Understanding Library Lingo

There are many words used to describe library resources and searching techniques.
Even though we try to avoid these as much as possible when we are assisting you, sometimes this may not be happen. The alphabetical listing below provides you with an alphabetical listing of some of the terms you may encounter and their definitions.


Abstract: 1) A brief summary of the points of an article; 2) a source that compiles, by subject, author or title, articles from a selected group of periodicals and includes a summary of each article.

Annotated Bibliography: A list of works with descriptions and a brief summary or critical statement about each.

Argumentative: A style of writing that argues a certain point of view, using evidence to support the position.

Arrangement: The order in which information is presented in a book (i.e. alphabetical, chronological, by subject, etc.). Determining arrangement contributes to the effective use of that work.

Article : A contribution written for publication in a journal, magazine or newspaper. A source of contemporary information.

Audience : The people for whom a work is written.

Audiovisual : Information in a non-print format. Includes films, slides, audiotapes, videocassettes, records, software. Also called media.

Authoritative : Material that is supported by evidence and accepted by most authorities in the field.

Autobiography : A book about a person's life written by that person.


Bibliography : A list of citations or references to books or articles on a particular topic. Bibliographies can appear at the end of a book, journal or encyclopedia article, or as a separate publication.

Biography : A book about a person's life written by some other person.

Book Review : An evaluation or discussion of a new book by a critic or journalist.

Boolean Searching : A method of searching in which search sets are combined using the boolean algebra operators AND, OR, and NOT to broaden or narrow search results.

Bound Periodical : A hardback volume containing several issues of aperiodical title.


Call Number : A combination of numbers and letters that provide a unique description of each item in a library collection. Items are arranged on the bookshelves by call number, so the call number is the "address" of materials on the shelf. Call numbers are determined by the classification scheme used by the library.

Card Catalog : A card file, arranged by author, title, and subject, listing all items owned by a library.

CD-ROM : (Compact Disc Read-Only-Memory). An information technology which is used to store large databases and provides access to them via computer. These discs look like the compact discs you'd see in a music store. Instead of storing music, they store text.

Check out or Charge : To borrow books or other materials from the Library for a certain period of time.

Circulate : Materials which can be charged are said to circulate.

Citation : A reference to an item (such a book or article). A citation contains the author, title, date of publication and any other information needed to locate the item.

Citation Tracing : A method of locating additional sources by looking at the citations found in a source you already have.

Classification Scheme : A system used to organize library materials. The classification scheme a library uses determines the type of call number you will see. Typically, public libraries primarily use the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme; most Academic Libraries use the Library of Congress or the U.S. Government's Superintendent of Documents Classification systems.

Contemporary Materials : Information produced during the same time period that an event occurred.

Controlled Vocabulary : A set of preferred terms used by an index or database. There is usually a published listing or thesaurus which identifies the system's vocabulary. Example: Library of Congress Subject Headings

Cross Reference : Word or heading that directs you to other appropiate words or headings used in the book, index, or catalog.


Database : A searchable computer file of records containing information such as citations, abstracts, full text, or other information.

Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme : A method developed in the nineteenth century by Melville Dewey to classify and shelve items by using numbers to represent subject content. Dewey divides knowledge into ten main classes, with further subdivisions, accompanied by decimal notation. This classification scheme is used in most public libraries. Dewey call numbers look like this: 808.02B212c

Dictionary : Source that provides word definition and correct grammatical usage. Dictionaries may either be general or subject specific.

Discipline : Organized field of learning dealing with basic subject areas into which all knowledge can be divided. The major disciplines are Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.


Editorial : An article expressing an opinion on a current matter.

Encyclopedia : General information source containing information on all branches of knowledge (Example: Encyclopaedia Britannica) or a specific subject (Example: Encyclopedia of Psychology). Encyclopedias may be in one volume or several volumes.

Entry : An item or fact that has been "entered" (placed on a list or into a catalog, index, or database).

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

Evaluation : A critical assessment of an information source.


Field : 1) A part of a database record that contains one piece of information. For example, the author field would contain the name of an author. 2) an area of study. Example: law, business, education, etc.

Finding aid : A source, such as an index or database, that provides citations to books, articles, and other materials. A finding aid will help you locate materials on a particular topic.

Focus : The central point on which a paper is based.

Format : The physical form in which information appears. Examples include paper, microfilm, microfiche, etc.

Full text : A digital (computerized) version of the entire text of an article, book, etc.

General Information Sources : Sources which offer general or background information. General information sources include handbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries.

Government Documents : Sources printed by or for government agencies.


Handbook : A general information source that provides concise information on a given subject.

