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Glossary of Library Terms: Glossary of Library Terms

Library terms: Navigation

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

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For other sources that define library terms, see the Additional Sources section of this guide.

Library terms


AAA Style
See entry for American Anthropological Association Style

A short, usually non-evaluative description of the contents of a book, an article, or another library resource.  Abstracts often appear in online database records.

The department of the Library where book and journal orders are processed and new materials are received.

ACS Style
See entry for American Chemical Society Style

Advanced Search
An option often found in online catalogs, indexes, and databases that allows users to refine their search criteria and search specific fields.  Options vary by database; check the "Help" screens or ask a librarian.

AMA Style
See entry for American Medical Association Style

American Anthropological Association Style
Used for scholary writing in Anthropology. The style is based on the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), but it has a few unique features. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

American Chemical Society Style
Used by students and researchers in the field of chemistry. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

American Medical Association Style
Used for scholarly writing about medicine, health, and other subjects in the sciences. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

American Psychological Association Style
Used by students and scholars in the social sciences, especially in the fields of psychology and sociology. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

American Sociological Association Style
Used for scholarly writing in sociology. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

Annotated Bibliography
A list of citations with accompanying notes that summarize and/or evaluate the subject matter or content of each work. For more details, including instructions and examples, see our guide to creating an annotated bibliography.

Annual Copyright License
A license from the Copyright Clearance Center that covers a large catalog of text-based, copyrighted materials and includes important reproduction and distribution rights for the campus community.  For more information, see our Copyright Guide and the Annual Copyright License tutorial.

APA Style
See entry for American Psychological Association Style

(a) A special collection of non-circulating historical materials related to a library or institution.
(b) The area of the library that houses these records.  The Davidson College Archives is located on the second floor of the E.H. Little Library and contains institutional records and manuscripts related to the College and the town of Davidson.

A relatively short, nonfiction text on a topic by one or more authors, usually published in a journal, magazine, or newspaper.  At the Davidson College Library, you will find many articles in online databases, but we also have articles in print and microform formats.

ASA Style
See entry for American Sociological Association Style

(a) A volume of maps.
(b) A group of plates illustrating a topic, such as botany.
The atlases in the Davidson College Library are located on the first floor, in front of the reference collection.


(a) A list of citations to works used by an author to write a paper, article, or book.  See also the entries for Works Cited and References.
(b) A list of books, articles, and other sources on a particular subject, about a particular person, or published in a specific region or time period.

Utilized by law students and law practitioners. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

Boolean Operator
Named after the British mathematician George Frederick Boole (1815-1864), who developed a system of logic to show the relationship among terms or concepts.  The three primary Boolean operators - AND, OR, and NOT - can be used to group search terms.  They are primarily used in keyword searches.  To learn more about Boolean operators, see the Boolean Logic tutorial.


Call Number
An alphanumeric code that identifies a specific book or other item in the library and also indicates its location within the library.  Call numbers can also indicate the general subject content of a book.  The Davidson College Library uses the Dewey Decimal and the Library of Congress systems for most materials; government documents, however, are shelved by SUDOC number.

A table or workspace for an individual library user.  The E.H. Little Library has many study carrels for students; some are reserved and others are available for anyone to use.  There are also a number of reserved, closed carrels for faculty members.

A list or inventory of all the materials within a specific collection or at a particular location.  Davidson Library WorldCat includes information about the books, journals, magazines, newspapers, musical recordings, maps, videos/DVDs, and other materials in the Library.

Davidson College's campus ID.  This card allows users to check out items from the library and to print at PawPrint stations.

Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)
Located on the main floor of the E.H. Little Library, it provides support for student learning and for instructors.  Math and science, economics, and speaking tutoring take place here several evenings a week.  The offices of the reference librarians are also in the CTL.

Check Out
To borrow an item for a specific amount of time.  Items can be checked out at the Information Desk using a CatCard; look for the blue "Check Out" flag.  Information about loan periods is located here.

Chicago Style
The Chicago Notes & Bibliography style is used by students and scholars in the humanities; the Chicago Author-Date style is used by students and scholars in the physical and social sciences. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

The department of the Library that handles book check-outs and returns as well as reserves and holds.

Information about a book, journal article, or other source; it includes all of the information needed to identify this source, such as author, title, publication information, date, and page numbers.  Different disciplines require different citation styles; see the appropriate style manual for more information.  The Citing Sources guide also has examples of how to cite using different citation styles.

A system for arranging library materials in a logical order according to subject or form.  See Library of Congress Classification and Dewey Decimal Classification for systems used in the Davidson College Library.

