Skip to Main Content


Glossary of Library & Research Terms

This glossary is designed to introduce you to terminology used in an academic library setting as well as those terms associated with library research.  Click on the letters below to jump to that section of the alphabet:

A  |  B  |  C  |  D  |  E  | F | G  |  H  | J  |  K  |  L  |  M  | 

N  |  O  |  P  |  Q  |  R  |  S  |  T  |  U  |  V  |  X  |  Y  |  Z


‚ÄčAll definitions are provided by the Association of College & Research Libraries unless otherwise noted.


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.

Annotated bibliography: list of citations followed by a descriptive and evaluative paragraph written for the purpose of providing information on the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Annotation: a summary and/or an evaluation.

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.

Attachment: A separate file (e.g., text, spreadsheet, graphic, audio, video) sent with an email message.

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.

Back to top


Bibliography: A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document; a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. 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, Google Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are all browsers.

Back to top


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. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents. Sometimes referred to as shelf number.

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: A type of communication from person to person through typed messages, via computer or mobile device.

Check-out: To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen to, or view it. Check-out periods vary by library. Items are checked out at the circulation desk.

Circulation: The place in the library, often a desk, 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.

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 includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication.

Cite:  To make reference to (a passage, text, author, etc.), esp. as an authority or as providing support for an argument; (sometimes spec.) to quote directly. [Oxford English Dictionary]

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

Copy card: A card that enables its user to print from a computer, or to make copies of a document at a photocopy machine. Student ID cards sometimes serve as copy cards.

Course management system (CMS): Integrated online applications that allow users to view and complete class materials and post messages, which facilitate discussion beyond the classroom. Also referred to as a “Learning Management System” or “Course Management Software.”

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

Back to top


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. Instruction for Diverse Populations Multilingual Glossary – Definitions Updated April 2013 

Dial-up: A device using telephone lines that allows a computer to access the Internet or two computers to communicate. 

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

Document delivery: A service that retrieves or photocopies information sources for library users. Some libraries restrict document delivery services to distance education students, faculty members, or graduate students. 

DOI: Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object. 

Download: 1. To transfer information from a computer to a program or storage device to be viewed at a later date. 2. To transfer information from one computer to another computer using a modem.

Back to top


E-book (or Electronic book): An electronic version of a book that can be read on a computer or mobile device. 

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

E-journal: An electronic version of a journal or magazine that can be read on a computer or mobile device.

Electronic reserve (or E-reserve): An electronic version of a course reserve that is read on a computer display screen. See also Course reserve

Encyclopedia: A work containing information on all branches of knowledge or treating comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge (such as history or chemistry). Often has entries or articles arranged alphabetically. 

Back to top


Fair use:  n. (in U.S. copyright law) the doctrine that excerpts of copyrighted material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted without the permission of the copyright holder for purposes such as private study, research, or criticism; (also) the use of copyrighted material under this doctrine; an instance of this. [from the Oxford English Dictionary]

Flash drive: A small portable device for storing computerized information. A flash drive, sometimes called a thumb drive, can plug into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of any computer and store electronic information. See also Thumb drive

Back to top




Back to top


Hardware: The physical and electronic components of a computer system, such as the monitor, keyboard and mouse. Hardware works in conjunction with software

High speed access: Refers to the speed and efficiency of an Internet connection—which determines how long Web users must wait for a particular Web site to load, or appear on their computer, after they click on a link to it. High speed access is usually achieved by using a DSL line (digital subscriber line) or a cable modem to connect to the Web, as opposed to a dial-up line which results in a slower connection speed. Instruction for Diverse Populations Multilingual Glossary – Definitions Updated April 2013 

Hold: A request to have an item saved (put aside) to be picked up later. Holds can generally be placed on any regularly circulating library material in-person or online. 

Holdings: The materials owned by a library. 

Hyperlink: 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. 

Back to top


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

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. 

