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Library Vocabulary

Definitions of common library and research terms.

What the What??

Librarians and researchers have their own vocabulary to describe the resources, techniques and services that they use.  Understanding what these terms mean will make it easy to navigate the library and your research.

For more help with library terms:

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Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users

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  • Abstract: An objective summary of the contents of a book, article or other source
  • APA: American Psychological Association: Publishes a style guide with rules for publications in psychology and related fields
  • Archives: An organized collection of records or materials of a group or organization, from some past time period
  • Autobiography: An individual's own account of their life


  • Bibliographic manager: An online tool for collecting and organizing sources
  • Bibliography:  A list of sources, usually an alphabetical list of citations of sources used in preparing a work
  • Biography: An account of an individual's life, written by someone else


  • Catalog: In the library, the name for the database used to search for library holdings, including books and other items the library "catalogs"
  • Chicago: Short for Chicago Manual of Style, a style guide for publications in history and related fields
  • Circulating: Items in a library collection that can be checked out
  • Circulation: The department of the library responsible for checking materials in and out and reshelving items
  • Citation: A notation of the identifying elements of an information source
  • Citation Style: A prescribed set of rules for preparing research papers, written for a specific academic discipline or group of related disciplines
  • Credibility: An information source is credible if you can believe its information and trust its source


  • Database: An electronic collection of materials which includes information describing each item that can be searched
  • Discipline: An area of academic study, like psychology or biology or political science


  • Index: A list of the topics touched on in an information source, provided at the end of the source referring to pages within
  • Information literacy:  "The set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning." (ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education)
  • Interlibrary Loan: The library service that arranges for materials to be borrowed from other libraries (see for information about this service).


  • Journal: A publication, issued on a regular basis, where scholars publish research articles to inform others in a given discipline of new findings
  • Juvenile: Another word for children's or youth materials in the library


  • Keyword: The words used to conduct a search in a database. Can be any significant words representing the topic being researched, as opposed to subject terms, which are designated by a librarian and applied to sources on that subject


  • Literature Review: A summary of existing research on a topic. It reviews the scholarly "literature" on that topic. Often a preliminary part of a publication where the author identifies and comments on previous attempts to answer a related research question. (Sometimes called a research review or review of the literature)


  • Memoir: An account of a portion of an individual's life, by that individual
  • Microfiche/Microfilm: A pre-digital tool for storing large amounts of information by photographing pages of a document and reducing them in size
  • MLA (Modern Language Association): Publishes a style guide with rules for publications in the humanities, including literature and related fields.


  • Open Access: Online information sources provided freely rather than for purchase or subscription
  • Open Source:  Information products where source code is freely available and can be improved by users


  • Peer-reviewed: Publications where experts with expert knowledge of the material review it prior to publication
  • Periodical: Publications issued periodically, like newspapers, magazines, and journals


  • Reference
    • Reference Collection: The collection of reference works, like encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc., used mainly to consult for specific information, in its own section of the library
    • Reference Desk or Services: Access to trained librarians who can aid in accessing information or doing research
    • Reference Works or Sources: Books or other sources, like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs, used primarily to look up specific information
  • References:  Sources consulted in the research for a project, usually in a list at the end of the work
  • Reserves: Materials held aside in a library for students in a specific course to access


  • Scholarly: Created by and for academics and scholars with disciplinary expertise
  • Stacks: Set of shelves in a library
  • Style Manual: A guide to the rules for publications in a discipline
  • Subject Headings:  Descriptive words that librarians or editors assign to a book or article to make it easier to find, that define an area of knowledge


  • Table of Contents: A list of the contents of a source, like a list of chapters in a book


  • Work Cited: A list of the sources consulted for a project, compiled using a citation style and included at the end of the project
  • WorldCat: A network of libraries around the world searchable through a single interface