(a) A group of library or archival materials, sometimes on a single subject or related subjects.
(b) Multiple independent works by a single author or multiple authors that are published together.

Research consultations provide Davidson students, faculty, and staff with the opportunity to meet individually (or in small groups) with a librarian to discuss strategies and information sources for research projects, class assignments, papers, presentations, honors theses, and more.  The librarians offer both drop-in consultations and scheduled appointments.  Meetings usually last thirty minutes to an hour.  To request a consultation, use the Research Consultation Request Form.

Controlled Vocabulary
A set of terms that have been carefully selected in order to avoid having multiple terms for the same subject; indexers often use a controlled vocabulary when they assign subject headings or descriptors to articles or books.  A controlled vocabulary "controls" synonyms and is thus a powerful tool to use when searching databases.

Copyright is a set of rights that protects the works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used by other people without permission.  This intellectual property protection is articulated in the United States Constitution and ensure by Title 17 of the U.S. Code.  Understanding copyright is important so that you can use materials legally and avoid violating federal law and Davidson College's Compliance with Laws and Acts.  For more information about copyright, see the Library's copyright guide.

Council of Science Editors Style
Used by students and researchers in the sciences. This citation style, was formerly put out by the Council of Biology Editors (CBE). For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

Course Reserves
Books, articles, videos, sound recordings, and other materials selected by a professor for use by a class.  Some reserves are in electronic form and are accessible through a Moodle course page; other materials, such as books and videos, are kept in the reserves section of the Information Desk.  

See entry for Council of Science Editors Style

See entry for Center for Teaching and Learning.


A system that organizes and arranges data into fields and provides the means to sort, group, and retrieve information from those fields.  In the library, a database is an electronic index that contains information about articles, books, reference sources, and/or images.  Most databases can be searched by fields like author, title of article and publication, and date.  Some databases cover many disciplines and others cover only one subject area.  For a list of Davidson databases, see the Research Guides.

Davidson Library WorldCat 
A discovery system that searches Davidson Library holdings, including books, e-books, videos, periodicals, and government documents.  It also allows users to search for these materials in libraries worldwide in order to find items to interlibrary loan.

Davidsoniana Room
Home to several thousand volumes by and about Davidson alumni and faculty.  Housed on the second floor of the E.H. Little Library, this room also contains artifacts of Davidson's history including the table on which Davidson's charter was signed.

See the entry for subject heading.

Dewey Decimal Classification
A classification for library items devised by Melvil Dewey.  Dewey call numbers typically have three whole numbers followed by decimal numbers.  The Dewey section of the Library is located on the second floor.  For more information, see Dewey Decimal System:  An Outline.

A lengthy treatise on research submitted by a doctoral candidate.  The database ProQuest Dissertations & Theses contains the largest collection of dissertations to which Davidson has access.

Document Delivery
A service which allows users to request an electronic copy of an article that the Library has in print or microform.  Submit a request using ILLiad.  For more information about document delivery, see Document Delivery:  An Introduction.

Durable URL
Provides consistent access to a website, even if the site's address changes with hardware or file re-configurations.  Also called a permalink, persistent link, PURL or stable URL.  For more information, see our Linking to Full Text Resources guide.


A digital version of a book that can be viewed on, and sometimes downloaded to, a computer or other electronic device.  e-Books can be found in Davidson Library WorldCat, ebrary, and Ebsco eBook Academic Collection.  To see a tutorial on finding e-books in Davidson Library WorldCat, click here.

A database with over 80,000 e-books by academic, trade, and professional publishers.  Many of the e-books can be downloaded.  See our guide to ebrary for more information.

Ebsco eBook Academic Collection
A database with over 113,000 e-books in a wide variety of subject areas.  With an Ebscohost account, you may add notes, create virtual bookmarks, and download e-books to read them offline. See instructions on downloading ebooks to a desktop computer and downloading to an iPad.

A person who prepares other people's work for publication.  This may include selection of articles or chapters for books and may involve making considerable revisions, translations, or contributions to the finished publication.

A digital version of a journal that can be viewed on a computer or other device.

A note or reference at the end of a text or section. See the entry for citation

e-Reserves/Electronic Reserves
See the entry for course reserves.


A defined category of information in a record, such as author (AU), title (TI), or keyword (KW).  Users can search for terms in an online catalog or database using specified fields.  Field names and the information contained within them can vary in databases; always check the "Help" screens or ask a librarian.

Library patrons recieve fines for overdue items and lost materials. For more information about library fines, click here

See the entry for the Information Literacy Learning Center

(a) A printing size in which each sheet of paper is folded only once after printing.  Usually, this results in a large (in terms of height and depth) volume.
(b) A specific edition of a book printed on folio pages, such as Shakespeare's first folio.

