Library Glossary

For more definitions, see The Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS)

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A brief, non-evaluative, summary of the contents of a book, article, dissertation, report, speech, or other work.

A note that describes or evaluates an entry in a bibliography, reading list, or catalog.

A serial publication, such as a yearbook, a report, or a directory, that is issued once a year.

A collection of writings by one or more authors.

Part of a book or an article that contains supplementary materials, such as data or maps.

A collection of historical records and documents, or the place where they are kept.

A self-contained nonfiction prose composition on a fairly narrow topic or subject, written by one or more authors, and published in a periodical, a collection, or online.


A list of citations or references to books and articles on a particular topic, that appears at the end of a book, article or encyclopedia entry.

A description of a book found on its jacket, and designed to promote the sale of the book.

Boolean keyword searching
Boolean searching is based on an algebraic system of logic formulated by George Boole, a 19th century English mathematician. In a Boolean keyword search, the terms are combined by the operators AND, OR and NOT to narrow or broaden the search; AND narrows the search, OR broadens it, and NOT excludes items. This type of search is possible in most library catalogs and databases, but Google and many other search engines do not do Boolean searches properly.


call number
A combination of letters and numbers assigned to a book or other item in a library. Most academic libraries use the Library of Congress (LC ) system, while public libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal system. In the LC system, the first number is a whole number (that is, H5 is before H4501), but the number after the point is like a decimal (that is, H8 .A4811 is before H8 .A5).

A list of all the books, periodicals, maps, and other materials in a library.

The department of the library that deals with checking out books and other items, and controls access to library materials.

The basic information needed to find a book, an article, or other materials. For a book a citation includes the author, title, place of publication, publisher, and date published. For a journal article, it includes the author, title, name of journal, date, volume, issue number and pages.

citation style
A prescribed format for documenting references in a journal article or a book. Scholarly journals require authors to use a specific style in their articles, and some disciplines or academic departments require a certain style. Examples are: Chicago style for history, the Modern Language Association (MLA) style for languages and literature, the American Psychological Association (APA) style for social sciences, and the Science style for the sciences.

controlled vocabulary
A list of terms developed for use in catalogs and databases to ensure precise searching. For example, in the NIH database Medline, the system of terms is called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), in which the correct term for “heart attack” is “myocardial infarction.”

The protection of intellectual property (text, images, music, patents, etc.) for a certain period of time. The rights to publish and sell intellectual property are granted to an author, composer, artist, etc. by a government.

critical edition
An edition of a literary work that includes an introduction, essays about the work and/or annotations.


A large, regularly updated online file of information (full-text articles, abstracts, images, data, etc.) related to a specific subject or field.

A thesis written as one of the conditions of obtaining a degree, usually a PhD.


An online book that may or may not have been published previously in print. It may be possible to read it on the Web, or after downloading it to an e-reader.

An online journal that may or may not also be published in print.

A reference work that contains informational articles, usually arranged alphabetically.

Notes at the end of a work that explain the text or give the source of material referred to.


Notes at the bottom of a page that explain the text or give the source of material quoted.  


A list at the end of a book, an encyclopedia, etc., that indicates the location of information within the work; or a database that provides information about articles and books (authors, titles, etc.), with links to the full text documents.

A numbered or dated part of a periodical. Most commonly, periodicals are issued weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.


In the academic world, a journal is a specialized scholarly periodical containing articles written by scholars and experts for others in their field of study, describing original research or commentary on current developments in the field. Scholarly journal articles usually contain references to other scholarly work and have an abstract at the beginning. The term journal may also refer to a diary or a daily record of news and events of a personal nature.


The significant word or phrases that identify the main concepts in a text, and may appear in the title, abstract, subject headings or full-text of a record.


