Library Lingo: A Glossary of Library Terms

Abstract: A brief summary of a book or article

Access points: This is an old-fashioned library term, referring to the headings on library catalog cards that allowed alphabetical access to a book by title, author, or subject. In an online database, the access points are the searchable fields such as subject, title and author. Databases that include a thesaurus are also searchable by specialized subject terms specific to the discipline.

Adobe Acrobat: A program for viewing PDF (Portable Document Format, also referred to as page image) files. Adobe Acrobat is available free of charge via the Internet.

Annotation: A short description or evaluation of a document.

Archives: A repository of documents and other materials of public or historical value.

Barcode: A 10 digit number and code located on the cover of a book, periodical or other item. Barcodes identify specific items and are used to charge, discharge, and renew items in the online computer system. Barcodes with different numbers of digits may be used for library cards issued to patrons.

Bibliographic record: a bibliographic record refers to all the information necessary to identify one item. This information usually includes at least the title, author, call number, publisher, and date of publication, sometimes more. (See citation.)

Bibliography: A list of sources of information (articles, books, and other materials) on a specific topic. Bibliographies can be found at an end of a book or article to refer to the resources used in writing the book or article, or to refer researchers to recommended further reading. Bibliographies can also be independent works that are annotated.

Boolean operators (terms): The words "and", "or", "not" used in keyword searching to broaden, narrow, or limit a search.

Bound periodical: Several issues of a periodical (magazine or journal) are often bound together as a single book for storage. Bound periodicals usually contain a full volume, or one year's worth of issues, of the title.

Call number: An identification code assigned to a library collection item (book, video or audio recording, manuscript, periodical, musical score, etc.) that distinguishes one item from another and indicates its location in the library. Call numbers are usually arranged by subject, except in Government Documents Collections which may be arranged according to SuDocs classification. The SuDocs system is based on a code indicating the government agency that issues the publication. In Rasmuson Library and many academic libraries, the collection is arranged using the Library of Congress Classification System.

Catalog: A library catalog is an organized written collection of all the materials (books, videos, journal, films, audio recordings, etc.) held by that library. Traditionally each item in a catalog was represented on a written index card that gave information on the item and pointed researchers to the location of the item in the collection. Now most catalogs are stored in computer databases and are accessed through the Internet. A union catalog is a catalog that represents multiple libraries.

Citation: A citation is a standardized description of an item (book, article, video or audio recording, etc.) containing sufficient information necessary to locate the item. Citations in modern indexes are usually accompanied by abstracts summarizing the information in the articles or other documents represented. Frequently, a citation in an online index leads directly to the full text of the article represented, either in the same database or via a link to another site. But it is still sometimes necessary to use the physical library in order to find the complete article.

Basic required elements of citations include author, title, and publication information.

  • A citation for a book:
    Author, title, place of publication, name of publisher, date.

    Example: McPhee, John. Coming into the Country. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.

  • A citation for a magazine article:
    Author (if any), article title, journal title, volume and issue number (if any), date, page number(s).

    Example: Hawke, E. L. "Rainfall in a Cloudburst." Nature Feb. 2, 1952: 204.

Citation style: A standardized system for citing materials used when writing books or papers. Citation styles are often created by professional organizations such the Modern Language Association (MLA) or publishers such as the University of Chicago Press (Chicago Manual of Style). 

Cite: The act of indicating the source of information. Authors cite their sources for two important reasons: 1. To give credit to the originator of an idea or research they wish to discuss, and 2. to allow readers to locate the source of the information and read it in context.

Controlled vocabulary: Set of established terms used in indexes, catalogs, and databases used to provide access to records. Library of Congress subject headings are one example of a controlled vocabulary. Subject thesauri are also controlled vocabularies.

Database: an organized collection of information. Commonly, the term "databases" refers to electronic or computer databases. Databases consist of records, which in turn consist of fields. A popular example is an address book. Each record consists of a record for one person. Each record contains fields for name, street, city, state and zip code. In libraries, databases are used for catalogs and indexes. Each record represents a single item or document, and specific fields hold author name, title, and publishing information.

Descriptor: A controlled vocabulary term, or standardized term, assigned to an item in an index or database that is used for a search, also called a subject heading in a library catalog.

