Library jargon

By September 24, 2019

Adapted by Simon Lee, UCLA College Library, then by Esther Grassian, and finally by Diana Ascher from: Grassian, Esther, Diane Mizrachi, and Pauline Swartz. “Glossary.” The Road to Research. UCLA College Library, 2004. Web. 22 Apr. 2011.




abstracta brief description or summary of an item.

Access ServicesA service department where library materials can be checked out and returned. 

Ask a LibrarianDigital (chat) online reference service staffed by librarians and other library staff.

boolean operatorsMost commonly used are: AND, OR, and NOT. They connect search words to tell a system how to combine those words. Google and some databases automatically insert AND between search words, while in others, you must type connectors between search words. 

bound volumesIssues of magazine, journal and other loose publications, sewn or glued together, with front and back covers, like a hardcover book.


call numberTypically located on the spine of a library book or on other library materials, and used to identify its physical place on a shelf, near other materials on the same or similar topics.  Most academic libraries use the LC (Library of Congress) classification system for these “shelf addresses,” while public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal System.

catalog(See “library catalog”)

circulation(See “Access Services”)

citationA reference to an item which provides enough bibliographic information for someone to locate that item. These items document sources and also serve as evidence for arguments in research papers and published materials. 


databasesLicensed (by subscription) or free indexes to articles within magazines, newspapers, and/or journals, and in some cases, books, and book chapters (essays)–e.g. Academic Search Complete, ProQuest Newspapers, ERIC, PsycINFO, Google Scholar, etc. Some databases provide the complete text of items they index, some for free, while others available only to that institution’s members.

descriptors(See”subject headings”)

domainProvides a general idea of the type of website, through the use of suffixes, like .edu for educational institutions. See the InterNIC Whois Search to see some examples of domain names and to look up a domain.


HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)Markup language for web pages that may include links that take you to different sections of that document or to other documents.  Even with the complete text, HTML documents may not include images and page numbers that exist in the original magazine, newspaper, journal or other documents.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL)A service provided by libraries to enable their users to borrow materials from other libraries. Some libraries offer this service for free, while others charge a fee. 

invisible web Internet resources that search engines like Google cannot discover, including items protected by password, and the results of dynamically generated searches in licensed (subscription) databases, such as JSTOR. Sometimes referred to as the “deep web.”


library catalogAn online database listing books, periodical titles the library owns or subscribes to, and other library materials.

licensed databaseCollection of information paid for by library subscription and accessible only to those with approved IDs and passwords.

loan desk(See “Access Services”)

oversize Refers to materials larger than most that do not fit on average-sized bookshelves.  Oversized books are usually placed in a separate, roomier location within their respective library.  In some library catalogs, an * at the beginning of a call number (e.g., * N6655 .O59t) may indicate an oversized item.


PDF (Portable Document Format) Exact copies of items, as they appeared when published in print.  Download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, from the Adobe web site, in order to read pdf files.

peer-reviewed Items (with authorship and institutional affiliation removed) which have been examined anonymously by experts in a field, in an effort to ensure quality.  Experts look for accuracy, completeness, scholarship, and use of appropriate and up to date supporting evidence. (Also called “refereed.”)

– Something published at intervals with no end in sight — e.g., magazines, newspapers, and journals.

periodical index – A publication or database that lists magazine, journal and newspaper articles, and may also provide some online.  Some also list books, book chapters (essays), dissertations, conference papers, etc.  Important note: Many online databases are licensed for use by specific groups or individuals and may not be available to the general public.

plagiarism – Using another person’s work, ideas, and/or words without citation, as if they were your own.

proxy server A means of allowing approved users to enter an ID and password in order to gain access to licensed or otherwise restricted research tools or materials.


refereed journal (See “peer-reviewed journal”)

referenceTwo meanings: citation or bibliography entry; or, a library location in-person or online where you can ask general or research questions for free.

reference bookA print or online publication that librarians have separated from other library books, in order to make them more quickly and easily available for more immediate use to answer questions.  Some libraries allow their users to check out print reference books, while others do not.

reservesIn colleges and universities, instructors often ask the library to place certain materials on limited loan for their students, so that all students in a class will be able to read assigned materials.  These “reserve” items may be located in a different area from other library materials.


scholarly – (See “peer-reviewed”) journals

serials –  (See “periodicals”)

Special Collections –  Library materials (print, online and in other formats) identified as having certain characteristics that make them either rare or fragile or devoted to particular topics, and usually separated from general library materials, and utilized under a variety of conditions. Some special collections materials may be checked out or copied, while others may not.

subjects (See “subject headings”)

subject headingsWords carefully selected by catalogers (librarians) from special lists or thesauri to describe the content of books, articles and other materials. Examples of such lists include the Library of  Congress Subject Heading List and the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medical Subject Headings.

truncationA “wild card” symbol. It tells the system to search for items that begin with or come in the middle of a string of characters — e.g., child* searches for child, childless, children; wom?n searches for woman and for women. Important Note: Different databases may use different truncation symbols. Check the online help in each database for details.


unbound issues Loose periodicals (magazines, journals, etc.) which have been published as separate items, usually with soft paper covers. Libraries often gather them together into bound volumes.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator) The web address of a resource or file available on the Internet, most often beginning with http://.

visible web – Websites freely available to the public that can be found by search engines such as Google. Sometimes referred to as the “surface web.”

VPN (Virtual Private Networking)A secured private connection built on top of publicly accessible infrastructure. Provides an alternative to using a proxy server for remote access to licensed resources, as well as a secure method to authenticate to an institution’s or organization’s wireless network.

wild card(See “truncation”)