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Glossary of Library Terms: All


Understanding library terms, like OPAC, Databases, DISCOVER, holdings, stacks, etc., can be difficult for anyone who is not a regular user of the library. The difficulty of understanding library terms is compounded for English as a second-language (ESL) speakers who must process these specialized terms in a language that is not their native one.

This glossary is designed to introduce you to terminology commonly used in an academic library setting. Explanations in English for each of the terms are given in the following tables. In the Definitions, a few terms have multiple meanings, each of which is indicated by Arabic numerals. 

The Glossary was compiled by members of Academic Liaison and Reference Division (ALRD) of XJTLU Library. The terms to be defined were selected by polling academic librarians and by consulting the glossary of library terms from other academic libraries. The Glossary is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every term ESL speakers might use but rather a listing of the terms that are most likely to be used in such a context.

If you are confronted with any query, suggestion or feedback upon using the Glossary of Library Terms, Please do not hesitate to contact us.



Making content shorter than the original one.


A brief summary of the essential content of an article or book.


The method by which a computer get information or records in computer-based information retrieval.

Access Point

Text and/or numeric terms used to search bibliographic records.


A range of support to ensure that all the students, especially disabled students and those with dyslexia and/or a long term medical condition, can get access to our facilities and service.


Activities related to obtaining library materials by purchase, exchange, or gift, including pre-order bibliographic searching, ordering and receiving materials, processing invoices, and the maintenance of the necessary records related to acquisitions.


An abbreviation consists of letters that form a word, e.g., NASA -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration


An annual publication that includes useful data and statistics regarding countries, personalities, events, and subjects often arranged according to the calendar.

Alternative Formats

Texts which are produced in a non-standard format, for example, braille, large print and audio.

Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography in which each citation is followed by an annotation or summary of the item.


A collection of extracts from the works of various authors, usually in the same genre or about the same subject.


A section of a book or article containing supplementary materials such as tables or maps.


A collection of papers, records, and other historical records preserved for research.

Assistive Technology

Specialist technology that enables disabled students to access information or mainstream technology independently.


A book of maps.

Audio Visual Materials (Audiovisual)

Non-book materials including films, slides, audiotapes, videocassettes, records and software. Also referred to as media.


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


Includes compilers, editors, and composers in addition to the main personal and corporate authors who are responsible for a work.

Authority File

The computerized list of subject, series, and name headings used in the Online Catalog.


Barcode Number

The 14-digit number appearing beneath the back on a book, used to charge, discharge, and renew books on the online computer system.

Bibliographic Citations

The information derived from a book or article, which conclude the main features of them for the later reference. Information for a book usually includes the author, title, publisher, and date. The citation for an article includes the author, title of the article, title of the periodical, volume, pages, and date.

Bibliographic Database

A database which indexes and contains references to published literature in a given discipline.

Bibliographic Record

The full details of an individual item of published literature. The minimum detail includes: author/editor, title, date, publisher, and place of publication, ISBN or ISSN.


A list of the books, articles etc. that someone has used for finding information for a piece of work they have written, appearing at the end of a book, journal, or encyclopedia article, or in a separate publication.


Books that need repair and loose issues of journals that are combined or bound into a single volume are sent out of the library system to a company which binds them. These items are not available to users until they come back to the library system.


A list of works by various authors (or, occasionally, one author) which includes brief biographical data.

Book Review

An evaluation of a book by a critic or journalist, usually published in a periodical or newspaper.


Reserving a short loan item or a room in advance.


To take out library materials for a specific period of time.

Boolean Logic

A method of combining terms in online database searching using logical or algebraic operations in order to narrow or expand a search, using Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators (and, or, not) are the symbols used in online searching to control the relationship between search terms.

For example: AND narrows your search by telling the search interface to find records that contain ALL of your search terms, e.g. A and B and C.  OR broadens your search by telling the search interface to find records that contain ANY of your search terms, e.g. A or B or C.  NOT (sometimes phrased as AND NOT or BUT NOT) tells the search interface to exclude any record containing the search term following the word NOT, e.g. A not B.

Bound Journal

Issues of a journal grouped by time period and bound together in a hardcover to preserve for long-term use.

Bound Volume

Formed when issues of a periodical title are gathered to form a hardback volume.

Bound Periodical

Multiple issues of a periodical or magazine bound together between a hard cover.

