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Library Terminology: Glossary of Library Terms

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

How to use this glossary

Did you see word on the library's website that confused you?  Use this guide to find words commonly used in the library.  

Is there a word you found on the library's website that doesn't appear in this glossary?  Contact Christal Young for help or to have the term added to this list.


This glossary is designed to introduce you to words/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  |  KL  |  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.
Words in bold link to another word which is defined within the glossary.


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."

Almanac: "1. A collection, usually annual, of statistics and facts, both current and retrospective. May be broad in geographical and subject coverage, or limited to a particular country or state or to a special subject. 2. An annual containing miscellaneous matter, such as a calendar, a list of astronomical events, planting tables, astrological predictions, and anecdotes" (Definition from Yale University Library)

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 Colorado 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."

Atlas: "A book or bound collection of maps, illustrations, etc.; Volume of maps, plates, engravings, tables, etc., which may be used to accompany a text; or it may be an independent publication." (Definition from Colorado State University Libraries)

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."

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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."

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

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."

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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."

CD "An abbreviation for compact disc; it is used for storing digital information."

Chat "The ability to communicate with others, computer to computer, via typed messages."

Check out: "To borrow/rent/loan/issue 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 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." Also called a Loan desk

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." Also see: Descriptors, Subject heading.

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." See also: Electronic reserve.

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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."

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."  Also see Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery (IDD), our guide on USC's document delivery system.

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."

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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 its editor's name is one option in searching."

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."

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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."

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Glossary: "An alphabetical list of terms specialized to a field of knowledge with definitions or explanations."

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

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 circulation desk."

Holdings: "The materials owned 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."

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."

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

Internet: "A worldwide network of computer networks that allows for the transmission and exchange of files. The World Wide Web is part of the Internet."

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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."

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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."

Known Item Search: "A search for an item or article when you have some or all of the citation information ."

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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.

Loan Desk: See Circulation desk

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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."

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."

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)."

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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."

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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.” You can search USC's OPAC (or USC Library's Catalog) here.

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Page/Paging: "To summon or call by name" (Definition from The Free Dictionary).  If a book or other library item is located at another location, you can page, or "summon" the book to be sent to your location.  For example, to obtain a book from Grand Avenue Library, an off-site USC Library, will require you to page the item and pick it up from Leavey Library.  This generally takes one business day.  For more information on paging from Grand, click here

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 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.

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

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

Print 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."  For more information see the "Library Printing and Copying" page.

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."

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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."

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, Electronic reserve.

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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."

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."

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

Stacks: See 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." See Citation.  Also see our Citation Guide.

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

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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

Thumb drive: "A small portable device for storing computerized information. A thumb drive can plug into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of any computer and store electronic information."

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

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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."

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Virtual reference: "A service allowing library users to ask questions through email 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.”

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

World Wide Web: "A network of information, as a part of the Internet, that includes text, graphics, sounds, and moving images. Also know as the Web or WWW or W3. It incorporates a variety of Internet tools into one method of access, such as the Web browser Internet Explorer, Safari, or Firefox."

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

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Multilingual Library Terms

Resources retrieved from ACRL's Instruction Section Multilingual Glossary for Today's Library Users

See Also:

  • New South Wales State Library Multilingual Glossary database is a professionally generated signage tool designed for libraries by the Library of New South Wales. It contains common library phrases in 49 languages.

Christal Young, Librarian

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Christal Young
Leavey Library
LVL 128A