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Definitions of Common Library Terms: Home

Library Terms 

Included in this list of definitions are terms used in the library to describe areas of the building, services, parts of the collection, research, and technology.

A  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P   R  S  U   W


A ^

Abridged - shortened or condensed while keeping the main content of the text

Abstract - a brief summary of a journal article or other resource that classifies, evaluates, or describes the important points of the content

Adaptive Technology - room in the library devoted to specialized technology to aid students with disabilities

Almanac - an annual publication containing a variety of useful facts, statistical data, and, in some cases, daily projections for the coming year

Annals - historical records of yearly events arranged in chronological order.  Also, periodical publications dealing with formal reports from an organization.

Annotated Bibliography - a list of citations to various sources which includes a brief description or evaluation of each source.

Annotation - a descriptive note added to a bibliography listing, catalog record, reading list, etc.

Annual - a publication issued once a year, e.g. a report, yearbook, or directory.

Anthology - a collection of writings, usually having common characteristics such as subject matter, literary form or from one author.

Archive - a place in which public records or historical documents are preserved or the material preserved.

Archival material - documents and other materials deemed worthy to be kept permanently and as nearly as possible in their original form.

Article - a contribution written by one or more persons and published in a periodical or as part of a book, usually non-fiction.

Atlas - a volume of maps, with or without descriptions, annotations, or history.

Audio-visual - materials that incorporate sight and/or sound, such as "books on tape", videos or DVDs.

Autobiography - a written account of a person’s life written by that person.

B ^

Back matter - pages that follow the main body of a book, such as an index or appendix.

Barcode Number - the 14-digit number found under the barcode on your I.D. and on the front of each book in the library.

Bibliographic record - a description of an individual item in a collection. Lists the author, title, publishing information, and other data that identifies the item.

Bibliography - a list of books and/or other materials written by one author or on one subject and having something in common with each other.

Bindery – a service or company whose primary function is bookbinding.

Binding - the front and back covers of a book that hold the pages together.

Biography - a written account of a person’s life by someone other than that person.

Blog – an online discussion forum.

Blurb - a short description for publicity purposes, such as on a book jacket.

Book Review - an evaluation of a literary work and found in a periodical publication.

Bookstacks - the area of the library, on the second, third, and fourth floors, where the majority of the book collection is shelved. 

Boolean operators - the words AND, OR, or NOT used to combine search terms in a database.

Bound Periodical - a number of issues of a periodical, usually within a single volume that are bound together in a hard cover.

Browser - a computer program that provides access to the World Wide Web, e. g. Firefox or Internet Explorer.


C -D


Call Number - the unique numbers and letters given to each item in a library used to identify and locate the item.

Carrel - partitioned desk or office space.

Catalog - a list of books, journals, maps, or other items in a collection, a library, or a group of libraries. It is cross-referenced for easy searching.

Cataloging - the process of making entries for a catalog and the processes involved in preparing a book for the shelf.

Censorship - the restriction of production, distribution, circulation or sale of material considered politically, religiously, or morally objectionable.

Charged - when a book is checked out of the library, responsibility is given or charged to the user. The user can also be charged or required to pay for a book not returned to the library.

Check in - the process of returning a borrowed library book to one of the library's three book drops or to the circulation desk.

Check out - the process of borrowing a book from the library.  (taking the book and your MTSU I.D. to the circulation desk to be entered into your library record)

Circulation Desk - the area of the library that checks books in and out of the library and replaces books on the shelves.

Citation - an identifying reference to a text. Usually includes the title, author, and publishing information.

Citation Styles – methods of documenting references, for example: MLA, APA, Chicago, Terabian

Collection - a number of books and/or other items on one subject, or of one kind, or collected by a person or organization.

Collection Management - the department in the library responsible for the acquisition, cataloging and processing of all library materials.

.com - part of an Internet address that indicates that it is going to a company or industry website.

Concordance - an alphabetical  listing of topics, subjects, passages, or words in an important book (the Bible, or the complete works of Shakespeare).with references to the passage in which they occur.

Context Sensitive Help - enables the user to get specific help information about whatever part of the database they are using at the time.

Controlled Vocabulary - organize knowledge for subsequent retrieval as in subject headings assigned to a book or journal article.

Copyright - the privilege granted by a government to an author, composer, artist, etc. to publish and sell their own original work.

Copyright Law - laws which protect the copyright holder from infringement of his/her work and his/her right to publish and sell that work.

Course Reserves – items (books, articles, etc) a professor or others place in the library to make it available to a large number of people. (see our Circulation Desk)

Critical Thinking – using reason to interpret, analyze, evaluate, and explain an idea.

Critique - (criticism) a critical analysis of a literary work.

