Glossary of Library Terms & Jargon

The abstract of an article is a brief summary of its contents. Abstracts can save you time by helping you identify the best articles on your topic.

Author(s): Corts, Thomas E. Title: Total Quality at Samford University Source: About Campus 2, no. 1 (Mar-Apr 1997): p. 11-17
Abstract: Relates a college president's efforts to use total quality management concepts at his school to achieve a university wide transformation. Describes how the program was conceived and ways in which personnel were trained and educated about quality. Discusses how quality principles were implemented and the effects of such actions.

A publication, usually an annual, containing useful facts and statistical information.

This is a compact storage area located in the lower level of the main library.   Also known as Compact Storage.

Unlike an abstract, which is an objective description or summary of a work, an annotation is a critical or subjective evaluation of a piece of work, usually included in a bibliography or citation.

A special collection or collections that house the records of organizations, governments, universities, etc. An archive can also contain collections of the personal papers of an individual or family, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, etc. Archives usually house materials of an historic nature. See also University Archives.

Sometimes referred to as a paper, an article is a brief composition on a subject, usually appearing in a magazine or journal. 

Article Index:
See Index

Audio-Visual Materials:
Audio-visual materials convey information mainly via sound and image instead of by text.  Although they may have some text, they are not meant to be strictly read.

The process of identifying an individual by a computer, usually based on a username and password.

Barcode Number:
The 14-digit number appearing beneath the barcode found inside the front or back cover of a book.

Bibliographic Record (BibRecord):
A record that describes an item in the collection; the bib record includes call number, author, title, publication information, paging, subject headings, etc.

A bibliography is a list of citations which appear at the end of a paper, article, chapter or book.  There are also books entirely made up of bibliographies. These are usually a compilation of citations on a particular subject or by a particular author.

Book Return:
A place to return books borrowed from the library. The book return is a box located in the front entrance of the library.

Boolean Operator or Boolean Logic:
Geoge Boole

George Boole
1815 - 1864

George Boole was an English mathematician who helped establish the modern field of mathematics called symbolic logic. Boolean logic uses words called operators. The three main operators are: AND, OR and NOT.

Databases use Boolean logic to locate only those items that match your search.

The blue areas in the following diagrams represent the number of hits you would receive from doing a search using the Boolean operators AND or OR in the same database:

using OR retrieves a large number of items:
using AND narrows the number of items returned:


browser war Browsers provide a graphical interface to information on the Web. They display pages written in HTML and make it possible for you to click on links to jump to other pages. This neat invention is called hypertext.

The most popular browsers are Netscape's Navigator/Communicator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). Regardless of which browser you choose, you can access the same information and can configure the software to match your personal preferences. Each browser interprets some HTML elements in its own way, so the same page might display differently, depending on which browser you use.

Call Number:

What are call numbers for?

Each book in the library has a unique call number. A call number is like an address: it tells us where the book is located in the library.

Call numbers on the spines of books and in the online catalog

Call numbers can be written from top-to-bottom, or left-to-right.

PN 1993.45 A75 1980 PN

The Samford University Library, like many academic libraries in the U.S., uses Library of Congress Classification for call numbers. This system uses a combination of letters and numbers to arrange materials by subjects.

Reading Call Numbers

Read call numbers line by line

Putting Call Numbers in Shelf Order

To understand how call numbers are put in order in Library of Congress Classification, again look at each section of the call number.

Different call numbers in order

What does the call number mean?

Remember that Library of Congress Classification arranges materials by subjects. The first sections of the call number represent the subject of the book. The letter-and-decimal section of the call number often represents the author's last name. And, as you probably recall, the last section of a call number is often the date of publication.

Lines of call number and explanation

Why is this important to know?
Because books are classified by subject, you can often find several helpful books on the same shelf, or nearby. For example, within the same call number PN1993, there are other books on film.

Similar books shelved together

Since Library of Congress Classification arranges materials by subjects, knowing the letter(s) for your subject area gives you a place to start browsing the shelves.

A catalog is a compilation of records describing the contents of a particular collection or group of collections. For example, the Samford University Libraries Catalog has records for the items held by Samford University Libraries and the OCLC WorldCat catalog lists the holdings of books, journals, and other materials held by OCLC member libraries all over the world.

A catalog can also be a list of items published by a certain body. The GPO Monthly Catalog contains records of reports, studies, fact sheets, maps, handbooks, conference proceedings, etc. issued by all U.S. federal government agencies and the U.S. Congress.

The library also often owns publisher's catalogs and product catalogs that list items available or for sale. For example, Books in Print lists books currently published in the United States along with their prices.

