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Library Terms to Know

The following are definitions of terms you may find when using the library or library website.


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

Archives: (1) A space which houses historical or public records. (2) The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, ephemera, etc.

Ask Desk: The place in the library where you ask for help finding information. Also, referred to as a "reference desk" or "research desk."


Bibliography: A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. See also Reference.

Boolean operator: A word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. AND, NOT help to narrow search results; OR helps to broaden them.

Borrow Desk: The place in the library, where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also place a hold, report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there. Also called "Circulation."


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, which the Hunt Library uses, and Superintendent of Documents.

Catalog: A database listing and describing the books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. 

Circulation: See Borrow 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.

Compact shelving: Library shelving designed to maximize space by putting shelf ranges on tracks.

Copyright: The exclusive legal rights granted by a government to an author, editor, compiler, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to publish, produce, sell, or distribute copies of a literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or other work, within certain limitations (fair use and first sale). Copyright law also governs the right to prepare derivative works, reproduce a work or portions of it, and display or perform a work in public.

Course Reserves: Select books, articles, videos, or other materials that instructors set aside for students to read or view for a particular course. These materials are kept at the Borrow Desk in the Hunt Library and are loaned for 3 hours.

Cut-Away: An illustration of a mechanical device, physical structure, or other enclosed system in which the outer covering or wall is shown removed to reveal inner details.


Database: A searchable collection of information stored in an electronic format.

Document: A generic term for a single information resource. 

Document delivery: A service that retrieves or photocopies information sources for library users. Some libraries restrict document delivery services to distance education students, faculty members, or graduate students.

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

Due Date: The date of the last day of the loan period when an item is checked out at the BORROW Desk.  In the online catalog, the due date may be displayed to indicate the circulation status of an item currently checked out.


e-Journal: See Online Journal

EagleSearch: The Hunt Library's search interface, providing integrated access to multiple information resources (library catalog, subscription databases, etc.). Also, referred to as a "discovery service" or "discovery tool."


Full Text: An electronic resource that provides the entire text of a single work or of articles published in one or more journals, magazines, and/or newspapers.​


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 a library.​


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 from other libraries through your own library.​ See also Document delivery.​


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 Objects: Digital materials (videos, guides, interactive tutorials) with instructional value designed to assist with learning. 

Leisure Reading: A collection of contemporary fiction and popular non-fiction titles. 


Microfilm: 35mm film storing miniaturized text and/or microimages that can be magnified with a microfilm reader.


Online Journal: A digital version of a print journal, or a journal-like electronic publication with no print counterpart (example: eJournal), made available via the Web, e-mail, or other means of Internet access. Some Web-based electronic journals are graphically modeled on the print version.

Open Access (OA): Information content made freely and universally available via the Internet in easy to read format, usually because the publisher maintains online archives to which access is free or has deposited the information in a widely known open access repository.


Peer-reviewed: 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. A peer-reviewed journal is also called a "refereed journal".​

Periodical: An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. See also Serial.​

Primary Source: An original document or object created during the time period being studied.  Examples: a diary entry, interview, photograph, dataset. See also Secondary Source.


Recall: A request for the return of library material before the due date.

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.

Research Database: See Database.

Research Librarian: A librarian who helps answer questions posed by library patrons at a research desk, by telephone, e-mail, or via other means. A research librarian may also be called upon to provide instruction on the use of library resources and information technology. Also referred to as a "reference librarian."


Scholarly: Containing characteristics of serious, detailed academic learning and research.

Scholarly journal: A periodical devoted to disseminating original research and commentary on current developments in a specific discipline, subdiscipline, or field of study (example: Journal of Clinical Epidemiology), usually published in quarterly, bimonthly, or monthly issues sold by subscription.

Secondary Source: A source which provides interpretation, analysis, or commentary on evidence.  Examples: most books on a topic, scholarly articles, dissertations, essays, etc. See also Primary Source.

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.

Source: Any document that provides information sought by a writer, researcher, library user, or person searching an online catalog or bibliographic database. Also refers to a document that provides information copied or reproduced in another document, for example, a quotation or excerpt.

Special Collections: Some libraries segregate from the general collection rare books, manuscripts, papers, and other items that are (1) of a certain form, (2) on a certain subject, (3) of a certain time period or geographic area, (4) in fragile or poor condition, or (5) especially valuable. Such materials are not allowed to circulate and access to them may be restricted.

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.”

Subject Headings: Descriptions of an information source’s content assigned to make finding information easier.


Truncation: The dropping of characters and the addition of a symbol at the end, beginning, or within a word in a keywords search to retrieve variant forms. Truncation is particularly useful in retrieving the singular and plural forms of a word in the same search.  Example: *librar* to retrieve records containing "interlibrary," "intralibrary," "librarian," "librariana," "librarianship," "libraries," "library," etc.

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