Cross-references - directions that point the information seeker from one subject to another, especially in indexes or catalogs. (Ex: "see" and "see also" references)

Currency – Measure of how up to date material is.

Curriculum Library - material located on the third floor of Walker Library, that includes curriculum guides, resource units, and a collection of state-adopted textbooks used in grades one through twelve and a representative selection of books for elementary or secondary school libraries.


Data - a general term for information.

Database - information stored in computer files, assembled and marketed by commercial Firms, with fee or subscription based access.  These are not internet sources!

Date Due - date on which library materials are due to be returned to the library.

Default - the choice selected by the computer when the user has made no choice, usually the first screen that comes up in an operation.

Descriptor - term/s used to identify a subject in a record.

Dewey Decimal Call Numbers - a system devised by Melvil Dewey which divides information into ten main subjects, with further decimal divisions, using a notation of numbers. It is used in many libraries to arrange the books by their subject.

Diary - a daily record of the writers thoughts and experiences.  It also refers to the book in which that record is kept.

Dictionary - a book containing an alphabetical listing of the words of a language or some specific area of study which includes the spelling, pronunciation, and the meaning of each word, and sometimes the origin and use of the word.

Digital Media Studio – area  on the second floor of Walker Library where students of any skill level can create media rich projects.

Discharge - checking in of a book that was loaned and returned.  The catalog shows the time and day of discharge but it may take a day or more for the book to be returned to the shelf.

Dissertation - a formal and lengthy discourse or paper on a specific subject.  Usually refers to a research paper written as partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of doctor.

Distance Education Services – library services to distance education students.

Document - a printed paper that provides information or evidence of some kind.  Often used by historians, biographers, and others as a basis for their own writing.


E ^

E-book - book that can be read online

Edition - the whole number of copies of a work issued from one setting of type.

.edu - part of an Internet address that indicates that it is going to an educational institution's website

Encyclopedia - a book, set of books, or an electronic source which presents an alphabetical list of articles that cover all areas of knowledge or all aspects of one subject.

Entry - the record of a book in a catalog that describes the item and gives its location.

E-Reserve - electronic reserve.  Articles, notes, etc. in electronic format that are entered into the Reserve part of the online catalog for a whole class to use.

Erratum - an error in printing or writing usually attached to a printed book.

Essay - a short literary composition, usually analytical or interpretive in nature, dealing with a certain theme or topic.

Explication - "an approach to literary criticism involving close and detailed study and analysis of the text of a selection" concentrating on "language, style, and the interrelations of parts to the whole so as to make plain the meaning and symbolism of the text."(1)


Fair Use – Part of the Copyright Law which allows use of some materials under certain conditions.

FAQ - Frequently Asked  Questions.

Festschrift - a volume of essays and articles by several authors in honor of a colleague or friend and published on an important occasion, such as the retirement of the person being honored.

Fiction - a made up, imaginary literary composition.

Field - the space in an entry devoted to one or more related data elements (ex. Title field, author field or call number field).

Format - the general makeup or arrangement of a book, magazine, etc.. (includes size, shape, binding, paper or electronic, etc.)

Forward - the introductory remarks at the beginning of a book.

Full text (full-text) - the complete text of an article or book online.


Gateway - an interface which allows access to a variety of other networks or databases.

Gazetteer - an alphabetically arranged list of information about geographical terms.

Glossary - an alphabetical list of terms within a subject field together with definitions.

.gov - part of an Internet address that indicates that it is going to a government website.

Government Document - a publication of the government or by the authority of the Government. All citizens have free access to these publications.

 H ^

Hold - keeping a book in the library for a person requesting it. (Applies to books that are charged to another user and rush-process books.)

Holdings - all the materials (books, periodicals, microtext, etc.) possessed by the library.

HTML - hypertext markup language, a coding scheme used to format text for use on the World Wide Web.

Hypertext - data that contains links to other data.


Index - a systematically arranged list of articles and other data which allows each item to be located easily.

Information - a group of data in an understandable form, recorded on paper or some other medium, and capable of communicating ideas and/or knowledge.

Information Literacy - being able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information.

In Process - location of a book that has been ordered but may or may not have been received.  It has not been cataloged and made ready for the shelf.

Interlibrary Loan – (ILL) library service that allows you to request materials from other libraries that are not available from this library in any format.

Internet - the name for a group of worldwide information resources connected together by a computer network

ISBN - International Standard Book Number given to every book or edition of a book before publication to identify the publisher, title, edition, and volume.

ISSN - International Standard Serial Number given to identify serial publications.

Issue - a specific publication, complete in itself, of a serial or periodical. Usually indicated in a citation as "n" (number) or "i" (issue) and an issue number.



