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Library Terminology: Glossary of Library Terms

This guide contains resources and terms frequently used in the library.

Associate Director

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Holly Sorscher
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This glossary is designed to introduce you to terminology commonly used in an academic library setting.

Click on the letters below to jump to that section of the alphabet:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


All definitions are provided by the Association of College and Research Libraries unless otherwise specified.


Abstract: "A summary or brief description of the content of another longer work. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work."

Annotation: "1. A note that describes, explains, or evaluates; especially such a note added to an entry in a bibliography, reading list, or catalog. 2. Process of making such notes. Annotation is the end product of making such notes." (Definition from Colorodo State University Libraries)

Archives: "1. A space which houses historical or public records. 2. The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, ephemera, etc."

Article: "A brief work—generally between 1 and 35 pages in length—on a topic. Often published as part of a journal, magazine, or newspaper."

Authentication: "A security process that typically employs usernames and passwords to validate the identity of users before allowing them access to certain information."

Author: "The person(s) or organization(s) that wrote or compiled a document. Looking for information under its author's name is one option in searching."


Bibliography: "A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document." See also: Reference .

Book: "A relatively lengthy work, often on a single topic. May be print or electronic."

Boolean operator: "A word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches."

Browser: "A software program that enables users to access Internet resources. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Mozilla Firefox are all browsers."


Call Number: "A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Two major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal Call Numbers and Library of Congress Call Numbers."

Catalog: "A database (either online or on paper cards) listing and describing the books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. Various search terms allow you to look for items in the catalog."

Chat Reference: A service provided by librarians over the Internet that allows you to ask reference questions from anywhere. You and the librarian will communicate with one another in "real time."

Citation: "A reference to a book, magazine or journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book thus includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication."

Controlled vocabulary: "Standardized terms used in searching a specific database."

Course reserve: "A selection of books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course. Print reserve materials are usually kept in one area of the library and circulate for only a short period of time." 


Database: "A collection of information stored in an electronic format that can be searched by a computer."

Descriptor: "A word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases."

Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC): Melvil Dewey's system of classifying library material. The classification system uses a numeric system to designate ten basic subject categories. The DDC system is usually used in public libraries or smaller academic libraries. 

Dissertation: "An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate."


E-book (or Electronic book): "a book composed in or converted to digital format for display on a computer screen or handheld device" (definition from Merriam Webster)

Editor: "A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under its editor's name is one option in searching."



Full-text: "A complete electronic copy of a resource, usually an article, viewed on a computer display screen. The term "full-text" is often used to refer to the electronic version of an article or book that is also published in print."



Hold: "A request by a user to a library that a book checked out to another person be saved for that user when it is returned. “Holds” can generally be placed on any regularly circulating library materials through an in-person or online user services desk."

Holdings: "The materials owned by a library."



Index: "1. A list of names or topics—usually found at the end of a publication—that directs you to the pages where those names or topics are discussed within the publication. 2. A printed or electronic publication that provides references to periodical articles or books by their subject, author, or other search terms." 

Interlibrary Loan (ILL): "A service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library."


Journal: "A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports.: See also: Periodical.

Journal title: "The name of a journal. Journal title is one common search term."


Keyword: "A significant or memorable word or term in the title, abstract, or text of an information resource that indicates its subject and is often used as a search term."


Library of Congress Classification (LC):  "a library classification system using the letters of the alphabet plus numbers to denote subject areas"

Limits/limiters: "Options used in searching that restrict your results to only information resources meeting certain other, non-subject-related, criteria. Limiting options vary by database, but common options include limiting results to materials available full-text in the database, to scholarly publications, to materials written in a particular language, to materials available in a particular location, or to materials published at a specific time."

Loan Period: The amount of time library materials may be borrowed; varies depending on: (1) the type of material to be borrowed; (2) the borrower's status (undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty, staff).


Magazine: "A publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal."

MelCat: "Michigan's shared catalog where library users can borrow and receive materials they need from over 400+ participating libraries."