A thin disk (Compact Disk Read Only Memory) which holds thousands of pages of information. In the library, some journal indexes and other reference sources are available on CD-ROM. They may be quickly and conveniently searched at computer workstations in the Reference area.

Check out/Charge out:
The process of borrowing materials from the library. In order to charge out materials the user must present a Samford University identification card to a staff person at the circulation desk along with the materials to be charged out.

Circulation Desk:
The circulation desk is the place to check out, return or renew books. The staff can also help you locate items that you cannot find. You pay overdue fines at this desk too.

citation for not citing

Citations, in the research world, have nothing to do with traffic tickets. Instead, citations identify published information in order to locate that item again. Citations of articles often include the author, title, magazine or journal name, page numbers and publication information. Citations of Web documents also include a URL and the day the information was accessed.

The list of the sources you used when researching your paper is called a bibliography. These sources are listed in citation format and follow an established style, such as MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association) or Chicago Manual of Style. The bibliography allows others who read your work to verify facts or research the same information more easily.

Compact Storage:
See Annex

Directions that lead you from one subject or name to another in a catalog or index.  For example: Groundwater SEE Water, Underground

A database provides a way of organizing information so that you can easily find what you are looking for. Some types of databases are:

Print Databases
The index of a book is a print index. It allows you to go quickly to a topic in the book. A phone book is another type of print database.

Electronic Databases
We usually think of searchable electronic indexes and catalogs when we refer to databases. The Samford Libraries Catalog, InfoTrac OneFile, and ABI/Inform are examples of electronic databases. They let you quickly go to a topic in books or periodicals.

In an electronic database each article or book has its own record, which provides information about it.

Each record is composed of individual pieces of information called fields. Fields include such information as the author, title, publisher, subject heading, etc. for that item. Each of these fields is a searchable access point to the information.

Due Date:
The date is stamped on a card that is placed in a pocket located in the back of the book that tells when the book must be returned to the library. If the book is needed longer, a renewal may be requested. If books are returned late, a fine is charged. On occasion, you will be asked to bring back a book earlier than the original due date because it is
needed by someone else. Otherwise, referred to as a recall.

Electronic Journal:
A publication, often scholarly, that is made accessible in a computerized format and distributed over the Internet. An electronic journal or e-journal may have a traditional paper counterpart or historical antecedent.

A reference source containing information on a variety of topics. This information may be supplied in short paragraphs or in lengthy articles that include citations to other works on the same topic. Encyclopedias can be general - covering all topics, or specialized - focusing on a particular discipline such as art or philosophy.

Citations for books and articles provide basic information such as the author of the work, its title, publication information and so on. Each of these types of information is called a field and can be used to search a particular part of the record. For example, when you use an author search you are searching only the author field. Keyword searches give you the option of searching all the fields at the same time.

keyword fields

Full text:
full text

The complete electronic text of an article is called the full text. Some databases, like InfoTrac Onefile and Academic Search Elite, provide entire articles online.

What if there are pictures or graphs with the article that you want to see?

Sometimes pictures originally published with the article are not available in the full text. In these cases, you can sometimes get the print copy from the library or look for the PDF format of the full text. The PDF full text will include the article plus any graphs, charts, pictures and text.

Government Documents:
These items are often shelved separately and are arranged by Superintendent of Documents number, based on the agency issuing the document.

A library user may place a hold on a book charged out to another person; this ensures that the person placing the hold will be next in line to receive the book when the book is returned.  Holds may be placed either by the user in the Samford Libraries Catalog or in person at the Circulation Desk.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is programming language used in the creation of Web pages.

Transparent linkage of textual documents to other related documents on the World Wide Web.

An index is a guide to the contents of a file, document, or a group of documents.  An index is used to point to the contents of something. For example, there are indexes in the back of books that describe and point to the contents of that book. There are also very large indexes that describe the contents of journals and give you enough information to locate an article in a journal. Indexes are usually arranged by subject, author or keyword. They can come in both paper and electronic form.

Interlibrary Loan:
Interlibrary loan is a mechanism for different libraries to share materials. Despite the size and comprehensiveness of the collections, scholars may require materials that the Samford University Libraries does not own. You may make arrangements to borrow library materials, principally books, from other libraries in North America or to obtain photocopies of journal articles for individual scholarly research. If, in consultation with a reference librarian, you find that you cannot obtain an item you need at Samford, you should discuss the policies and timing of making an interlibrary loan request. 

Interlibrary loan request forms can be located at the reference desk in the University Library or by using the Interlibrary Loan forms that can be found in the Interlibrary Loan/Resource Retrieval section of the library's web page.


the Internet

The Internet is a global network, connecting many smaller individual networks. For example, a computer in your room is connected to another computer on campus. All the departments on campus are then connected to a larger network in your state. The statewide network is connected to regional, national and international networks.

