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Library Terminology: English Definitions

This guide provides basic definitions of words used in libraries in English, French, German, and Spanish.

Library Terminology

These definitions are also available in:
French | German | Spanish



This can be used in three ways.

  1. A short summary of an article in a scholarly journal. It usually appears at the beginning of the article.
  2. An index to journal articles that not only provides citations to the articles, but also gives a brief summary of each.
  3. A summary of a paper presented at a conference. The full text of the paper may or may not be published.


Public records or historical documents, or the place where such records and documents are kept.


An essay or research report, usually brief, published in a document that contains several such works. Examples of resources that contain articles include magazines, journals, newspapers, and encyclopedias.


Information presented in a form other than words printed on paper.Examples include films, compact discs, audio tapes, and videos. Also called media. In the Lee Library, most of these materials are located in the Media Center, on Level 4.

Bar Code

A small white label with closely spaced black stripes that can be read by a computer. Bar codes on books and other materials are used to check out these items from the library.


This can be used in two ways.

  1. A compilation of citations used while doing research for an article or book. A bibliography is normally placed at the end of the work, with entries arranged alphabetically by author.
  2. A publication that consists of a list of books, articles, and other works on a particular topic.

Boolean Operators

Words (specifically AND, OR, and NOT) that may be used to join or arrange keywords in a search statement in order to narrow or expand the search.

Bound Periodical

Several issues of a journal or magazine that are fastened together between hard covers so that they resemble a book.

Call Number

A number given to each book acquired by the library. Every book has a unique call number, much like every house in a city has its own address. The first portion of a Library of Congress call number (one or two letters followed by a few numerals) is the "name" of the "street"; the second portion (following the period) is the "house number."

A call number can be written either horizontally or vertically, like this:

E77 .N62 1996


You can find a book's call number in the library catalog. By consulting an appropriate library map you can then locate the book's general "neighborhood" and go to that area to find its exact location.

All library items have call numbers, including periodicals, microforms, maps, and audiovisual materials.

Check Out

To borrow materials from the library. This is done at the circulation desk, on Level 3. You will need your student identification card to check out library materials. You may sometimes hear this procedure called "charge out."

Check In

To return borrowed materials to the library. This is done by bringing the items to one of the security counters next to the main entrances. You may sometimes hear this procedure called "discharge."

Circulation Desk

The counter where you borrow books and other library materials, renew items that you have checked out, place a hold on items already checked out, and so forth. In the Lee Library this is located on Level 3, about 20 meters past the entrances.


Complete information about a specific item. A citation for a book includes author, title, place of publication, publisher, and year. A citation for an article in a periodical includes author, title of the article, title of the periodical, volume number, pages, and date.

A single citation is sometimes called a "reference." A group of citations gathered together is usually called a bibliography.

Compact Shelving

Library stacks that can be moved to eliminate the aisles between them, so that more materials can be stored in a small area. A shelf section may be moved electronically by pushing a button at the end of the unit. In the Lee Library, compact shelving is used in the Periodicals area and in Government Documents.


The legal protection granted to authors, composers, and others to allow them to control the reproduction and distribution of their works. Almost all books, articles, and other library materials are copyrighted. Generally speaking, it is legal for you to make one copy of an article, or a portion of a book or other item, for your personal research use. However, you should not make more than one copy, or create computerized versions of them without permission from the copyright holder. If you have questions about copyright, ask a librarian for help.

Course Reserve

A collection of materials set aside by professors for use by students in particular classes. Due to high use, loan periods for course reserve materials are very short, usually for two hours or overnight. A large fee will be assessed for keeping an item past its duedate.


An electronic collection of information, often of citations to materials on a particular subject.


This can be used in three ways.

  1. Materials published by governments or governmental agencies, often referred to as "Government Documents." These may be produced by nations (the United States, Canada), by individual states within the U.S., or by international organizations such as the United Nations.
  2. In a broader sense, any historical material, such as a letter, a deed, a marriage certificate, or other first-hand or eye-witness testimony, is a "document."
  3. As a verb, "to document" means to record all the items used in doing your research, to compile a bibliography.

Due Date

The date stamped in the back of the book that reminds you when it must be returned to the library. If you need to use the book for a longer time, you may renew it. If a book is returned after its due date, you will have to pay a fine.

e-Book or e-Journal(or e-Anything)

The "e" means "electronic." These are books, journal articles, images or other information sources that are available on CD-ROMs, on the World Wide Web, or through other computerized means.


The larger of two categories of oversized books housed in special shelving to accommodate their size.

Full-Text(also 'full text' or 'fulltext')

An article or book that is available electronically in its entirety. A computerized abstract is not the full text of an article or book.


A library search term used to find examples of a type of literature instead of books about that topic found through a subject search, i.e. fantasy, mystery, etc .

Group Study Room

A small room available for use by students to study together as a group.The Lee Library provides about 40 of these rooms, the largest of which can accommodate 12 students. To reserve a room, click on "Group Study Rooms" on the library website.


A request that an item checked out to someone else will be saved for you when it is returned to the library. You may "place a hold" on an item at the circulation desk.


This term often applies solely to the issues of a magazine or journal owned by the library, but it can also refer to all the materials (books, periodicals, audiovisual resources, databases, etc.) in the library's collections.


ID is an abbreviation for "identification." When using your ID for BYU or Lee Library services, you must also use a password--a short combination of letters and/or numbers known only to you--to prevent people from using your account without your permission.Your library ID and password are the same as your Route Y Net ID and Password. You get these (and can change them both) by clicking on the Route Y image on the main BYU Web page.


