Commonly Used Library Terms

Abstract - A brief summary, usually of an article, book, or chapter in a book.

- A short description or comment about a book or article, usually telling what it is about, or evaluating it, or both.

Anthology - A collection of stories, plays, or poems, extracts or complete works selected by an editor for publication in a single volume or multivolume set.  

Appendix - A part of a written work, not essential to the completeness of the text, which contains complementary information such as statistical tables or explanatory material.

Archive - An organized collection of the documents and records of an institution, government, organization, or corporate body, or the personal papers of an individual, family, or group, preserved in a repository for their historical, informational, and/or monetary value.

Atlas - A book of maps.

Autobiography - A person's life story, as told or written by himself or herself.

Barcode - A printed label containing machine-readable data in the form of vertical lines or bars. Used to identify books and other materials in the library for circulation and inventory purposes and to link the borrower's library card to the appropriate patron record. It is read by a scanner when an item is checked out.

Bibliography - A list of books, magazine articles, and other materials, usually on a particular topic or by a particular author.

Biography - A story of a person's life.

Blog/Weblog - An online publication of personal thoughts /information that is updated frequently.

Boolean Operators - Words that are used in electronic databases or catalogs to expand or limit the results of a search, including such words as "and," "or," and "not."

Bound Periodicals - Issues of our non-current magazines and journals that are bound together into hardcover books in order to save space and to preserve them.

Browser - A web browser is a software application that enables a user to display and interact with documents hosted by web servers. Popular browsers available include Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Netscape Navigator and Safari.

Call Number - The combination of letters and numbers used to label each book and give it a unique "address" on a library shelf. Books are arranged on the shelf by call numbers, so that books on the same subject are shelved together.

Catalog - A file of records arranged systematically, listing all the books, periodical titles, and other materials owned by a library. For each book and periodical title in the library, there is a record in the catalog under the book author's name, the book or periodical title, and any subject terms that describe the contents of the book or periodical. See "OPAC" (below).

CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read-Only Memory) - A compact disc on which an enormous amount of digitized, read-only data can be stored and searched.

Chat Reference - A service provided by librarians over the Internet that allows you to ask reference questions from anywhere. You and the librarian will communicate with one another in "real time." The California State University, Los Angeles Library offers the chat reference  service: "Ask Now". It is available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.  

Citation - The complete information needed to find a particular item. For books, it includes the author's name, title, publisher, and date of publication. For periodical articles, it includes the author and title of the article, plus the name of the magazine or journal, the volume, date, and page numbers of the issue in which the article appears.

Citation Index - A special type of index which lists works cited in later works, with a list of the sources from which the citations were gathered. Used by researchers to locate sources related by subject to a previously published work.

Classification - A systematic way of arranging books and other materials according to subject.

Compact Shelving - A type of library shelving that uses movable shelves to maximize the storage capacity of a given space.  

Course Reserves - A service in which, upon request by faculty, certain materials are temporarily assigned to a specific course for a much shorter loan period. The purpose of reserves is to ensure that all students taking a course will be able to share materials.  There are print reserves and electronic reserves or e-reserves.

Cross-Reference - A term used in catalogs, indexes, and thesauruses that leads you from one indexing term to another. Also known as "See", "See also", or "Used for" references.

Database - A collection of articles, or records, stored in electronic form that can be searched by users with Internet access.

Depository Library - A library which is legally designated to receive free of charge all or a portion of the government publications provided by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and other federal and state agencies.

Descriptor - Another term for "subject heading," usually used in the context of electronic databases.

Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) - Melvil Dewey's system of classifying library material. The classification system uses a numeric system to designate ten basic subject categories.  The DDC system is usually used in public libraries or smaller academic libraries.

Dictionary - Provides information about words: their meanings, derivations, spellings, pronunciations, syllabification, and usage.

Digital Reference - A service provided by librarians over the Internet that allows you to ask reference questions from anywhere. Digital reference includes online chat reference and e-mail reference.

Dissertation - A formal and lengthy written discourse or treatise, required by universities in partial fulfillment of requirements for a Ph.D.