Instant messaging (IM): An Internet-based service allowing real-time, text communication between two or more users. Instant messaging is also known as chat, especially when more than two people are communicating. 

Interlibrary services/loan: A service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library. See also Document delivery


Back to top


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 articles: usually short papers on specific topics published in issues or parts of journals (also called periodicals) which appear regularly. Use articles to find: up-to-date research in your subject.

Back to top


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. 

Back to top



Learning management system: See Course management system

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. 

Link: See Hyperlink

Back to top



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. Instruction for Diverse Populations Multilingual Glossary – Definitions Updated April 2013 

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. 

Modem: A device that connects a PC to the Internet and converts digital signals from the computer to a form that can be sent using a voice (analog sound signal) telephone line and vice versa. 

Mouse: A device that allows the user to move and click the cursor on a computer screen for different functions. 

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

Back to top



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. 


Back to top



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.” 

Open web: Portions of the world wide web/internet that are freely available to anyone with a connection [as opposed to fee-based resources generally associated with colleges, universities, or private entities.]


Back to top



PDF: 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. 

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. A peer-reviewed journal is also called a refereed journal or scholarly journal

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

Permalink: A link that will return you to the same page every time you click the link. 

Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source. 

Primary source: An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation. [Instruction for Diverse Populations Multilingual Glossary – Definitions Updated April 2013 ] From The Successful Writer's Handbook: firsthand accounts such as works of literature, historical documents, eyewitness reports, reports on experiments or surveys conducted by the writer, and sources you originate (interviews, experiments, observations, correspondence).

Print: The written symbols of a language as portrayed on paper. Information sources may be either print or electronic. 

Proxy server: An Internet server that acts as a “go-between” for a computer on a local network (secure system) and the open Web. Often checks to determine “right of access” to the secure environment and speeds up requests by caching frequently accessed Web pages. Can also act as a firewall. See also Authentication

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


Back to top



QR code: Abbreviation for Quick Response code. A two-dimensional bar code that is made of small squares in a unique pattern. QR codes allow users to connect to additional resources through mobile devices. 


Back to top



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. 

Relevance: Relates to the results of a natural language search. Search engines compare the words in a document to the words in the user's query. The more words that match, the more relevant the document is. The more times a word appears in the document the more relevant it is, but the more times a word appears in a database the less relevant it is.

Each word is scored based on its frequency of occurrence in the document versus its frequency in the database. The scores of all matching words are added up to obtain a score for the record. Records with the highest score are considered the most relevant. Relevance is represented as a percentage—records with all matching words and the highest score are given a value of 100%. As the scores and number of matching words decrease, so does the percentage.

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. See also Authentication

Renewal: An 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, Electronic reserve

Rhetoric:  The art of using language effectively so as to persuade or influence others, esp. the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques to this end; the study of principles and rules to be followed by a speaker or writer striving for eloquence, esp. as formulated by ancient Greek and Roman writers. [from the Oxford English Dictionary]


Back to top


Scholarly journal: See Peer-reviewed journal

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. Instruction for Diverse Populations Multilingual Glossary – Definitions Updated April 2013 

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. 

Shelf number: A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Using the shelf number, patrons can easily locate items on the physical shelves in the library.  Sometimes referred to as call number.

Software: The programs installed on and used by the components of a computer system (or, hardware). 

Stacks: Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. May be referred to as “book stacks.” 

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. 

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


Back to top



Thumb Drive: See also Flash drive

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


Back to top



Upload: To transfer information from a computer system or a personal computer to another computer system or a larger computer system. 

Uniform Resource Locator (URL): The unique address for a Web page which is used in citing it. A URL consists of the access protocol (http), the domain name (, and often the path to a file or resource residing on that server. 

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. 


Back to top



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


Back to top



Wireless: The name given to any electronic device that sends messages through space via electric or electromagnetic waves instead of via power cords. 


Back to top





Zip drive/zip disk: Devices used in the creation of compressed (or “zipped”) electronic information. 


Back to top