A note or reference at the bottom of the page. See the entry for citation

Full Text
The complete text of an article, book, or other item.  The full text may be in Microsoft Word, HTML, or pdf format.  For a tutorial on how to find full text in library databases, click here.


Government Documents/Government Information
Documents and other information issued by the United States Government, state governments, and foreign governments.  Government documents may include books and serials.  The Davidson College Library is a selective federal depository library and receives a large number of publications issued by the federal government.  The print collection is housed on the ground floor (call numbers Ju-Y and census material)and second floor (call numbers A-J) of the library, and items are arranged by SUDOC, or Superintendent of Documents Number, a special type of call number.  For more information on government information in the Library, see the Federal Depository Collection page.

An online aid that may include information about research, resources, library or archive holdings, or tutorials.  Guides are located in the Research Guides.


A service offered through Davidson Library WorldCat.  When a book you want is checked out, you can request a "hold."  Library staff will reserve the book and contact you when the other user returns it.  For assistance in placing a hold, ask at the Information Desk.

Information about the books, journals, newspapers, and magazines owned by the Library.


See the entry for interlibrary loan.

See the entry for Information Literacy Learning Center.

The Davidson College Library's interlibrary loan system.

(a) A list of the major topics, places, and people discussed in a book or other source.  The index often appears at the end of a book and usually directs readers to relevant page numbers.
(b) A tool containing a list of citations to articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers on a particular subject, in a specific discipline, or published in a given time period.  Indexes differ from each other in scope, content (some contain full-text; some don't), and years of coverage.  Indexes may include information about publications that aren't available at Davidson.  The library has a wide variety of print and online indexes.

Information Desk
Located just inside the front door of the E.H. Little Library, this is the site for getting reference help and for checking out library materials.  Look for the green "Research Help" and blue "Check Out" flags. 

Information Desk Assistant
Davidson Library student employee who sits at the Information Desk and assists with checking out books, handling fines, and shelving library materials. 

Information Literacy
The competencies and skills that students need to locate, retrieve, evaluate, analyze, and use information.  These competencies are developed over time and are essential for lifelong learning.

Information Literacy Learning Center (ILLC)
The Library's classroom and space for students to learn about information literacy.  Located in the center of the main floor of the E.H. Little Library.  Many library sessions and Research Rescue are held in this room.  Also known as the fishbowl.

Interlibrary Loan
A library service that allows users to borrow or obtain copies of materials from other libraries.  If the Davidson College Library does not have the book or article you need, simply request the item using ILLiad, our interlibrary loan system.  We'll get the material for you - at no charge to you - and will let you know when it is available.  Just be sure to allow 3-5 days for the material to arrive.  For a video tutorial on how to request items through Interlibrary Loan, click here.

In-text Citation
In-text citations help the reader find the source in the reference list or bibliography.  See the entry for parenthetical citation. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

International Standard Book Number, a unique ten or thirteen-digit number assigned to each book published.

International Standard Serial Number, a unique, eight-digit number assigned to each magazine, journal, newspaper, and serial publication.  The standard format for the ISSN is two sets of four digits, separated by a hyphen (e.g. 1234-5678).


A type of periodical that covers research in a specific field of study; usually published several times a year.


(a) A word describing a topic or subject.  Unlike a subject heading, a keyword is not a form of controlled vocabulary.
(b) A word that may form part of a title, author's name, subject heading, or other part of a citation; a keyword search in a database searches across all fields of a record.


Lawfully Made
A term used to describe materials that are created in accordance with copyright law.  Items used with educational exemptions must be "lawfully made;" for instance, it is not legal to show a pirated copy of a film to a class. 

LC Classification
See the entry for Library of Congress Classification.

Library of Congress Classification
A classification for library items that is used in the Library of Congress and many other libraries.  Library of Congress call numbers typically have one or two letters followed by whole numbers and decimal numbers.  The Library of Congress section of the Library is located on the ground floor (basement). For more information, see the Library of Congress Classification System guide.

An option in many databases that allows users to restrict search results by criteria not related to the subject.  Common limiters include language, date, and format.  Since limit options vary by database, check the "Help" screen or ask a librarian.

The Library's link resolver, which is a tool that links you from an article citation to the full-text. See the entry for citation. Look for the LinkSource icon in the Library's databases:

The linkSource iconThe linkSource icon


Main Library
The term used in Davidson Library WorldCat to describe the E.H. Little Library.  For a more detailed explanation of library locations in Davidson Library WorldCat, see the Call Number Locations guide.