The Internet is also a set of "protocols" that allow you to communicate with people, move files between computers, and find and share information. The protocols you are likely to use are:

  • email - for communicating with people across the Internet
  • http - (hypertext transfer protocol) for making Web pages accessible
  • telnet - for logging into other computers such as databases and host computers
  • ftp - (file transfer protocol) for transferring files from one computer to another across the Internet

International Standard Book Number. A unique 10 digit code assigned to a specific edition of a book before it is published.

International Standard Serial Number. A unique 8 digit code assigned to the specific title of a serial.

Although the terms periodical, journal, serial, and magazine have slightly different definitions, you will likely hear them used interchangeably. These are works that come out on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, annually) and contain articles written by various authors.

A journal contains peer reviewed articles written by scholars while a magazine contains more popular articles often written by journalists. The terms periodical and serial are more generic and refer to all types of these materials.

Keyword Searching:
A keyword search directs the computer to look for a word or a combination of words from the author, title, or subject fields in a record.

Library of Congress Classification:

Many academic libraries use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) which are divided into 21 branches of knowledge represented by letters:

A - General works
B - Philosophy
C - Auxiliary sciences of history
D - History (general)
E-F - History (Americas)
G - Geography
H - Social sciences
J - Political science
K - Law
L - Education

M - Music
N - Visual arts
P - Language and literature
Q - Science
R - Medicine
S - Agriculture
T - Technology
U - Military science
V - Naval science
Z - Bibliography; library science

Each branch is divided into more specific topics represented by combinations of letters and numbers. For example, the book Teleworking has the call number HD 2336.3 B523 1995:
H - Social sciences and business
HD - Economic history and conditions
2321 - 4730 - Industry
2331 - 2336 - Household Industry
2336.3 - Telecommuting

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):
The multi-volume set, Library of Congress Subject Headings, is an alphabetic guide to and list of the official subject headings used for searching in the Libraries Catalog. This set is located in the Reference Unit.

Loan Period:
The amount of time you may borrow a book or other item from the library. The time varies depending on the type of material borrowed and the status of the borrower.

A field found in the online catalog on the bibliographic record that is used to denote the location of an item.  Some locations are Reference, Special Collection, Microfiche, Law Library, DIC (Drug Information Center), and Periodicals.

Although the terms periodical, journal, serial and magazine have slightly different definitions, you will likely hear them used interchangeably. These are works that come out on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, annually) and contain articles written by various authors.

A journal contains peer reviewed articles written by scholars while a magazine contains more popular articles often written by journalists. The terms periodical and serial are more generic and refer to all types of these materials.

Documents or written compositions, such as letters or diaries, which have not been printed. Often, an author's written (or typed) original "copy" as distinguished from a printed or published version of the same material.

Films, tapes and other audio-visual materials that require the use of special listening or viewing equipment.

A term used to describe documents which have been photographed or filmed. Microforms require you to use special reader machines. Common formats for microforms are microfilm and microfiche.

Russian nesting dolls Nesting keeps concepts that are alike together and tells a search engine to search the terms in the parentheses first. Use parentheses to group concepts when you use two or more connectors.

alcohol AND (adolescents OR teenagers)

This search will retrieve records on alcohol and adolescents, as well as items on alcohol and teenagers.

OCLC WorldCat:
This database is an online catalog of the holdings of books, journals, and other materials held by thousands of OCLC member libraries. (OCLC is Online Computer Library Center.)

Acronym for Online Public Access Catalog. See Online Catalog.

Online Catalog:
An electronic or digitized version of a library's card catalog. It is the database that contains records that refer to the many materials held by the Samford University Libraries.

Online Database:
An electronic database of either full-text documents or citations and abstracts which can be searched by an Internet connection using a browser.

Periodicals Publications which are issued at least twice a year, including journals, magazines, and newspapers are called periodicals. "Current periodicals" are those which have recently arrived. In the Samford University Library they are on open shelves on the First Floor, except for current Theology periodicals which are on the Second Floor. "Bound periodicals" are back issues that are shelved on the First Floor and in the Annex's compact shelves on the Lower Level.

Periodical Index:
A periodical index (also known as an article database) is a guide to the contents of periodicals. Some periodical indexes are general in coverage while others focus on a particular subject like psychology, economics, or history. Periodical indexes can be arranged in numerous ways: by author, title of the article or subject. You would use a periodical index to find if there are articles about a certain topic or by a certain author. You would then have to go to the periodical itself to find the full article. Examples of periodical indexes are PsycINFO, EconLit, and America, History and Life.

Peer-reviewed Article:
The article has been reviewed by other scholars before publication.

Popular and Scholarly Sources:
Click here to check out a handy table to discern whether an article is scholarly or popular.

