Library Lingo

Does it ever feel like the library staff is speaking a different language than you? This web page defines some commonly-used library terms to help you understand librarians' jargon. For more information on how to use library resources or research specific subject areas, visit our Help Desk on the Ground floor.

abstract A brief summary of the contents of a journal article or book.

acquisition Ordering and purchase of materials being added to the Library's collection.

almanac A reference book, usually published annually, containing lists, charts and tables of useful factual and statistical information either on a wide variety of topics or a single subject.

annotation A critical or explanatory note, sometimes included in a bibliography or citation.

annotated bibliography A bibliography (see Bibliography) that includes a brief description of each article or book listed. The description should help the reader evaluate the content and usefulness of each item.

anthology A collection of works (poems, stories, articles) by various authors and collected in a single volume by an editor.

appendix A part of a written work, not essential to the completeness of the text, which contains complementary information such as statistical tables or explanatory material.

archives 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 value. Also the location where archival materials are kept. At AUS, the Archives Department is located on the 2nd floor of the library.

atlas A book of maps.

author A writer of a book, essay, story, play, poem or other work. Some works have two or more co-authors.

autobiography An account of one's life written by oneself. See also biography.

back issue Any issue of a periodical older than the most recent issue.

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, and read by a scanner when an item is checked out.

bibliographic record The description of a specific document, consisting of the title, statement of responsibility (author, editor, etc.), edition, type of publication, publisher, date and place of publication, physical description, series, notes, and standard numbers (ISBN, ISSN). A library's catalog record is a bibliographic description:

bibliography A list of citations to journal articles, books and other materials on a particular subject or by a particular author. A list of references given at the end of research reports, journal articles, and books.

biography An account of a person's life, written by another. The person who writes a biography is the biographer. The person written about is known as the biographee.

book return A place to return books borrowed from the library. The book return may be located outside the library or at the Circulation Desk in the library.

book trace A request by a user to library staff to look for a missing library item. If an item with the status "Available" can not be located in the library check with the Circulation Desk to complete a book trace form.

Boolean searching Using special commands (operators) to tell a database system how words being searched relate to one another. The three basic Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT. AND will narrow a search. OR will broaden a search. NOT will remove a concept from a search.

borrow To check out library materials.

bound periodical Older issues of periodicals that have been bound together as a book. This is done to preserve them and to make storage easier.

call number A unique location code that appears on the spine of a book or the front of a periodical or media item that tells you where the book should be found on the shelves. (e.g. Library of Congress call numbers)

catalog A catalog contains records, with detailed descriptions and location information, of the materials in a library collection. Catalog records for the AUS Library are accessible online.

check in To return library materials.

check out To borrow materials from a library for a fixed period of time. The maximum check out period varies among material type and also on the status of the borrower (faculty, graduate student, undergraduate, staff, alumni).

circulation Activities connected with the lending and return of library materials.

circulation desk Public service counter in the Library where you check out and return library materials. Questions about your library account, renewals, recalls, holds, reserves and requesting study rooms and media rooms are also handled here. The AUS Library Circulation Desk is located on the Ground Floor.

citation A reference or footnote to a book, article, or other material that contains all the information necessary to identify and locate the work. A book citation includes author, title, publisher and year of publication; a journal citation includes author, article title and periodical title, date, volume and page numbers of the particular article. This is the information you will need to write your bibliography.

citation index A special type of index which lists works cited in later works, with a list of the sources from which the citations were gathered. Used by researchers to locate sources related by subject to a previously published work (e.g., Science Citation Index).

classification A method of arranging materials like books or journals, often by topic. The AUS Library uses Library of Congress (LC) Classification for most materials. The use of classification allows library users to browse shelves to find additional items on the same or related subjects.

collected work A book of works by different authors (essays, stories, poems, plays) selected for publication by an editor.

copyright The legal right granted to an author, editor, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.

cross reference In a catalog or index, a direction that leads a user from one entry or subject heading to another.

current periodicals The most recent issues of a journal or magazine that a library has received.

database An organized collection of information stored in electronic form that can be searched by using a computer.

