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Library & Research Jargon: Glossary

A dictionary-guide to those weird jargon words and phrases we librarians and your professors sometimes use.

Frustrated when your librarian or professor tells you to try doing a "Boolean" search? Or when a librarian gives you a "call number" that's just a bunch of random letters and numbers? Baffled by "primary" versus "secondary sources"? This guide should help clear up a lot of that confusion! And just ask your librarian if you still don't know what something is that's not listed here, or if you want something further explained.

A

Abstract

a summary of the contents of a book or article, generally a sentence to a paragraph in length.

Academic journal

also known as scholarly journal, a collection of articles in one academic publication, written by scholars and experts in a particular field. They are generally serial publications and the most authoritative ones are peer-reviewed.

Annotated bibliography

a bibliography, or list of your sources, that includes a summary or evaluation of each source you used. Here is the Annotated Bibliographies page in our Citation Guide.

Archives

a library collection of “archived” rare and/or less often used material, often historical documents or records, sometimes located in a separate, safe area.

Authoritative

in regards to a source, it means it's reliable, and it can be trusted to be accurate and true. Some examples of things that make a source more authoritative are a list of the author's credentials, a list of the sources they used, being peer-reviewed, and being published in an academic journal.

B

Bibliography

a list of the books and articles referenced in a scholarly work, often a page at the end of the work.

Boolean operators

the search limiters “AND”, “OR”, and “NOT” used in library database searches in between keywords to make search results more precise.

“AND” indicates both keywords must be present in the search results (which narrows down your search results).

“OR” indicates that either term (or both) may be present in the search results (which gives you more results).

“NOT” indicates that while one term is present in the search results, another cannot be (which narrows down your search results).

C

Call number

the mark on the spine of a library material or listed in the library catalog that indicates the book’s location in the library. Academic libraries use the Library of Congress classification system, with its call number rules (example: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is PR2825 .A2 Q5.) More information here.

Catalog

a complete list of items and resources (books, articles, films, etc.) in a systematic order, often accessed via computer software and online. (These used to be compiled of hundreds or thousands of index cards filed in chests with little alphabetized drawers!)

Citation

a quote from or reference to an outside source, like a book or article. In academic papers, a citation includes the information one would need to find the source, like the author, title, periodical or publisher, publication year, etc.

Credentials

an author’s qualifications, including degrees, awards, publications, occupation, job position, background, and experience.

D

Database

an organized collection of data, or records, entered into a computer program organized by fields. In libraries, it most often refers to a collection of articles and other digital materials, including their abstracts and bibliographic information, and sometimes their full texts. The library has many different databases, often following a general subject, like literature or science; there are even databases of films instead of articles.

Directory

a website or webpage that lists an index of other websites/webpages, most often browsed by subject or a search.

Dynamic URL

a URL that is created during a search, often containing a string of words and characters like ?, %, &, =. This is in contrast to a permalink or persistent link.

E

Embargo

in a library or publishing field, a delay of the publication of an article’s full text in databases following its print publication.

F

Field

an individual piece of data that, in multitude, come together to comprise a record. A database is a collection of records, and records include fields such as title, author, publisher, subject, and call number.

G

Glossary

an alphabetical list of words and phrases found in a specific text or subject, along with their definitions (like a mini dictionary).

I

Index

an alphabetical listing of book or article citations, typically at the end of a work. With databases and websites, it can also refer to a set of items, each of which with records of a file (or webpage) and information about it.

Information literacy

the abilities to recognize when information is needed, and to discover, understand, and use information, all to participate in learning environments and become a lifelong learner.

Interface

the aspect of a computer program or website that allows the user to interact with the computer. So an online database’s interface would be the way it allows the user to search for and retrieve information, not the way it works behind the scenes.

ISBN

short for International Standard Book Number, it’s a unique 10 or 13 digit number assigned to books and similar items.

ISSN

short for International Standard Serial Number, it’s a unique 8 digit number assigned to serial publications like journals and book series.

J

Journal

a collection of articles in one publication, usually written by scholars and experts in a particular field. They are generally serial publications and are often peer-reviewed.

L

Library of Congress Classification System

the system that academic libraries generally use to classify and organize their materials. The cataloged materials are assigned an LOC subject heading and call number, along with the title, author, etc. This classification system allows materials to be organized and shelved in a consistent manner. More information here.

