Library terminology

Commonly Used Library Terms
Abstract – A brief summary, usually of an article, book, or chapter in a book.

Annotated Bibliography – An annotated bibliography is a list of books, articles, or other documents, consisting of a citation followed by a brief evaluation of each work listed.

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.

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 Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, 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.” City Tech offers chat reference service: “Ask a Librarian”. It is available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. We do not currently offer assistance by text.

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.

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

CLICS – CUNY’s intra-library book lending service. Search the all CUNY library option in OneSearch or the catalog. You must log in with your library barcode to request a book.

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.

Descriptor – Another term for “subject heading,” usually used in the context of electronic databases.

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

Digital Reference or Ask-A-Librarian – A new 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 computer’s hard drive or an external storage device, e.g. a flash or thumb drive.

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

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.

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.

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.

Findit! (Findit!@CUNY) – 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.

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.

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.

Index – As distinct from a “Periodical Index” (see below), this is an alphabetical listing of the detailed contents of a book. Nearly every encyclopedia and scholarly book has an index.

Interlibrary Loan – Interlibrary lending and borrowing services that gives students access to articles that are not part of the library’s holdings.

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 catalog. These terms are used by nearly all academic libraries, and many large public libraries.

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, faculty, staff).

Circulation Desk [Borrow and Return]– 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.” Go to Circulation to get your library card activated or reactivated every semester in order to use library services including printing and off-campus access to electronic resources.

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 Multimedia Center is located on the fourth floor of the Library. It also has a Mac lab and scanners and playback equipment for DVDs, etc.

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.

Multi-Search – A discover service that allows searching quickly and seamlessly across a vast range of local and remote content including articles and books, and providing relevancy-ranked results. OneSearch is CUNY’s system.

Newspaper – A serial publication printed and distributed daily or weekly containing news, opinions, advertising, and other items of general interest. City Tech Library subscribes to the New York Times in paper. All CUNY students have free access to the New York Times Digital. Many newspapers are found in Lexis Nexis as well as many other databases

OPAC – An acronym for the term “Online Public Access Catalog”. The Library’s online catalog is officially known as The OPAC.

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. The Avery Index is a great example of a specialized online index. The Architectural Index is a print index we have in our collection.

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.

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 – where you ask questions about locating specific resources [known items] or best strategies for doing your research in terms of resources and search strategy

Remote or Off-Campus 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 is available anytime

Renewal – The process by which you can extend the loan period for a book. You may come to the Circulation Desk [Borrow and Return] 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 at City Tech).

Search Statement or Strategy – Terms or phrases 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.

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.

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.

Tertiary source – A source that summarizes and synthesizes content from secondary sources, e.g. an encyclopedia.

Modified from

See also for more up to date, sophisticated