dictionary An alphabetical list of words and generally accepted definitions, etymologies, pronunciations, and other information. Some dictionaries are specialized (e.g., Dictionary of American Slang, Dictionary of Literary Terms).

directory A list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of a specific group of persons, companies, organizations, or publications.

due date The date on which materials must be returned to the library.

edition Some books are revised and republished. The new version may be called a "revised" or "second" edition. Later editions are numbered sequentially.

editor A person who selects, prepares, and compiles the works of other writers for publication.

electronic book (e-book) A digital version of a traditional print book designed to be read on a personal computer or an e-book reader (a software application for use on a standard-sized computer or a book-sized computer used solely as a reading device). The library offers access to ebooks through the online catalog.

electronic journal (e-journal) A Web site graphically modeled on an existing print journal, or which provides access to an online journal for which there is no print counterpart.

encyclopedia A reference book (sometimes in more than one volume) containing information on all subjects, or limited to a special field or subject. Many encyclopedias are also available online.

field A category of information, such as title, author, abstract or subject. A user can specify a field or fields in which the system should search for keywords or other terms.

fine A fee charged for keeping library materials past their due date, or for lost and damaged items.

full-text Refers to a database or other electronic resource which provides the entire text of the works it contains (e.g., journal articles), in addition to the citation and abstract of each work.

handbook A reference book that provides concise data and other information on a specific subject.

hardcopy Printed material, as opposed to information in microform or digital (electronic) format.

hold A service provided by the Library by which a user may request to be notified as soon as a book that has been checked out becomes available. The book is kept at the circulation desk for a limited period of time.

holdings All the materials (print, nonprint, and electronic) owned by a library.


iLearn An alternative Learning Management System (LMS) that many of your instructors have adopted to enhance your online learning experience.

index An alphabetical list of the names, places, and subjects discussed in a book and the page number(s) on which each subject is discussed.

information commons (IC) A new type of technology-enhanced collaborative facility on college and university campuses that integrates library and computer application services (information, technology, and learning) in a single floor plan. The Information Commons in the AUS Library is located on the Ground Floor and includes an IC Help Desk.

interlibrary loan (ILL) A service which allows current graduate students and faculty to request books and articles from other libraries if the material is not available at the AUS Library. Forms for requesting materials are available online.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number) A unique 10 or 13-digit number that is given to every book or edition of a book before publication to identify the publisher, the title, the edition, and volume number.

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) A unique 8-digit number that identifies a specific periodical title.

issue All the copies of a specific periodical title published on the same date.

journal A publication distributed periodically (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.), devoted to a specific field or subfield of knowledge. Journals usually contain scholarly articles written by professors, researchers, or experts in a subject area. Articles usually contain an abstract and a bibliography showing cited resources.

keyword A word used in searching catalogs and databases to describe a topic subject in a document.

librarian A professionally trained person responsible for the care of a library and its contents, including the selection, processing, and organization of materials, the delivery of information, instruction, and loan services to meet the needs of its users.

Library of Congress (LC) Established by Congress in 1800 to function as a research library for the legislative branch of the federal government, the Library of Congress eventually became the unofficial national library of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., LC houses a collection of over 120 million items and administers the U.S. copyright system, serving as the nation's copyright depository.

Library of Congress (LC) 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 and used for arranging the collections in the AUS Library.

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 (student, faculty, staff).


magazine A periodical intended for the general public rather than for scholars (e.g., Newsweek, Time, PC Magazine).

media Nonprint materials such as DVDs, videocassettes, and audio CDs. The Media Collection is located on the 1st floor of the AUS Library.

monograph A publication that appears one time only. Books or reports are usually monographs; periodicals are not.

newspaper A serial publication printed and distributed daily or weekly containing news, opinions, advertising, and other items of general interest. The AUS Library subscribes to several newspapers, both in hardcopy and online. Newspapers are located on the 1st floor in the leisure reading area. Online newspapers are accessible via the library webpage.

non-circulating Library materials that may not be checked out; they may only be used on-site in the library where they are housed.

nonprint Materials published in a format other than print on paper.

online Accessible via a computer or computer network. Generally synonymous with the words "automated," "computerized," or "electronic."

online catalog A searchable, computerized database of materials owned by a library and displaying information about the item, the call number and the location.

out of print (OP) A publication no longer obtainable through regular market channels because the publisher's inventory is exhausted, with no prospect of another printing in the foreseeable future.