Hold: to place a hold on an item means to reserve it. An item that is checked out may have a hold placed on it by another patron who wishes to use it. When the item is returned, the library will contact the patron who is waiting so they may check that item out.

Holdings: the materials owned by a library.

Index: See Periodical Index.

Information is anything that "informs" the mind of a human or the sensory system of another organism. For humans and other higher animals, information is that which puts form into, or generates form in, the mind. In a simple hierarchy, symbols constitute data, data are the raw materials of information, information in context is knowledge, and knowledge is the basis of wisdom.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL): Interlibrary loan is a service provided by libraries to give patrons access to materials available in other libraries. Visit Interlibrary Loan to place a request online.

Internet: A global communications network of networks that includes e-mail, listservs, and the World Wide Web. The Internet consists of layers: national networks (backbone), regional networks, and local networks.

Journal: A professional or academic periodical usually issued monthly or quarterly which contains scholarly articles, reports, research, and/or papers.

Keywords: Keywords are significant words that appear anywhere in the bibliographic record for an item. Selecting terms for a "keyword search" can be challenging. Good choices for keyword searches are the topic words or synonyms of the topic, major elements of the topic and can be combined using in a search query using boolean terms.

Keyword searching: A search made up of keywords and/or boolean terms. When used in context of searching, the researcher chooses keywords rather than using the controlled vocabulary of the system. Often referred to as a natural language search or free-text searching.

Microform, microfilm: a means of archiving printed documents, especially periodicals. A printed document is photographed and the image is reduced and printed on a transparent film, which can then be read by a machine that passes light through the image and enlarges it on a screen. This allows materials that might otherwise become brittle or easily damaged to be maintained and stored easily and inexpensively for long periods of time.

Natural language search: A means of searching an electronic database using terms generated by the searcher, rather than controlled vocabulary. See keyword searching.

Periodical: A publication that appears on a continuous and predictable schedule. Examples include newspapers (daily or weekly), magazines, and journals.

Periodical Index: 

  1. periodical index provides access to periodical articles by subject or author. A periodical index can help you find articles about a specific topic. An index will point you to the right periodical, the specific date, volume and issue, and page numbers for the article.

Peer reviewed: A level of scholarship. Peer reviewed articles have been evaluated by several researchers or subject specialist in the academic community prior to accepting it for publication.

Plagiarism: the use of another person's words, ideas, or research without crediting the source. Passing off another person's work as one's own.

Primary sources are original works. These sources represent original thinking, report on discoveries or events, or share new information. Usually these represent the first formal appearance of original research. Primary sources include statistical data, manuscripts, surveys, speeches, biographies/autobiographies, diaries, oral histories, interviews, works or art and literature, research reports, government documents, computer programs, original documents( birth certificates, trial transcripts...) etc.

Refereed: A level of scholarship. Refereed articles have been evaluated by at least one area specialist prior to acceptance for publication.

Reserve: A selection of specific books, articles or other material set aside by professors for use by students in particular classes. The Reserve Desk at Rasmuson Library is located alongside the Circulation Desk. Check with your instructor to see if they are using Library Reserve for your course.

Search engines: Search engines are programs that search for significant words in pages stored in its database. Some search engines are programmed to search a single web site or database. Meta-searchers are capable of searching multiple search engines at one time. Search engines are proprietary. This means that not all search engines are the same.

Search statement: A search statement is the manner in which search terms are arranged when entered into a search engine. A search statement can consist of any combination of keywords , descriptors , boolean terms , proximity, nesting, wildcard, and truncation symbols.

Secondary sources are usually studies by other researchers. They describe, analyze, and/or evaluate information found in primary sources. By repackaging information, secondary sources make information more accessible. A few examples of secondary sources are books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, periodical indexes, etc.

Stacks: "Stacks" is a colloquial term used to refer to the areas of the library where materials are shelved.

Subject headings: a standardized word or phrase describing a topic or concept. Also called descriptors or controlled vocabulary.

Thesaurus: A list of all subject heading or descriptors used in a database, catalog, or index. A thesaurus will indicate the correct controlled vocabulary to use for a given term.

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This page was last modified on May 29, 2015