Primary Source:
Original works in various media formats such as original manuscripts or reprints of original manuscripts, letters, diaries, documents, books, films, posters, play scripts, speeches, songs, sheet music, photographs, drawings, and first-person accounts that are created at the time an event occurred.

To recall a library item means to ask for it to be returned from a patron who currently has it checked out. Go to the Circulation for more information about recalls.

A record is what you retrieve when you search a database. It can be made up of various pieces of information. These pieces of information can be separated into fields. In a periodical index, which is a database of article citations, each citation is also called a record.

Refereed Journal:
A publication, usually scholarly, in which articles are reviewed by a panel before being accepted for publication.

Reference Desk/Reference Collection:
The reference desk is the place where librarians answer questions, give directions, and guide patrons through their research. Often, there is a reference collection of books, computers, and other resources located near the reference desk. Librarians and patrons use these print and electronic materials to help find answers to questions and to help in the research process. A few examples of items found in a reference collection are dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, and almanacs.

Reference Librarian:
Reference librarians are specialists in the field of information retrieval. They have a Masters degree in library science, and many have other graduate degrees as well. They are available at reference desks to help you find the information you are looking for.

An extension of the loan period for checked out library materials. Renewals may be handled in person at the circulation desk or by phone.

A selection of specific books, periodical articles and other materials which faculty have indicated students must read for a particular course. These materials are usually kept together in one area of the library and circulate for a short period of time only. Each library has its own reserve system.  Reserves are located at the Circulation Desk in the main library.

Search Strategy:
A systematic process used to find the most relevant information on a topic. During this process, one considers all potentially useful reference sources, selects works appropriate for the research need, locates information, and evaluates the information found.

Secondary Source:
Works that are not original manuscripts or contemporary records or documents associated with an event, but which critique, comment on, or build upon these primary sources.

See Also:
A referral to an additional source of information often found in catalogs or glossaries.  For example: Dog: See also Canine.

Although the terms periodical, journal, serial and magazine have slightly different definitions, they are often used interchangeably. These are works that come out on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, annually) and contain articles written by various authors.

A journal contains peer reviewed articles written by scholars while a magazine contains more popular articles often written by journalists. The terms periodical and serial are more generic and refer to all types of these materials.

Special Collection:
The Special Collection department is located on the lower level of the library and houses original as well as secondary materials. The collection focuses primarily on Alabama and the Southeastern United States, including a large resource for Alabama Baptist materials. The department also maintains the Albert Casey Collection, an Irish Historical Collection, primarily focusing on the counties Cork and Kerry. Other materials housed in the collection include church materials, congregational and regional records, maps, local historical and genealogical periodicals, newspapers, census records, family histories, and various audiovisuals. The Special Collection also serves as the archive for Samford University and Howard College. A brief overview of the collection can be viewed on the Special Collection Holdings page.

Stacks or stack area refer to the space in a library where the majority of library materials are shelved. Often the stacks are made up of multiple floors and contain many rows of shelving units.

Subject Headings:
Words or phrases assigned to books and articles which are used to index these items by topic. The Samford University Libraries use the Library of Congress subject headings.

A list of all the subject headings or descriptors used in a particular database, catalog, or index.


Truncation is like a wildcard. Added to the stem of a word, it will find that stem plus anything that comes after it. The symbol used to truncate a word depends upon the index, database, or Web search engine you are using.

psychol? will return records on psychology, psychological, psychologist.
? is used as the truncation symbol, for example, in ABI/Inform.
environ* will return records on environment, environments, environmental.
* is used as the truncation symbol in Academic Search Elite and InfoTrac OneFile.

Uniform Resource Locator, or web address. Usually in the form of http://host.subdomain.  Example:

University Archives:
University Archives, located in the Special Collection in the main library, collects and preserves records of historical, legal, fiscal, or administrative value to Howard College and Samford University. Holdings include official records and reports of the university, its officers, and component parts; private papers of faculty, students, staff, and alumni; official and student publications; maps and architectural records; audiovisual materials including still photographs and negatives, motion picture film, oral history interviews, and audio and video tapes; and artifacts and ephemera documenting Samford's history.  See Special Collection.

Vertical File:
A collection of materials such as pamphlets, newspaper clippings, brochures, or pictures, which because of their shape and often their ephemeral nature, are filed in drawers or cabinets for easy reference.

Web Browser:
See Browser

World Wide Web:
The Web is only one part of the Internet. It is a collection of information of miscellaneous documents, articles, opinions, stories, art, sounds and animations stored on Web servers, that you can access with a Web browser.

The cool thing is that information on the Web is just as likely to be located on a computer next door or across the country as it is on a computer on the other side of the planet.