OPAC An acronym for the term Online Public Access Catalog

overdue An item checked out that the borrower has kept past its due date. A library will usually charge a fine for overdue items.

patron record The data kept by a library's electronic system, containing information about a borrower's account (address, telephone number, items checked out, holds, unpaid fines, etc.).

peer reviewed journal A journal that contains scholarly articles which have been reviewed by a panel of professional colleagues before being accepted for publication.

periodical A publication with a unique title that is issued at an established interval (e.g., weekly, monthly or quarterly). Popular periodicals are called magazines and scholarly periodicals are called journals. Newspapers are also periodicals.

periodical index An alphabetical listing of magazine or journal articles.

plagiarism Using another person's work as your own and without attributing to the original author.

primary source A source which provides first-hand knowledge used in the preparation of a later, derivative work. Primary sources include correspondence, diaries and other personal papers, photographs, interviews and transcripts, government documents, historical records, and newspaper clippings. (See also secondary and tertiary sources).

processing A term that indicates an item has been received at the library but is not yet available on the shelves.


recall notice A request via email to return library materials before the date they are due, usually if another user places a hold on the item.

record Each item or document in a database. A record could be a citation, a table, or a complete full text document.

Library Help Desk / library help desk Service area on the ground floor where patrons can get help from reference librarians and student assistants in using the library, locating library materials, searching library databases and answering general questions.

reference librarian Reference librarians have a master's degree in library science. They can help you find materials needed for research, show you how to use online databases, and teach you about the research process.

reference material A document such as a dictionary, encyclopedia, or directory, that contains specific facts, data, or other brief bits of information. Reference material (books and media) do not circulate in order that they will always be available inside the Library.

renew To extend the loan period of a library book. Generally this is permitted unless another user has put a hold on the item.

reserves A service in which, upon request by faculty, certain library materials are temporarily assigned a much shorter loan period. The purpose of reserves is to ensure that all students taking a course will be able to share materials. Restrictions on the use of reserve materials may vary.

scholarly journal See peer reviewed journal

secondary source Secondary sources are interpretations and commentary on primary sources. Secondary sources may include biographies, dissertations, journal articles, and indexes or bibliographies used to locate primary & secondary sources. (See also primary sources, tertiary sources)

self-check out Stations located on the Ground Floor and 2nd floor which allow users to check out library materials.

serial A term that describes a wide range of publications that are issued in successive parts with no predictable end in sight. Magazines, journals, newspapers, annual reports, some conference proceedings, and annual reviews are all examples of serials.

Special Collections A room on the 1st floor with items whose value or content requires special handling but which is available to all AUS students and faculty. Students using the Special Collections Room must sign in (at the Circulation Desk) and agree to the policies governing access prior to using the collections.

student assistant A student employee who is trained to perform a number of specific library functions.

study rooms 20 group study rooms are located on the 1st floor and are equipped with whiteboards and data/power connections for laptops. These rooms are available to groups of two or more who need to work together.

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.

subject heading A standardized set of "topics", which improves search precision once the user determines the "approved" headings being used for their topic.

subject search Seeking information by topic (as opposed to author or title).The use of standardized subject headings assigned by the indexers.

subtitle The portion of a work's title following the semicolon or colon.

table of contents (TOC) A list of the contents of a printed publication in the order of their appearance, usually with page numbers as locators.

tertiary source Tertiary sources consist of information which is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources may include almanacs, encyclopedias, and fact books.


  1. a book of synonyms and sometimes antonyms.
  2. An alphabetical list of terms and concepts representing the specialized vocabulary of a particular field.
thesis A proposition advanced and defended in a formal disputation, especially by a candidate in partial fulfillment of university requirements for a master's degree. Master's theses can be located by searching the online library catalog.

truncation In database searching, the act of entering and searching for a root word, a word stem, or a string of letters by adding a symbol.

yearbook An annual documentary, historical, or memorial publication containing information about the previous year.



© 2011 American University of Sharjah. All Rights Reserved.