Browse Searching

Browse searching is limited to one field, such as author or subject heading, and the computer matches the search statement exactly, which is in contrast to keyword searching which may involve more than one field, and where word order is not important.


Call Number

A call number is the address of each book or journal within the library. It is like a street address within a city. Call numbers also place books and journals on the same subject next to each other on the shelf. Two major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal Call Numbers and Library of Congress Call Numbers.


Database of all items, books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held in the library.

Card Catalog

A physical file cabinet arranged by author, title, and subject, listing all items owned by a library.

Card Entry System

Security gates that require you to scan your University or library card to enter and leave the library.


A study area for one person.

CD-ROM(Compact Disc Read-only Memory)

An information technology which is used to store large databases and provides access to them via computer, storing text in discs.

Check Out

Borrowing materials from the library for a certain period of time.

Circulating Materials

Any materials which can be checked out of the library. Some materials do not circulate, but remain permanently in the library.


The lending of library materials. Books to be checked out should be brought to the circulation desk, and books that have been checked out should be returned to the desk.


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.

Classification Scheme

Classification systems which use numbers and/or letters, to represent the subject content of materials. 

Compact Shelving

Moveable storage units where bound periodicals are stored in this library.


Words that indicate the relationship between search terms. Also referred to as Boolean Operators. Common connectors are: AND, OR, NOT.

Controlled Vocabulary

Standardized language developed by a particular database for computer searching, such as Descriptors and Library of Congress Subject Headings.


The legal right to control the production, use, and sale of copies of a literary, musical, or artistic work.

Courtesy Notice

An email sent out to remind you that your books are due back soon.

Cross Reference

Word or heading that directs you from one part of a book, catalog, or index to another section in the same item.

Current Periodicals

The latest or most recent issues of journals and magazines that the library receives.



A collection of information, usually stored in an electronic format that is searchable online. The libraries have access to hundreds of academic databases that can be found by subject on the library homepage, where we can find book collections, periodical citations, full-text articles, and newspaper articles.


The word or words used by an index or database to describe the subject of an article or book.

Depository Library

A library which is legally designated to receive copies of all or selected government documents.


DISCOVER is our multi-source platform for searching across a range of scholarly sources from a single search, including full text, E-Journal articles, E-Books and other content.


A piece of original academic work, usually written as a requirement for a higher degree or diploma, such as bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Due Date/Time

Time and date by which an item should be returned to the library.

Document Delivery

A service that retrieves or photocopies information sources for library users.  



Any book that comes in a digital or electronic format.  


General information source that provides articles on various branches of knowledge, which may be general or subject specific.


Notes (or statements explaining the text or indicating the basis for an assertion or the source of material quoted) that appear at the end of a work.


A literary composition in which the author analyzes or interprets a subject, often from a personal point of view.



The independent properties or dimensions by which we can classify an object, for instance, a book might be classified using an author facet, a subject facet, and a date facet.


A defined subdivision of a record used to record only a specific category of data or data element including journal title, article title, abstract, subject (descriptor), and others.


Notes or a statement explaining the text or indicating the basis for an assertion or the source of material quoted, usually appearing at the foot of a page of text.


A complete electronic copy of a resource, usually an article, viewed on a computer display screen.

Full-text Database

A digital collection of published literature in any given discipline that provides access to the full text in addition to the bibliographic reference.



A geographical dictionary; usually includes longitude and latitude of a given place, population, size, etc.

Government Document

Sources printed by or for government agencies. Sometimes called public documents.



General information source providing quick reference on a given subject. Handbooks may be general or subject specific.

High Use

Terms for use in the library only.


Refers to items retrieved from a database matching criteria you set. For example, if you do a keyword search in the online catalog for "mammals" and retrieve 508 items, that can also be called 508 'hits.'

Hold Request

Process that allows you to request a book you want when all the copies are out on loan. Also known as request or reservation.


A list of all the volumes of a journal, or volumes or copies of a book owned or held by a library.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

The computer language used to create documents on the World Wide Web so that they are readable by Web browsers.


An image or a portion of text which a Web user can click to jump to another document or page on the Web. Textual hyperlinks are often underlined and appear as a different color than the majority of the text on a Web page.


A document format which includes the use of specially coded terms or images which, when selected or "clicked", connect to a linked location or file, or carry out a command to run an application or program.



A small symbol on a computer screen that represents a computer operation or data file.


