieval skills greatly heightened through a deeper understanding of the ways in which colleagues from other countries use a particular term, and we can only assume that this advantage would prove even greater for those involved in research.

Our experience has led us to the conclusion that there is a need for us all to work collaboratively towards the standardization of our terminology to ensure that knowledge exchange and retrieval in the age of information overload is more efficient for all within the sector.

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