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Syracuse University Libraries

Glossary of Library Terminology: Home

Glossary of Library Terminology

Confused by library terms? Consult the list below for help. 

Contact your Subject Librarian or Ask Us for additional guidance.

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Definitions provided by the Instruction Section of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). Additional definitions provided by Libraryspeak: A Glossary of Terms in Librarianship and Information Management. Mary Mortimer. Friendswood, TX: TotalRecall Publications, 2007.



Abstract: A summary or brief description of the content of another longer work such as a book or article. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work.

Archives: 1. A space which houses historical or public records, usually of an institution or organization. 2. The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, ephemera, etc.; these are also known as special collections. 3. In the electronic medium, often used to refer to the “back files”, or older volumes and issues of journals. For more information, visit our University Archives or the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC).

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.

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.

Booking: a reservation to use an item on a specific day for a specific period of time, as for Audio and Video material or Study Rooms.

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.


Call number: A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents.

Catalog (known as Classic Catalog at Syracuse University Libraries): A database (either online or on paper cards) 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. For more information, visit our Classic Catalog.

Center for Learning and Student Success (CLASS): Located on the lower level of Bird Library, CLASS provides and facilitates academic support services for students, including individual and small group tutoring, academic coaching, referral and academic integrity education, training and administration.

Check-out: To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen to, or view it. Check-out periods vary by library. Items can be checked out at the 1st floor and 3rd floor Check Out desks in Bird Library, the Self-Check Out machine on the 1st floor of Bird Library, the service desk at the Carnegie Library and the Self-Check machine on the 2nd floor of Carnegie, and the service desk at the King + King Architecture Library (Slocum Hall).

Circulation: The place in the library, often a desk, where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there. At the Syracuse University Libraries, circulation is referred to the Check-out Desk.

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 includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication.

Controlled vocabulary: Standardized terms used in searching a specific database. See also Descriptor.

Course management system (CMS): Integrated online applications that allow users to view and complete class materials and post messages, which facilitate discussion beyond the classroom. Also referred to as a “Learning Management System” or “Course Management Software.” Blackboard is Syracuse University’s course management system.

Course reserve: 1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to select books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course or other academic use. Students can generally borrow these materials for shorter periods of time (for example, 3 hours, 24 hours), in order to allow multiple students to access them throughout the week. 2. Also, the physical location within a library where materials on reserve are kept. At the Syracuse University Libraries, some course reserve materials can be found by visiting the Check-Out desk at Bird Library, while others are at the Check-Out desk at Carnegie Library. For more information, visit our Course Reserves.


Database: A collection of information stored in an electronic format that can be searched by a computer. For more information, visit the Syracuse University Libraries’ list of databases.

Descriptor: A word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases. A type of Controlled Vocabulary. See also Controlled VocabularySubject Heading.

Digital Scholarship Space (DSS): A workshop, laboratory and classroom space designed for the study and creation of digital artifacts and experiences. The DSS maximizes flexibility in response to emerging digital practices. It supports software design, game study and development, statistical analysis and data visualization, digital mapping, and digital humanities projects across a variety of disciplines. For more information, visit the Digital Scholarship Space or email

Dissertation: An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate.

Document delivery: 1. A service for library patrons to request scans of full articles or book chapters. 2. It could also retrieve physical items from the stacks and deliver them to faculty at their academic department offices. See also Hold. For more information, visit our Delivery Services.

DOI: Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object. Often assigned to articles in scholarly journals.


E-book (or Electronic book): An electronic version of a book that can be read on a computer or mobile device.

Editor: A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under the editor's name may be one option in searching.

Edition: 1. Some annual publications are issued in numbered or dated editions; the holdings information indicates what the Library owns.  2. Monographs may be issued in subsequent editions following the original publication. Editions may be numbered, or designated as new, revised, etc. The subsequent editions in some way update, expand, or correct the original.

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.

Experts@Syracuse: The local instance of Pure, a research and information management system (RIM). It is administered by Libraries and Office of Research to identify faculty expertise and collaborative opportunities across campus.


Finding aid: 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records or a manuscript collection. - 2. A description that provides physical and intellectual control over such materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials. For more information, visit our Special Collections Research Center finding aids search.

Flash drive: A small portable device for storing computerized information. A flash drive, sometimes called a thumb drive, can plug into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of any computer and store electronic information. See also Thumb drive.

Full text: The complete text of an article or book online. 


Genre/Form: Differs from subject headings in describing what an item is, rather than what it is about. For example, Form is defined as a characteristic of works with a particular format and/or purpose. A "short" is a particular form, for example, as is "animation." Genre refers to categories of works that are characterized by similar plots, themes, settings, situations, and characters. Examples of genres are westerns and thrillers. In the term Horror films "horror" is the genre and "films" is the form.


Hold: A request to have an item saved (put aside) to be picked up later. Holds can generally be placed on any regularly circulating library material in-person or online.

Holdings: The materials owned by the Library. For multi-volume titles (periodicals, serials, multi-part monographs), holdings refer to the volumes of the title owned by the Library. Not all serials and monographic sets are complete; the volume holdings (under Library has: in the classic catalog) guide users to what we actually have available onsite. For periodicals, volumes not available in print may be available in another format, such as online or microform; check the catalog for additional records for different versions.


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.