Download - To copy information to a floppy computer disk, or to a computer's hard disk.

E-Books - An abbreviated term for electronic book. A book that can be accessed electronically via the internet.

Edition - Some books are revised or updated and republished. The new version may be called a "revised" or "second", "third" edition. Later editions are numbered sequentially.

Editor - A person who selects, prepares, compiles, and / or edits the works of other writers for publication.

E-Journal - An abbreviated term for electronic journal. A periodical that is available in an electronic format.

E-Mail (Electronic mail) - A computerized communication service.

Encyclopedia - Gives an overview of a topic, including definition, description, background, and bibliographical references. Remember that almost every encyclopedia has an "Index" (see below).

Endnotes - A statement printed at the end of a chapter or book to explain a point in the text, indicate the basis of an assertion, or cite the source of a concept, idea, quotation, or piece of factual information.  Endnotes are numbered, usually in superscript, and, and listed in the sequence in which they appear in the text.

E-Reserves - An abbreviated term for electronic reserves. Electronic reserves allows authorized CSLA users to access supplementary course reading materials online.

Facebook - A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.

Field - In an electronic database, a part of a record that contains a particular type of data, such as a title, or descriptors, or an abstract. Each record in a database is made up of "fields," and you may limit your search of a database to a particular field or fields, to get more precise search results, or because you want only the information that is in the field(s) you specify.

Footnotes - A brief note at the bottom of a page that explains or expands upon a point in the text or indicating the source of a quotation or idea attributed by the author to another person. Footnotes are indicated in the text by an Arabic Numeral in superscript, or a reference mark,  and are usually printed in a smaller size of the font used for the text.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) - A universal set of commands used to move files from one computer to another.

Full-Text - An entire article from a periodical or reference book available on-line.

Government Documents - Publication created by a government, including hearings, reports, treaties, periodicals, and statistics.

Hardcopy - Printed material, as opposed to information in microform or electronic or digital format.

Hold - When a book you need is checked out to someone else, you can place a "hold" on the book for yourself to guarantee that when the book is returned you will be the next person who can check it out.

Holdings - What a library owns.

Hypermedia - Electronic documents containing a variety of data types, such as pictures and sound, in addition to text.

ILIAD Interlibrary Loan - An automated interlibrary system in use at CSLA. The system allows patrons to track their requests 24 hours a day.

Index - As distinct from a "Periodical Index" (see below), this is an alphabetical listing of the detailed contents of a book. Nearly every encyclopedia has an index.

Interlibrary Loan (I.L.L.) - Interlibrary lending and borrowing services that give you access to materials that are not owned by the library. At CSULA, the service is free to CSULA students, faculty, and staff.

Internet - The international network of computers around the world which provides access to e-mail, web, online access to research materials, remote logon, and FTP.

In-text Citation  - A reference to an outside source made by the writer within the text of a article, or book publication, usually by enclosing the name of the author and the page number(s) in parentheses immediately following the portion of text to which the citation refers, as opposed to indicating the source in a footnote or endnote.  Proper form can be found in a suitable style manual. 

ISBN - The ISBN (International Standard Book) number is a unique 10 digit number assigned to every book or edition of a book before publication to identify the publisher, the title and the volume number.

ISSN - The ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is a unique 8 digit number that identifies magazines, journals or newspapers.

Journal - A periodical which contains scholarly articles, such as reports of original research, published by a professional group or non-commercial publisher. Many journals contain many of the same features as "magazines" (see below), such as book reviews and letters to the editor, but they do not contain advertising for consumer products.

Keyword - An important, memorable, or unique word or term in the title, abstract, or text of an item that indicates its subject.

Library of Congress Classification - A classification system, developed by the Library of Congress, which uses a combination of letters and numbers to designate the various classes of subjects. Most college and university libraries use this system of arrangement.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) - A "controlled vocabulary" of subject terms, such as those used in The OPAC (the CSULA Library's online catalog). These terms are used by nearly all academic libraries, and many large public libraries. LCSH is published in five large red volumes; in the JFK Memorial Library, these are kept by the Reference Desk in the Reference Center (see below), 1st Floor, Library North.