The name of the publisher, distributor, manufacturer, etc. and the place and date of publication, distribution, manufacture, etc. of a bibliographic item.


1. An alphabetical list of topics & page numbers found in the back of a book.

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)

Library service which provides for the borrowing of library materials not found at our institution from other libraries through your own library.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number )

A five-part, thirteen-character code given a book (a non-serial literary publication) before publication as a means of identifying it concisely, uniquely, and unambiguously. The five parts of the ISBN are: prefix element, group identifier (e.g., national, geographic, language, or other convenient group), publisher identifier, title identifier, and check digit.

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)

The international numerical code that identifies concisely, uniquely, and unambiguously a serial publication.


A single uniquely numbered or dated part of a periodical or newspaper. 



A publication containing (academic) articles usually published by academic or association presses and include bibliographies. Also known as periodical.



A significant word or phrase which you can use to search databases and online catalogues for information on specific topics for your assignments

Keyword Searching

Entering the keywords as search terms according to the logic of the search, which usually results in a list of database records that contain all the keywords entered. 



Lending Desk

Staffed desk where you can get help, collect and return laptops, and so on. You can also borrow books from here in some cases.


A platform where library users can find resource guides compiled by our librarians to help you in your research on various topics.

Library Card

Your student/staff ID card is also your library card.

Library Catalogue

Database of all items, books, journals and other materials held in the library.

Library record

Details of your library account.

Loan Allowance/Entitlement

The number of items you can borrow.

Loan Period

Length of time you can keep an item.

Library Congress Classification (LCC) System

The classification system developed and used at the Library of Congress, beginning in 1897. It typifies the enumerative method of classification and allows for continued growth and expansion. The notation or numbering scheme is mixed using a combination of letters and numbers. The basic outline is as follows: 

A General works
B Philosophy, psychology, religion
C Auxiliary science of history
D Universal and Old World history except America
E-F America
G Geography, anthropology, folklore, customs, sports
H Social sciences, economics
J Political science
L Education
M Music
N Fine arts
P Language and literature
Q Science
R Medicine
S Agriculture, hunting
T Technology
U Military science
V Naval science
Z Bibliography and library Science.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

A standardized list of terms (or thesaurus) established by the Library of Congress for use as subject headings. Subject headings, are words or groups of words under which books and other materials on any given subject are listed in a library's catalog, or database. Lists of subject headings generally include references made to and from each term, notes explaining the scope or usage of certain headings, and occasionally corresponding classification numbers. The Virginia Tech Libraries uses the Library of Congress Subject Headings list.



A periodical aimed at the popular culture, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Main Library

Building that houses 65% of the total Illinois collection and approximately 20 departmental libraries. Often erroneously referred to as the "graduate library".


A book of rules or guidelines; a handbook.


A handwritten or typed composition, rather than printed. Includes groups of personal papers which have some unifying characteristic and individual documents which have some special importance.

MARC (Machine-Readable Catalogue)

An international standard format for the arrangement of cataloging information so that it can be stored and retrieved using computer tapes.

Medical Subject Headings

An acronym for Medical Subject Headings. This controlled vocabulary system is determined by the National Library of Medicine, and is used for indexing articles, cataloging materials, and searching MESH-indexed databases. Some newer materials in Addison will list MeSH terms, though these were systematically deleted for many years.

MFD, Multi-Functional Devices

These are the machines where you can photocopy, print and scan.


A general term designating several types of photographic reproductions (microfilm, microfiche, microcard) which are reduced in size and require magnification to through transmission, storage, reading, and printing of documents.


A detailed written study of a single subject or class of subjects, or on one person, usually detailed in treatment but not extensive in scope and often containing bibliographies.

Monography Series

A monographic series is a set of books that have a number of volumes with a definite end, such as encyclopedia.

Monography Set

The set has a finite number of volumes, e.g. Encyclopedia.


Any information resource that presents information using more than one media (print, picture, audio, or video).


Natural Language Searching

Some search engines or databases allow searching with natural language questions instead of keyword search statements constructed by formal rules; e.g. “what is the effect of advertising on children’s eating habits?” (natural language) versus “advertising and eating habit* and children” (formal search statement).


Written information sent regularly to members of an organization, containing news about events, activities etc.


A serial issued at stated, frequent intervals (i.e., daily, weekly, or semi-weekly), containing news, opinions, advertisements, and other items of current, often local, interest.