Library of Congress Classification System
The Library of Congress (LC) system for organizing books in libraries is divided into 20 branches of knowledge, and each branch is subdivided into more specific topics, denoted by a call number which is a combination of letters and numbers. Each book has its LC call number on its spine; the call number is both a subject code and an address indicating where a book is located. The main branches in the LC system are:
A - General Works
B - Philosophy, Psychology, Religion
C - Auxiliary Sciences of History
D - History (General)
E-F - History (Americas)
G - Geography, Anthropology, Recreation
H - Social Sciences
J - Political Science
K - Law
L - Education
M - Music
N - Fine arts
P - Language and Literature
Q - Science
R - Medicine
S - Agriculture
T - Technology
U - Military Science
V - Naval Science
Z - Bibliography; Library Science

literature search
A thorough search for all the materials published on a given topic.


A periodical for a general audience rather than experts, containing popular articles which are easier to read but less authoritative than scholarly journal articles.

DVDs, CDs, videos and other audio-visual materials that require the use of special listening or viewing equipment, or can be accessed online.

Information in a catalog or database that describes a book, article, or other item. For example, the metadata for a book would include the author, the title, the publisher and date of publication, and the subject.

A very small photographic copy of text and/or images on translucent film, which can be read and printed on a special microfilm machine.  


A government license that gives the patent holder the exclusive rights to an invention or a design for a designated period of time. Patent records include diagrams and descriptions of the invention or design.

peer review process
The method used by scholarly journals as a quality control mechanism to ensure that the articles they publish are valid, relevant and authoritative. Before publishing an article, the journal editor sends it out to several reviewers (or “referees”) who are recognized experts in the same field, who read the article and offer an opinion on whether it is worthy of publication in the journal.

peer-reviewed journal
A scholarly journal, also called a “refereed” journal, that uses the process of peer review to ensure that the articles in it are valid, relevant and authoritative.

A journal, magazine or newspaper published at regular intervals, usually weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.

Using someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own, without giving credit to the true source or author.

primary source
A document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. 


A journal article that has been peer-reviewed, or approved for publication in a scholarly journal by referees who are experts in the subject matter of the article.

reference work
A book or scholarly Web site designed to be consulted when background information or an overview of a topic is needed, rather than read cover to cover. The entries in a reference work are usually listed alphabetically and may be signed by the author, or may be unsigned. Examples of reference works include atlases, catalogs, concordances, dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias, glossaries, handbooks, indexes and manuals.

reserve materials
A selection of specific books and articles, either in print or online, chosen by a faculty member teaching a class, for the students in that class to read. The print materials are kept together in one area of the library and can be borrowed for a short period of time only, by anyone with borrowing privileges. The online materials (e-reserves) are accessible through the library catalog or the course management system.

An article that analyzes and criticizes a book, film, piece of music, or other work.

review article
An article in a scholarly journal that summarizes the recent research and writing in a given subject area.


An article or book that deals with academic subject matter at an advanced level, written for specialized readership by scholars or experts in a field of study, usually “peer reviewed” or “refereed” by other experts as a quality control mechanism.

secondary source
A work that describes, explains, analyzes or evaluates primary sources. Examples include criticism of a literary work, a review article summarizing recent research in a scientific field, or a biographical study.

A publication issued in successive parts, usually at regular intervals, including periodicals such as journals, magazines, newspapers and annuals.

A group of separately published works that are issued in succession by the same publisher, usually in a uniform style, and with a series title that applies to the whole group, as well as individual titles for the individual works.

The shelves where library books and journals are stored.

subject headings
A word or phrase assigned by the Library of Congress classification system to books and other library materials to divide them into subject areas, and used by libraries to arrange books on the shelves.


In keyword searching in online catalogs and databases, the shortening of a keyword by taking the root of the word and adding a special symbol (usually *). This will find all the records that contain a word beginning with the letters to the left of the symbol. For example, the keyword search for child* will find records containing children, childish and childhood, as well as child.


university press
A publishing house associated with a university, or other scholarly institution, specializing in the publication of scholarly books and journals, particularly works written by its faculty.


A book forming part of a work or a series, or all the issues of a periodical published during a given period, usually a year.