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Library Terms: Home

This guide contains resources and terms frequently used in libraries.

How to use this guide

Have you seen a word on the library's website or elsewhere that puzzled you?  Use this guide to find the definitions of words and phrases commonly used in a library.  


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."

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."


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."

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. Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari are all browsers."



Catalog "A online database 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."

Chat "The ability to communicate with others, computer to computer, via typed messages." Also see: Virtual Reference

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 and date of publication."

Controlled vocabulary: "Standardized terms used in searching a specific database." Also referred to as Standardized vocabulary. Also see: Descriptor, Subject Headings


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."

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 requested information sources (usually articles or book chapters) and delivers them to library users. 

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."


E-book: "To transfer information from a computer to a program or storage device to be viewed at a later date." Also referred to as Electronic book.

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."

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."


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."



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



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

Holdings: "The materials owned by a library."

Hypertext Markup Language(HTML): "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 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."



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."

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."



Journal: "A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports.: See also: Periodical, Serial

Journal title: "The name of a journal. Journal title is one common search term."



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."



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 also: Hyperlink.




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)."



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."



OneSearch:  "A central portal homepage consolidating all your library resources and services into one place so users are aware of everything your library has to offer. Familiar web-scale search, enabling users of all experience levels a single search point to easily find the relevant content they need across all of your library’s collections and other external sources." (Definition from 

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.” 




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: Journal, 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."

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."




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."



Scholarly Journal: See Peer reviewed journal.

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)."

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 also: Citation.  

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



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." Also referred to as "flash drive."

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



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. 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."



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.”



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


Kathleen Shepler

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