Not for Loan

Items that must be used in the library, i.e., reference books, current issues of journals, maps, and microforms.


OCLC (Online Computer Library Center)

A bibliographic network based on an online database of approximately 28 million cataloging records from its 5500 members. It now serves more than 18,000 libraries in 52 countries. The OCLC database is used for cataloging, for reference work, and for interlibrary loan. It is the world's largest and most comprehensive database of bibliographic information. URL:

Online Catalog

An electronic index to the books held by a library providing information about records of the books located in the library’s collection, their locations, and the status of each book (available, checked out, for library use only). Sometimes referred to as OPAC(Open Public Access Catalog).

Online Database

Computer databases. Bibliographic databases provide access by author, title, and subject to a group of periodicals, books, or proceedings. Numeric databases provide access to statistical information.


Words such as AND, OR, and NOT that are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow the results of a search.

OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog)

A computerized catalog of books and other items in the library.

On Loan

Item has already been issued to another library user and therefore will not be on the shelves.

Ordinary Loan

Item that can be borrowed for a week or more.

Out of Print

An item, typically a book, but can include any print or visual medium or sound recording, which is no longer being published.

Out of Stock

The item is borrowed by other users.


Item that has not been returned by its due date.


A book that is too large to fit a standard shelf, usually designated with a Q (quarto) or F (folio) before the call number and stored in a special location.



A file format developed by Adobe Acrobat® that allows files to be transmitted from one computer to another while retaining their original appearance both on-screen and when printed. An acronym for Portable Document Format.


A book with only a few pages. These items are often shelved separately.

Pamphlet File

A collection of pamphlets and clippings on subjects of topical interest.

Peer Reviewed

The process of obtaining impartial opinions from the research and academic community in order to ensure the quality of an information source by publishing only works of proven validity, methodology, and quality.  Peer-reviewed journals are usually academic or research-oriented in nature, referred to as “scholarly” or “academic” journals as well as “peer-reviewed”.


Publications are issued at least twice a year, appearing at intervals, usually regular ones, and, as a rule, intended to be continued indefinitely. The term includes periodicals, newspapers, annuals, numbered monographic series, and the proceedings, transactions, or memoirs of societies.

Periodical Index

A listing of periodical articles grouped by author or subject, focusing on a particular subject, and are available in both print and electronic formats.


The individual personal 4 digit number which identifies you as the owner of your card.


Passing off someone else’s work as your own, either intentionally or unintentionally, by failing to acknowledge the original source.

Primary Source

An original document with firsthand information about a topic. These include letters, documents, artifacts, and journals.

Print Credit

Credit on your record that allows you to print, copy, scan. This can be topped up on line and at lending desks.


A work that has been printed and distributed, such as a book, periodical, musical score, etc.



An oversized book, being over 11.5" (29 cm) in height or width.



A section of bookshelves.


A request by the library to a borrower for the return of an item before the due date. A patron can submit a recall slip requesting that an item be returned early.


Said of a journal or other periodical when manuscripts are evaluated by at least one subject specialist in addition to the editor before being accepted for publication. See also peer review.


1. A service that helps people to find needed information, resources, and library use.

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

A book meant to be used for specific pieces of information, rather than to be read as a whole. Examples include almanacs, bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, glossaries and indexes. Reference books do not circulate.

Reference Collections

A collection of books and other materials useful for supplying authoritative information or identifying sources of information, providing information services and are not allowed to circulate outside the library.

Reference Librarians

Reference librarians are specialists in the field of information retrieval and are available at reference desks to help you find information.

Reference Only

Items which may not be taken out of the library.


The process of accurately and consistently recording details of all resources used in a piece of academic writing to acknowledge the work of others and avoid plagiarism.


To extend the loan period of an item that you have borrowed online through the library website, in person at a circulation desk or over the phone. An item can not be renewed if another patron has requested it.


A new impression of an edition or a new edition from a new setting of type for which an impression of a previous edition has been used as copy.


Process that allows you to ask for a book you want when all the copies are out on loan. Also known as reservation.


Process that allows you to request a book you want when all the copies are out on loan. Also known as request or hold request.


To bring back an item that you have borrowed, in a way that takes it off your library record.

Retrospective Materials

Sources of information published after an event has occurred.