See Interlibrary Loan.

In Process

When you see "in process" on a record in the library catalog, it means that the item is not yet available for you to use, but should be soon.If you need the item quickly, you may place a priority cataloging request at any reference desk.


This can be used in two ways.

  1. A list of subjects discussed in a book, usually printed at the end of the book.
  2. A list of journal articles arranged by subject and/or author. The Lee Library has indexes of this second type on many different subjects. Talk to a librarian at a reference desk for assistance in finding appropriate indexes.

Interlibrary Loan

Getting materials such as a book or a copy of an article from another library. At BYU we use a computerized system called ILLiad. You can use this service by clicking on "Interlibrary Loan" on the library's website.


A periodical that contains scholarly articles written by professors, researchers, or other experts in a subject area. An abstract and a bibliography may appear with each article in a journal.


A word that you use in order to find an item when searching an electronic database. Keywords are not the same as subject headings, and often are not as effective in locating relevant documents. Using a thesaurus can help identify appropriate search words.

Library Catalog

The central list or index of materials in the Lee Library. It is also called the "Online Catalog."

Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings

Words or phrases used by the U. S. Library of Congress to divide knowledge into subjects and sub-topics. The Lee Library uses these terms to arrange books on the shelves. The complete list of subject headings is published in five large red volumes, often called "LCSH" or sometimes just "the big red books." Copies are located at most reference desks.

Loan Period

The length of time library books and other items may be borrowed. The time varies depending on the type of material and whether you are an undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty, or staff.

Locked Case

A collection of circulating library materials housed in a closed room to prevent mutilation, theft, or other loss.


A periodical intended for general-interest reading rather than for scholarly research. An abstract and a bibliography will rarely appear with an article in a magazine.


This can be used in two ways.

  1. As a synonym for audiovisual, to describe materials that are something other than books or periodicals.
  2. In a broader sense, "media" can refer to almost any information resource, as in "the news media" that includes newspapers, radio, television, magazines, etc.


Books, articles, or other items that are printed in miniaturized form on rolls or sheets of transparent plastic. Those that are in long rolls are called "microfilm," while those that are on small rectangular sheets are called "microfiche." Each of these requires special machines to be used in order to read their contents.

On Order

A book that has been ordered from the publisher but has not yet been received.When it arrives, the library catalog will note that it is "in process" so you can request that it be rushed to you.


A book (or any other library item) that has not been returned by the due date. You will pay a fine for all items that are overdue.


Books too tall or long to fit in regular shelving.


See ID.


A publication that appears on a regular basis. Examples include newspapers (daily or weekly), magazines, and journals.


The smaller of two categories of oversized books housed in special shelving to accommodate their size.


To request that a book already checked out to someone else be returned to the library prior to its due date. You may ask for a recall by filling out a form at the circulation desk on Level 3. When the book is returned to the library, it will be set aside for you and you will be notified.


See citation.

Reference Desk

A place where librarians give you directions, answer your questions, and show you how to find and use materials. The Lee Library has several reference desks. Each is staffed most hours that the library is open.


To extend the due date for materials borrowed from the library.

Search Engine

A program on the World Wide Web used to find information using search terms or keywords. Some of the largest and best known are Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, and Lycos.


A publication that is issued in successive parts, usually at regular intervals. Examples include periodicals, journals, magazines, newspapers, annual reports, series, some conference proceedings, and annual reviews.

Sorting Shelves

Areas of the stacks used by library employees to sort and organize books in order to return them to their proper locations.If a book is not on a shelf where it should be, you may be able to find it by looking at the sorting shelves nearby.

Special Collections

Library materials that are not part of the open stacks. Most of these are items other than normal books and periodicals, such as rare books, manuscripts, photographs and historical artifacts that require special care and attention. In the Lee Library the Special Collections area is on the north end of Level 1. Materials in Special Collections may be used only within that section of the library.


The shelves that hold the library's books. In the Lee Library, the stacks are located on all Levels (1 - 5). At BYU, as in most American libraries, the stacks are "open." You may take books directly from the stacks; you do not need to ask a librarian to get the books for you.

Subject Heading

A word or phrase that accurately and succinctly describes the subject of a book or article (or other information source). A book may have more than one subject heading listed on its record in the library catalog. At BYU we use the Library of Congress Subject Headings for most of our collections.

Subject Librarian

A person with exceptional education and experience in a particular subject or academic discipline. They maintain the collections and provide expert assistance with research in their respective specialties. To contact a subject librarian, inquire at a reference desk.


To slide your student identification card through a slot attached to a photocopier or piece of computer equipment. You do this yourself for some activities, such as to copy or print a document. A library worker will swipe your card to check out a book.


A list of terms used to describe the ideas in a particular group of materials. It suggests synonyms for effective searching of its associated database, and indicates relationships between and among ideas.Thesaurus terms may be called "descriptors" or subject headings.


If you cannot find an item where it is supposed to be located, you may request that the library staff search for it. When it is found, you will be notified. You may request a trace at a reference desk.


To replace the final letter (or letters) in a search term with a symbol (such as *) to broaden the results of the search. The computer will find all words that begin with the letters remaining. For example, "teach*" could find records with all these words: teach, teacher, teaches, teaching, and teachable.


Library materials that are part of a single title but appear as separately bound items. When individual issues of a periodical are bound together into a single unit, this is called a "volume." (Usually, this equals one year of that periodical.) Also, large works such as encyclopedias are divided into volumes.

Subject Guide

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