Listservs - Electronic discussion lists, which you can subscribe to, read, and respond to using E-mail. There are thousands of Internet listservs, covering close to all scholarly and popular topics.

Loan Period - The amount of time library materials may be borrowed; varies depending on: (1) the type of material to be borrowed; (2) the borrower's status (undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty, staff).

Circulation Desk - Public service counter in the Library where you check out or renew books and other materials, ask about missing items, have holds placed, request that books be recalled, or inquire about fines. Sometimes referred to as "Circulation."

Magazine - A periodical for general reading, quick information, or entertainment, frequently containing advertising for consumer products. Compare with "Journal" (above).

Media - Nonprint materials such as films, filmstrips, videocassettes, DVDs, CDs, audio compact disks, audiocasettes, and vinyl LPs. The Media Center of CSULA University Library is located on the third floor of the Library North building.

Menu - Many electronic databases have lists of choices and commands - like a "menu" - that are displayed on the screen to help guide you through a search. A "menu-driven" database, such as the Library's OPAC (when you access it through a terminal), shows you on the screen which choices of commands and operations you have.

Microforms - Greatly-reduced photographic reproductions of printed material on film ("microfilm") or film cards ("microfiche"), that can be viewed and photocopied using a microform reader/printer.

Mouse - A small, hand-operated device attached to a computer that permits you to perform computer functions by moving around and clicking on the cursor on your computer screen. Used with Macintosh computers, and personal computers equipped with (Microsoft) Windows-based operating systems.

Newspaper - A serial publication printed and distributed daily or weekly containing news, opinions, advertising, and other items of general interest. CSULA University Library subscribes to newspapers, including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. Some of the newspapers are in both print and online formats.

Network - An electronic communication system made up of computers which are connected to each other. These connections allow one computer to "communicate" with another.

NIS Account - Network Information Services (NIS) accounts are free and are available to enrolled students and faculty/staff of CSULA. The NIS account, consisting of a logon name and password, is unique to each individual. It is required for access to the campus network and resources, including the Library Web.

Online - A term referring to locations on or use of the Internet. The term can be used to refer to a specific location or web page (“Our catalog can be found online at—”) or to a personal activity (“I went online to find the information you wanted.”).

OPAC - An acronym for the term "Online Public Access Catalog". The Library's online catalog is officially known as The OPAC.

PDF - (Portable Document Format) A file format that preserves all of the fonts, formatting, pagination and graphics of the source document.

Peer Reviewed Journal - A Journal that contains scholarly articles which have been reviewed by a panel of scholars/experts in a particular discipline before being accepted for publication.

Periodical Index - An alphabetical listing of magazine or journal articles, usually arranged in print form, or searchable electronically, by subject, author, or title. Best-known print example: Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

Periodicals or Serials - Publications which are issued at regular intervals and generally intended to be continued indefinitely. Examples: newspapers, magazines, journals.

Plagiarize - To copy and take credit for someone else's work, instead of acknowledging in writing that someone else produced it. Plagiarism can be grounds for your dismissal from most colleges and universities.

Primary Source - Original and first-hand documentation of a particular event or era. Examples include advertisements, artifacts, artwork, government records, interviews, letters, memoirs, photographs, poetry and speeches.

Proximity Operators - Like "Boolean Operators" (see above), these are terms available to use in certain electronic databases that serve to give you better, more precise results when you search a database. Examples include "near" and "with," and take the general form "w/[number of words]", meaning that the search terms must occur within a certain number of words of each other in the database fields you are searching.

Ready Reference - A small, separate Reference Book collection within the Reference Center, located on a shelf range directly behind the Reference Desk. Kept here are high-demand reference books that Reference Librarians tend to use daily much more frequently than they use most other books, often to help library users find "quick" answers to "quick" (or "long") questions. Typical "Ready Reference" books include the most up-to-date editions of almanacs and directories, and current encyclopedia sets. In the OPAC, "Ready Reference" books are identified by the location "Reference Desk."