Library of Congress subject heading

a word or phrase assigned to a book or other material by the LOC so that they can be classified and retrieved by that subject. The subject heading is usually a noun, like “schools”, “nuclear physics”, “local taxation”, etc. Subject headings can also be more detailed and specific by being inverted with a comma to add an adjective to the noun, or by using dashes to add subdivisions. (examples: “art, Polynesian” and “United States—Armed Forces”) More information here.

Limiters

see search limiters

M

Meta search engine

a search website or software that allows the user to search multiple search engines from one place (sort of like how Kayak searches hundreds of other travel sites at once).

P

Patron

anyone who uses the library, whether student, faculty, staff, or community member.

Peer-reviewed

when an article (or other publication) has been reviewed for accuracy and relevance by scholars and experts in the work’s field before it is published (most often in an academic journal). So, literally reviewed by an author’s peers in his/her field.

Periodical

a publication issued periodically, often a journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Permalink or Persistent Link

a permanent, unchangeable URL to a resource or webpage in an online database or website. Often called a persistent link, permalink, permanent link, or stable link. These are often available to copy when you get to a resource or page through a search and end up with a strange dynamic URL full of characters like ?, %, &, =.

Primary sources

sources are materials used to provide evidence in research. Primary sources are records and material that are direct, first-hand evidence of an event or object of study. They are recorded at the time of the event, like letters, government documents, photographs, artifacts, and field data. In literature studies, an original novel like Pride and Prejudice could be considered a primary source, while your secondary sources would be critical studies, examinations, and reviews of the work. More information.

R

Records

related items of information which are handled as one unit in a database or website. A record is comprised of fields, individual pieces of data such as title, author, publisher, and call number—which would make the record one of a book or other library material.

Reference

a library section containing books and materials that are fact-based, such as encyclopedias, atlases, and dictionaries.

Reserves

frequently used materials, most often course textbooks, requested or placed by instructors. They cannot be checked out to leave the library. (It is not recommended that that these are relied on for full-time textbook use, as the libraries aren’t open 24/7, and we can’t guarantee availability.)

S

Scholarly journal

see academic journal

Search engine

a program or website that searches in a database or on the internet for results that match keywords entered by the user (e.g. Google). Search engines maintain an index of databases or other websites, so they can automatically send out bots to search those databases/websites for results.

Search limiters

search options that let you narrow the focus of your search (examples: adding “AND” between keywords, checking off Full Text, checking off Peer Reviewed, limiting the date of publication)

Secondary sources

sources are books, articles, and other materials used to provide evidence in research. Secondary sources are sources that provide information about a past event, another work, or an object of study. They often give overviews, interpret the events or works, are critical studies, examinations, or reviews, and are not first-hand evidence (those would be primary sources). More information.

Sources

books, articles, and other materials used to provide evidence in research. They can also be videos, interviews, speeches, photographs, or anything that provides information. Sources are used to back up your statements, and are cited at the end of one's paper. Compare primary sources and secondary sources.

Special collection

a collection of books and materials on subjects of special interest to the library’s patrons, like popular fiction or local history.

Stacks

what librarians call the main area of bookcases, the main part of the library’s book collection. “In the stacks” means in the labyrinth of giant bookcases.

Subject heading

a word or phrase assigned to a book or other material so that they can be classified and retrieved by that subject.

see Library of Congress subject heading

T

Truncation

a search option that lets you truncate or shorten a word to get more variations of the word in your search results. You do this by adding an asterisk (*) at the end or beginning of the shortened word. For example, searching for " music* " will also get you results with the words musical, musician, musically, musicology, etc. Searching for " *ology " will get you biology, sociology, psychology, methodology, zoology, etc.

U

URL

Uniform/Universal Resource Locator, or a web address.

V

Vendor

they create database interfaces and sell access to the databases’ information, and may be the creators of the database. (examples: EBSCO and Gale)

W

Wildcard symbols

let you expand your search results by bring up variations of the term you search for. The exclamation mark (!) is used to replace a character, so searching for "wom!n" will get you results for women and woman. But be careful, because you might also get results for the acronym WOM.