Scholarly Journals

Sources that are geared towards scholars with long, in-depth articles based on research, going through an editorial process, but not necessarily peer review. See also journals and peer review.

Search Statement/Search Query

Words entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information, 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.

Secondary Source

Works that interpret or comment on a Primary Source, such as journal articles and books, providing evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs.


A service allows you to pay fines with a debit/credit card, located on the self-service machines.

Self Service

Machines which allow you to issue, return and renew items.


Materials issued at regular or irregular intervals and intended to continue indefinitely. Includes periodicals, magazines, journals, and yearbooks.


A group of separate bibliographic items related to one another by the fact that each item bears, in addition to its own title proper, a collective title applying to the group as a whole.

Serials Solutions

Software that allows you to search journal titles to which the library either has a print subscription or electronic access via a database.


When conducting a search in a database, the results of a search form a group of related items. See also Boolean logic.

Special Collections

Collections of unusual or scarce materials such as rare books, manuscripts, historical maps, drawings, paintings, photographs, etc., as well as the institution's own archives. These materials are housed in a special section of the library which is climate controlled and secured.

Short Loan

Item that you can keep only for a short time.


The area of the library where the main body of the library's books and bound periodicals are arranged by call number.


Common words (a, a, the, to, for, etc.) that normally add little meaning to the subject content of the document being indexed, not used as search terms, but will appearing when you print documents from the database.

Style Manual

A publication that sets forth the rules for composition, including format and manner of citing sources, to be used in a particular discipline or profession or by a particular publisher.


A subdivision of a more general subject heading. For example in the Library of Congress Subject Heading: Canada -- Pictorial works, Pictorial works is a subheading of Canada.

Subject Heading

The word or words used by an index or database to describe a particular subject, including cross references from subordinate terms to primary terms and notes defining what is included within the scope of a given term. See also Library of Congress subject headings, thesaurus.

Subject Thesaurus

A list of all the subject headings or descriptors used by a particular database or index.


Table of Contents

A list contained within a book or periodical indication the page number or other location symbol to the place where each chapter begins and in the sequence in which they appear.

Tertiary Sources

Reference works that identify, point out, summarize, abstract, or repackage the information provided in primary and secondary sources. Examples include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, etc. (Oxford Guide to Library Research, 1998)


A list of terms which serves as a standardized or controlled vocabulary for identifying, locating, and retrieving information. Its component parts are an index vocabulary and a lead-in vocabulary. While the best known thesaurus is Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, a number of databases also have thesauri. The ERIC thesaurus, the CAB thesaurus, and the Library of Congress Subject Headings are examples of these. These lists of pre-defined, controlled vocabulary can be very helpful when searching databases which use thesauri. See also Library of Congress subject headings, subject headings.


A paper or treatise reporting original research and prepared as a requirement for a Master’s Degree and PhD.

Trade Journal

A periodical that publishes news and other items of interest for a particular trade or industry.


The special symbol used to cut the search term short at any point in database searching, in order to retrieve all terms with a common root or both the singular and plural forms of a word. For example, market will find markets, marketing, marketplace, etc.


Unbound volumes

Current, individual issues of a periodical title that are not yet gathered together as a hardback volume.

Uniform Titles

The title used for cataloging purposes when a work has appeared under more than one title (such as translations into several languages), or when the work being cataloged is of a collective nature, such as "Complete Works".

Uniform Resource Locator (URL)

The unique address that shows where a particular page can be found on the World Wide Web, consisting of the access protocol (http), the domain name (, and often the path to a file or resource residing on that server.


The materials are not published.


Vertical File

A file cabinet or file box containing a collection of pamphlets, newspaper clippings, or other small published items.

Virtual Library

A virtual library provides access to library resources including full-text electronic journals, electronic books, websites, reference assistance, instruction, and other materials and services to limited registered users. For many libraries, the virtual library mirrors the resources and services available in the physical library.



Items that are removed from the library collection.


An online catalog of books and journals that reflects the holdings of thousands of libraries in the United States, which can be used to verify the existence of a book or article and locate it at a nearby library.



Registered trademark often misused as a generic term for photocopying.



An annual compendium of facts and statistics on a particular subject for the preceding year.



Prepared by the National Information Standards Organization, Z39.50 is an information retrieval service definition and protocol specification for library applications. The standard defines how one computer system can co-operate with other systems for the purpose of searching databases and retrieving record.