Recall - A request to return library materials before the date they are due. When someone else has checked out a book that you need, ask a staff member at the Loan Desk to "recall" it for you.

Reference Books - Special books that do not circulate in order that they will always be available inside the Library for use in answering specific questions. Encyclopedias and dictionaries are two of the most well-known types of reference books.

Reference Center, or Reference Desk - CSULA Library location (1st Floor, Library North) where you ask questions about locating information, or request assistance in using the reference books and other resources, such as the OPAC and online databases.

Reference Librarian - A person with a Master's Degree in Library Science who assists library users in locating information and materials, and provides instruction in their use.

Remote Access - This term describes the connection of one computer to another computer, which is located in a different, "remote" place. Remote access to Library electronic resources on the Library Web is available anytime, anywhere to NIS account holders (see above).

Renewal - The process by which you can extend the loan period for a book. In the CSULA Library, you may come to the Circulation Desk in person to make renewal requests for books that are checked out to you, or you may easily renew them (under most circumstances) electronically through the Library catalog.

Reserves - Books, articles, or other materials that an instructor has assigned for a class to read and therefore placed on reserve in the Library. Reserve materials are available on request for a limited loan period (2 hours, 1 day, etc.).

Search Statement or Strategy - Terms or phrases, which may contain "Boolean" and "Proximity" operators (see above), that you type onto a screen in order to search the contents of an electronic catalog or online database.

Secondary Source - Resources that interpret or analyze primary sources. A source that is one step removed from the original. Examples include books, dissertations, encyclopedias, essays, film reviews, .literary criticism, periodical articles and textbooks.

SFX (Find It) - A tool which provides direct links from a database citation to the full text of an article (if available) and to other resources and services such as the ILL link or a link to the call number for paper copy of magazines or journals.

Stacks - Areas of the library where its materials are located. In the stacks you will find rows of floor to ceiling shelves on which books, periodicals, and other materials are arranged systematically, for open access by all.

Student Assistant - A student employee of the Library who is trained to perform a number of specific Library functions. Student Assistants in the Reference Center greet library users in person and on the telephone at the Information Desk, refer them to Reference Librarians, help them to get started using the OPAC and other electronic databases, and answer a wide range of basic, general questions about the Library and its services.

Style Manual - A guide that provides rules and formats for arranging footnotes, citations, and bibliographies (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.). The choice of style manual depends on the discipline or subject matter. Professors will provide guidance to students as to which style manual to use.

Subtitle - The portion of a work's title following the semicolon or colon.

SuDocs Number - A classification number assigned to U.S. Federal government documents,  used to arrange materials on library shelves.

Telnet - A way to connect directly to another computer or computer network connected to the Internet. This rather specialized means of access has largely been replaced by Web-based access using a browser (see above).

Thesaurus - An official list of all the subject headings or descriptors used to "control" the indexing terms used in a particular database, catalog, or index. The thesaurus for the CSULA OPAC is the Library of Congress Subject Headings, available in print (in five big red volumes) located at the Reference Desk (1st Floor, Library North).

Truncation - In database searching, the act of entering and searching for a root word, a word stem, or a string of letters by adding a symbol.

Twitter - A social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator) - This is what you call an address on the World Wide Web. This is the complete URL for the JFK Memorial Library's WWW Home Page:

User-friendly - A term used to describe a computer system which provides clear, onscreen instructions for the user, such as the Library's OPAC.

Web (World Wide Web) - A vast network of scholarly and popular information, located on the Internet, that includes text, pictures, sound, and moving images. Also known as "the Web," or "WWW," or "W3." Rather than using a system of "layered" menus, as Gopher does, the Web uses "links." Use a mouse to point to a "link" to a URL (see above) on screen, click on the link, and a few seconds (or less) later you will be at a new source of information. Web "browsers" such as Netscape (see above) are what you use to search for information on the Web.

For more information on library terms, go to Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science at

AUTHORS - This web page was authored by Michael Oppenheim and Carolyn Mcintosh, and updated by Holly Yu.  If you have questions, comments, or suggestions about the CONTENT of this page, please send them to Thank You.