Journal - a publication, usually a periodical, issued by a society or institution and that contains information in a particular field of study.

Juvenile Book - a book for children or young adults. (Most of these are in the Curriculum Library on the third floor of the library)


Keyword - "One of the significant and informative words in a title or document that describes the content of that document." (3)

L ^

LC Subject Headings - the "word or group of words indicating a subject under which all material dealing with the same theme is entered in a catalog or bibliography" and assigned by the Library of Congress. (2)

Library - a collection of materials such as books, periodicals, and databases that may be used or borrowed by the library's users.

Link - connection between two items, such as between two web pages.

Literature Review - a survey of progress in a particular field over a given period of time.

Literature Search - "a systematic and exhaustive search for published material bearing on a specific problem or subject; an intermediate stage between reference work and research." (2)

Loan Period - the period of time which is allowed for the use of library materials.


Magazine - "a periodical publication for general reading, containing articles on various subjects by different authors." (2)

Main Collection - the bulk of the library's collection of books, located on the second, third, and fourth floors and arranged by the Dewey Decimal System.

Manuscript - a letter, document, or book written by hand not printed.  Also applies to an author's copy of a work, whether written or typewritten, that is used for typesetting.

Media - used in computer data storage devices

Memoir - a first person commentary on one's life, times, and experiences.

Microcard - "an opaque card on which microcopies have been reproduced photographically." (4)

Microfiche - a flat sheet of photographic film containing very small images of the text of a publication. A machine reader must be used to read the information.

Microfilm - "a microphotograph on cellulose film."(4) A machine reader must be used to read the information.

Microtext - "a form of photocopying in which the copy is reduced in size so much that it must be read in a ‘reader’ or by projection." This includes microcards, microfiche and microfilm.

 Monograph - "a separate treatise on a single subject or class of subjects, or on one person, usually detailed in treatment but not extensive in scope and often containing bibliographies."(4)


Natural Language - language used in everyday conversation

Network - a system of individual computers which are linked electronically, allowing each machine to share the resources of the others.

Non-Circulating – items in the library that cannot be checked out.  (ex. Theses, dissertations, and journals in most cases)

Nonfiction - literature that is true, based on fact.

Novel - a long, fictitious story presenting characters, settings and events in an organized manner.

O ^

Obituary - a notice of the death of a person.

Online Catalog - electronic, searchable database which contains a listing of the library’s collection.

.org - part of an Internet address that indicates that it is going to the website of an organization.

Overdue Book - a library book which has not been returned to the library by the due date.

Oversize Book - "one which is too large to be shelved in normal sequence."(4)  These are shelved on each floor by call number on the first shelves on the left of the main aisle.



Paraphrase - giving the meaning of a piece of literature in different words or another form.

PDF - (portable document format)  A scanned image of a document put into electronic format.

Peer Reviewed Journal - a publication which contains articles that have been reviewed by other professionals (peers) in the field and accepted for publication.

Pen Name - a name used by the author instead of his/her real name.

Periodical - a publication published at regular intervals (periodically) and more frequently than once per year. It includes articles by several writers. Included in this category are newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Periodicals - the area of the library on the first floor that contains the newspapers, magazines, and journals in alphabetical order by the title of the publication.

Periodical Index - an index to the material in a periodical or group of periodicals with similar subjects.

Periodical Collection - a library’s collection of newspapers, magazines, and journals in bound, unbound, or microtext format and kept as a separate collection.

Plagiarism - "to copy the writings of another person and publish the same as original work." (4)

Preface - introductory remarks by the author of a book, found at the front of the book before the main text.

Primary source - see "Source - Primary."

Proxy Server – a computer that verifies that an off-campus user is entitled to access to password protected databases and other information.  Use your Pipeline username and password for access to Walker Library documents from off-campus.

Publication - Professional - any publication which is produced or published by an organization of professionals in a field. These are usually refereed. (see "Publication - Refereed")

Publication - Refereed - a publication which contains articles that have been reviewed by other professionals (peers) in the field and accepted for publication.

Publication - Scholarly - a publication that contains articles by scholars or researchers in a field. Professional and refereed publications could be included with these.



Ready Reference - the part of the reference desk that contains reference materials which can quickly answer questions of a factual nature.

Record - the complete collection of related data found in an electronic catalog or index which describes a single book or article in that database.

Refereed Publication - see "Publication - Refereed".

Reference - the area of the library that contains aids for finding information.

Reference Collection - contains informational sources such as indexes, dictionaries, encyclopedias, statistical sources, atlases, almanacs, etc. as well as electronic databases.  These sources can be found in the Reference area and will have an "R" at the beginning of the call number.