Interlibrary Loan: A service that allows you to borrow materials, not available at your library, from other libraries.Libraries also lend items to other libraries through Interlibrary Loan. Also referred to as ILL. For more information, visit Interlibrary Loan.


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


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.


Learning management system: See also Course Management System.

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. Also referred to as "filters" or "refinements."


Magazine: A publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Manuscript collection: A collection of personal or family papers. Although manuscript literally means handwritten, 'manuscript collection' is often used to include collections of mixed media in which unpublished materials predominate. They may also include typescripts, photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, news clippings, and printed works. Manuscript collections are often described in a finding aid, housed in an archive, and restricted to use in a reading room. For more information, visit our Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) or our University Archives.

Microform: A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer.

Monograph: A single work that stands alone as opposed to a serial. May be a print book or an ebook.

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. For more information, visit our Newspaper Databases research guide.


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 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.”


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. See also Refereed journalScholarly journal.

Periodical: An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journalsmagazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. See also Serial. To search for periodicals provided by the Syracuse University Libraries, visit our Journal Locator.

Permalink: A link that will return you to the same page every time you click the link.

Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source.

Plotter: A printer that will print posters.

Primary source: An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation.

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. See also Authentication.

Publisher: An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.


QR code: Abbreviation for Quick Response code. A two-dimensional bar code that is made of small squares in a unique pattern. QR codes allow users to connect to additional resources through mobile devices. 


Reading room: A secure space designed for patrons to work with archives or special collections material. Also called reference room, research room, search room. For more information, visit our Special Collections Research Center (SCRC).

Record: 1. A written or printed work of a legal or official nature that may be used as evidence or proof; a document. - 2. Data or information that has been fixed on some medium; that has content, context, and structure; and that is used as an extension of human memory or to demonstrate accountability. - 3. Data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference. Collections of records are often described in a finding aid, housed in an archive, and restricted to use in a reading room. For more information, visit our Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) or our University Archives.

Refereed journal: See also 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 and Journals to students researching from home, office, or other locations outside the library. See also Authentication. For more information, visit our page on Working Off Campus.

Renewal: An extension of the loan period for library materials. To renew library materials that you have borrowed, log in to your Library Account or contact the circulation staff at 315-433-5727.

Request: A transaction to access a specific resource or a hold for an item. See also Hold

Research guide: An online web page, created by librarians and library staff, which collects and lists helpful research tools and specialized resources for specific academic subject areas, topics, or courses. Also sometimes referred to as subject guides or libguides. For more information, visit our Research Guides.

Reserve: 1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to course-related materials such as books, audio-visual materials, current newspapers or magazines. 2. Also, the physical location—often a service desk or room—within a library where materials on reserve are kept.

Resource Type: The format in which a particular resource is available. For example: Print Book, eBook, Journal, Article, Dissertations & Theses, Newspaper Article, Review, DVD, Microform, Government Document, etc.


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, titlesubject 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.

Special collections: a collection of materials that is treated in a special way because of its subject matter, age, value, etc. Examples include institutional archives, manuscript collections, or corporate records. These items are typically not available to check out and must be used in an on-site reading room. For more information, visit our Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) or our University Archives.

Stacks: Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. May be referred to as “book stacks.”

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. For more information, visit our Citation Guide.

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

Subject librarian: A librarian who specializes in a certain subject area(s). Subject librarians support the research needs of specific campus departments and programs, and to the students and faculty within them.

Summon: Summon is a search engine for most of the Syracuse University Libraries’ collections and other resources beyond the SU Libraries. It includes articles, books, journals, maps, sound recordings, archival materials, government documents, and more.

Superintendent of Documents: The Superintendent of Documents is in charge of the dissemination of information at the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and is accomplished through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The Cataloging and Indexing system is known as the Superintendent of Documents classification system, or SuDocs.

Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE): Housed on the 2nd floor of Bird Library, SOURCE serves as cross-campus resource to assist students, at all levels, learn about how to get involved in faculty-led research activity and develop research skills. 

SU Libraries Facility: A high-density storage facility on South Campus housing some of the Libraries’ Collections. Items stored in the Facility can be requested through the catalog and will be delivered to the Bird Check Out desk within 1 busness day.


Thesis: A written work prepared for the award of a diploma or degree, especially a post-graduate degree.

Thumb Drive: See also Flash drive.

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


Uniform Resource Locator (URL): The unique address for a Web page which is used in citing it. 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. At Syracuse University, the user ID is the same as your NetID.


Virtual reference: A service allowing library users to ask questions through email, text message, or live-chat (or instant message) as opposed to coming to the Information Desk at the library and asking a question in person. Also referred to as “online reference” or “e-reference.” To contact us virtually, just Ask Us!

Virtual Private Network (VPN): Virtual Private Network (VPN): A secure computer network for the exchange of confidential information. VPN (virtual private network) software allows you to connect your computer to the campus network as if you were physically attached to the network when on campus. Use of the VPN does not provide access to licensed library resources. To use the client VPN, you will need to download and install a small application. For more information, visit the SU ITS page on the SU Remote Access Tool (SURA).


Wireless: The name given to any electronic device that sends messages through space via electric or electromagnetic waves instead of via power cords.


Additional Resources

The Association of College & Research Libraries provides a Glossary of Library Terminology Table in seven languages, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Vietnamese: Multilingual Language Table

Web Accessibility and Emerging Technology Librarian