Microform: "A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer." 


Newspaper: "A publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter (i.e. business, culture, education). Often published daily."


Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC): "A computerized database that can be searched in various ways—such as by keyword, author, title, subject, or call number—to find out what resources a library owns. OPAC’s will supply listings of the title, call number, author, location, and description of any items matching one's search. Also referred to as “library catalog” or “online catalog.” The University of Michigan-Dearborn's OPAC is called 


Peer reviewed journal: "Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source by publishing only works of proven validity, methodology, and quality. Peer-reviewed journals are also called refereed or scholarly journals."

Periodical: "An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals." See also: Serial.

Plagiarize: To copy and take credit for someone else's work, instead of acknowledging in writing that someone else produced it. Plagiarism can be grounds for your dismissal from most colleges and universities.

Primary source: "An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation."

Publisher: An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.



Recall: "A request for the return of library material before the due date."

Refereed journal: See Peer reviewed journal.

Reference: "1. A service that helps people find needed information. 2. Sometimes "reference" refers to reference collections, such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. 3. A citation to a work is also known as a reference."

Reference Books: "Special books that do not circulate in order that they will always be available inside the Library for use in answering specific questions. Encyclopedias and dictionaries are two of the most well-known types of reference books." Reference materials at the Mardigian Library can be checked out for one week.

Reference Center, or Reference Desk:  Where you ask questions about locating information, or request assistance in using  resources, such as the OPAC and online databases.  At the Mardigian Library, this is called the Library Research Center (LRC).

Reference Librarian - A person with a Master's Degree in Library Science who assists library users in locating information and materials, and provides instruction in their use.

Remote access: "The ability to log onto (or access) networked computer resources from a distant location. Remote access makes available library databases to students researching from home, office, or other locations outside the library."

Renew/Renewal: "A lengthening (or extension) of the loan period for library materials."

Reserve: "1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to course-related materials (book or article readings, lecture notes, sample tests) or to other materials (CD-ROMs, audio-visual materials, current newspapers or magazines). 2. Also the physical location—often a service desk or room—within a library where materials on reserve are kept. Materials can also be made available electronically." See also:Course reserve.


Scholarly: See Peer reviewed.

Search statement/Search Query: "Words entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information. Words relating to an information source's author, editor, title, subject heading or keyword serve as search terms. Search terms can be combined by using Boolean operators and can also be used with limits/limiters."

Search Summon: (Multi-Search):

Secondary sources: "Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs."

Serial: "Publications such as journals, magazines and newspapers that are generally published multiple times per year, month, or week. Serials usually have number volumes and issues. The words journal, magazine, periodical, and serial may be used interchangeably."

Stacks:  Areas of the library where its materials are located. In the stacks you will find rows of floor to ceiling shelves on which books, periodicals, and other materials are arranged systematically, for open access by all.

Student Assistant:  A student employee of the Library who is trained to perform a number of specific Library functions. Student Assistants in the Reference Center greet library users in person and on the telephone at the User Services Desk, refer them to Research Librarians, help them to get started using the OPAC and other electronic databases, and answer a wide range of basic, general questions about the Library and its services.

Style manual: "An information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. A style manual outlines specific formats for arranging research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing the paper." See Citation. 

Subject heading: "Descriptions of an information source’s content assigned to make finding information easier." See also: Controlled vocabulary, Descriptor.


Thesaurus: "A list of terms which serves as a standardized or controlled vocabulary for identifying, locating, and retrieving information." (Definition from New York Public Library) 

Title: "The name of a book, article, or other information source."


User ID: "A number or name unique to a particular user of computerized resources. A user ID must often be entered in order to access library resources remotely."

User Services Desk: "The place in the library where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also place a hold, report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there.  In addition, you can get help in beginning your research process."


Virtual reference: "A service allowing library users to ask questions through email or live-chat as opposed to coming to the User Services Desk at the library and asking a question in person. Also referred to as “online reference” or “e-reference.”





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