Hits : The number of records that are returned from a search in a database.

Holdings : The materials owned by a library.

Index : Points to where information can be found. 1) A finding aid that arranges (by author, title, or subject) citations to articles from a selected group of periodicals. 2) A listing at the end of books, encyclopedias, etc. that indicates by author, title and/or subject the location of information within the book or encyclopedia.

Interlibrary Loan : Exchange of books or articles between libraries for a brief period. A service you can use to borrow library materials not available at a GCTC or local library.

Internet : The largest computer network in the world which links local networks operated by universities, governments, non-profit organizations, commerical organizations and other research institutions.

Issue : A single, discrete unit of a periodical title formed when several articles are combined for publication. Usually uniquely numbered or dated. Example: Newsweek, July 14, 1997 represents a particular issue of the magazine Newsweek.

Journal : A type of periodical which contains signed scholarly articles. Journals are usually published by academic or association presses and include bibliographies.

Keyword : 1) A way of searching a database using your vocabulary instead of the system's controlled vocabulary. 2) The most important word(s) in a title. Example: in the title Passage to India, the keywords are Passage and India.


Library Gateway : The Library's web page which provides access to the online catalog, article databases, and information about the libraries.

Library of Congress Classification Scheme (LC) : A classification scheme developed and used at the Library of Congress since 1897. It divides the field of knowledge into twenty large classes with an additional class on general works. This system has been adopted by many academic libraries. LC call numbers look like this: R726.A741995

Magazine : A type of periodical containing popular articles which are usually shorter or less authoritative than journal articles on the same subject.

Magazine Collection : A set of microfilm cartridges providing articles from over 300 popular magazines from 1980 to the present.

Microfiche : A type of format; photographically reduced images of printed pages reproduced on small 5" x 8" sheets of film.

Microfilm : A type of format; photographically reduced images of printed pages on 35mm film.

Microform : Photographically reduced images. Microfiche and microfilm are two types of microforms.

Monograph : A book, especially a scholarly one, on a single subject.


Online Catalog : A computer database of items that a library owns. The Virtual Union Catalog is the online catalog for GCTC.

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

Opinion Sources : Sources that express the opinion of the author. They may not be authoritative sources.

Periodicals : Materials published at regular intervals (at least 3 times a year) and intended to be continued indefinitely. Examples: magazines, journals, and newspapers.

Primary Sources : Original manuscripts, contemporary records, or documents which are used by an author in writing a book or other literary compilation. Also called "source material" and sometimes "original sources".

Publication : A book, periodical, musical score, etc. that has been "brought before the public," in other words, a work that has been printed and distributed.


Record : A collection of related data fields. For example, a record for an article in a database might have information from the article's author, title, journal title, volume, and pages numbers fields. In most databases you have the ability to decide which fields of a record you would like to view.

Reference : An indication of where specific information can be found. Used interchangeably with citation. Example: a reference for an article provides information (journal name, issue, and page number) about how to locate the article.

Renew : An extension of the loan period for charged library materials.

Research Strategy : The methodology or plan followed to find information on a subject or research topic.

Retrospective Materials : Sources of information published after an event has occurred.

Review (article) : An evaluation of a work published in a periodical or newspaper.

Scope : The content of a work; what is included and what is excluded.

Secondary Sources : Books or articles that explain or analyze primary sources. Example: criticism of a literary work.

Serial : Materials issued at regular or irregular intervals and intended to continue indefinitely. Includes periodicals, magazines, journals, and yearbooks. Might be used interchangeably with "periodical".

Set : A group of related items. When conducting a search in a database, the results of a search form a set.

Subject Area : The field, such as law, business, education, etc, that studies a particular topic.

Subject Heading : A term or phrase used in indexes and library catalogs to identify material on a given topic.

Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) Classification Scheme : The U.S. Superintendent of Documents developed this system (also called SuDocs) for the arrangement of federal government publications. Arrangement is by issuing agency. The Documents Library uses this classification system. SuDocs call numbers look like this: Doc.C3.2:P69/4


Tertiary Sources : Sources that contain information that is a distillation and/or collection of primary and secondary sources. Examples include encyclopedias, handbooks, indexes.

Thesaurus : A published list of the controlled vocabulary used by a database or index.

Thesis : The main idea or argument of a paper.

Topic : The broad subject content of a paper, article, book, etc.

URL : An acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. It represents a unique location, or "address" of a resource located on the World Wide Web. Similar to a call number for library materials.

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

Volume : Contains the total collection of all sequential issues of a serial over a given time period.


World Wide Web : A client-server information system that uses the Internet to access computers containing hypertext documents. Also just called "the Web."

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