Reference Librarian - the librarian assigned to help find needed information using the catalog, online sources, the reference collection and other sources.

References - a list of publications referred to by the author of a paper or book. Also called "Works Cited" or "Bibliography."

Relevance - the close logical relationship or importance of the item/s under consideration to the need.

Remote Access – connection to data from a remote location. (ex. Outside of the library, or off campus)

Renew - to extend the loan period of a book.

Report - an account or statement that describes in detail a situation or event.  It is usually based on observation and/or inquiry.

Research - a careful and systematic study in a field of knowledge in order to discover facts or ideas.

Reserves - the part of the library where items in great demand and/or material on professor’s reading lists are kept for short-term check out by students.

Review - an article or report that comments on the merits or faults of a book, play, motion picture, etc.



Scholarly Journal - see "Publication - Scholarly"

Search Engine – Designed to search for information on the World Wide Web. (ex. Google, Bing, Yahoo Search, Mapquest)

Secondary Source - see "Source - Secondary"

Serial - "any publication issued in successive parts, issued at intervals, and intended to be continued indefinitely."(4)

Series - "volumes usually related to each other in subject matter, issued successively, and having a collective series title." (4)

Source - Primary - original sources on which other research or literary works are based. (Ex. original manuscripts, contemporary records or documents, scientific research reports)

Source - Secondary - published materials where primary sources have been used. (Ex. biographical works, commentaries)

Source - Tertiary - works which list, index, or summarize primary and secondary sources. (Ex. almanacs, chronologies, guidebooks)

Special Collections - area of the library where old and valuable books, historical collections, and university materials are kept under controlled conditions.

Spine - the part of a bound book that connects the front and back covers.  It usually contains the title and author of the book, and in a library, often has the call number label at the bottom.

Stacks - the space in the library equipped with shelving for the physical storage of the library’s book, periodical and other collections.

Stopword - "a word which cannot be used as a search term on a particular database." (4) (Ex: a, an, the)

Style Manual – describes the set of standards that provide uniformity in writing, design, and layout of documents. (ex. MLA, APA, or Chicago)

Subject - the word or phrase which describes a theme of a literary work.

Subject Heading - the subject word or phrase assigned to a specific work when cataloging or indexing. (Library of Congress Subject Headings are used primarily by this library)

Subscription Database - a database for which a library or other organization pays a subscription fee to have access to the materials in the database.



Table of Contents - a listing of the chapters or other divisions of a book or other document.

TEL - Tennessee Electronic Library - provides free online access to selected electronic databases for all libraries and citizens of Tennessee. (Paid for with State and Federal funds)

Text - the printed matter in the body of a work.

Text Book - a volume used by students as the standard work in a specific class or branch of study.

Thesaurus - a group or grouping of synonyms or near synonyms of terms. (ex. Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases)

Thesis - the predominating idea of a document, especially one to be discussed and proved or disproved.  Also, a research paper written as partial fulfillment of requirements for a degree.

Tilde - "an accent mark in the form of a wavy line (~) as used over letters in Spanish and Portuguese", often used in web addresses. (4)

Title-Page - the page at the beginning of a book which gives the full exact title of the book. This is the title that should be used in a citation.

Trade Journal - "a periodical restricted to the interests of a trade or industry…" (4)

Trademark – a brand name, symbol, or other device used to identify a company or service.

Truncation - using the root word with a truncation symbol in an online search to find all items containing that root and different endings. (Ex. word* (in certain databases) would find word, words, wording, etc.)


Unabridged - complete, not shortened, copy of the original work.

URL - Uniform Resource Locator - address used to locate remote servers on the Internet.


Venn Diagram - diagram using circles to represent sets, with the position and overlap of the circles indicating the relationships between the sets.

Verso - the backside of the title-page which usually gives the publication information needed for a citation.

Virtualization - the creation of a virtual (rather than actual fact) version of something, such as a server, a storage device, an operating system, or network resources

Volume - a book distinguished from others by having its own title-page and pagination and bound within a cover. All the issues of a periodical during a certain time period are often bound together to create a volume.

Voyager - this library's online catalog.


Web - World Wide Web - WWW - an interface, using hypertext, to the Internet. This interface allows you to jump from place to place on the Internet.

Wildcard - a symbol, such as a "?" used to represent any possible spelling within a word when doing a search in a database. (Ex. wom?n will find woman and women)


1.  Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972.

2. Thompson, Elizabeth H. A.L.A Glossary of Library Terms with a Selection of Terms in Related Fields. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1943.

3. Longley, Dennis and Michael Shain. Dictionary of Information Technology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1982.

4. Prytherch, Ray, ed. Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary. Brookfield, VT: Gower, 1984.