A micrographic reproduction stored on a film card; the card is approximately the size of an index card.  A microfiche is a type of microform.

A micrographic reproduction stored on a reel of film; microfilm is a type of microform.

A micrographic reproduction of a book, journal, or other type of information source.  You must use a special piece of equipment, called a microform reader, to view the text.  There are several types of microforms, including microfilm and microfiche.  

MLA Style
See entry for Modern Language Association Style

Modern Language Association Style
Used by students and scholars in the humanities. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

(a) A treatise on one subject or about one person.
(b) A type of publication distinct from serials (i.e. a book).

Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.  Moodle is the course management system used at Davidson College and is the site where course reserves are posted.

Music Library
Located in Sloan Hall, this library houses scores, sound recordings, and some videos.


OCLC Number
A unique number for each item in WorldCat; it can be used to locate specific items in an "accession number" search. 

Open Access 
Literature that is provided freely, with no restriction, via the internet. 

A library location for items that do not fit on regular library shelves; located in the ground floor (basement) of the E.H. Little Library.  For a map of the oversize location in the library, click here.


Parenthetical Citation
A type of in-text citation that utilizes parentheses. This type of citation is used in AAA, ACS, APA, Chicago: Author-Date, CSE-CBE, and MLA styles. See the entry for in-text citation. For more information, see our Citing Sources Guide.

A system that allows students to print on campus.  There are PawPrint printers on the main floor near the Information Literacy Learning Center and on the ground floor (basement) in the 24 hour room.

Peer Research Advisor
Davidson Library student employee who assists library users with a variety of directional, technical, and search requests at the Information Desk and during Research Rescue.

Peer Review
The process by which scholarly articles and books are published.  The editors of peer-reviewed publications require authors to submit drafts of their work for consideration.  These drafts are then reviewed by experts in the field who evaluate them.  In considering articles for publication, reviewers assess the quality of authors' research as well as their contribution to scholarship.  For more information, see Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles.

A type of publication that is issued at regular intervals (e.g. monthly, weekly, daily).  Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals.  See also the entry for serials.

Periodical Title List
Lists years and coverage for all of our online, print, and microform journals, magazines, and newspapers.  Searchable by title or browsable by subject. For information about how to use the periodical title list, see the Introduction to the Periodical Title List video tutorial.

Provides consistent access to a website, even if the site's address changes with hardware or file re-configurations.  Also called a durable URL, persistent link, PURL or stable URL.  For more information, see our Linking to Full Text Resources guide

Persistent Link
Provides consistent access to a website, even if the site's address changes with hardware or file re-configurations.  Also called a durable URL, permalink, PURL or stable URL.  For more information, see our Linking to Full Text Resources guide.

Phrase Searching
A type of search syntax that allows you to search for phrases in a database.  In many databases, you need to put phrases in double quotation marks ("cold war").  The syntax may differ in some databases; always check the "Help" screens or ask a librarian.

Primary Source
An original document that provides information about an event or a topic.  Types of primary sources vary by discipline.   

Privacy Policy
(a) A statement of how a person's personal information can or will be used by the institution or party.
(b) The Davidson College Library affirms that faculty, students, and staff of the institution have the right to pursue knowledge on any subject without risk of their interests being examined or scrutinized by others.  For information about the Library's policy, please see the full policy.

Persistent Uniform Resource Locator.  Provides consistent access to a website, even if the site's address changes with hardware or file re-configurations.  Also called a durable URL, permalink, persistent link, or stable URL.  For more information, see our Linking to Full Text Resources guide


Rare Book Room
See the entry for the Smith Rare Book Room.

A service to request that a library item be returned before the original due date.  To request a recall, ask a librarian or go to the Information Desk

The collection of information about an item listed in a database.  For example, a record for a journal article will contain citation information (author, title, journal title, publication information, volume number, date, page numbers) as well as subject headings, an abstract, and other information.  A record in Davidson Library WorldCat contains citation information as well as subject headings, a call number, and information about the item's status.

See the entry for peer review.

(a) A library service; reference librarians assist students and faculty with research and information needs.
(b) A department of the library
(c) An area of the library where the books in there reference collection are kept.
(d) A note or citation to a book, article, or other information source.

The title for the bibliography in APA style.  See also the entry for bibliography.

An online tool that allows users to keep, manage, share, and use citations and create bibliographies.  RefWorks is available to Davidson faculty, staff, and students.  For more information about how to use RefWorks, see the RefWorks guide.

An extension of the loan period for a library book, video, government document, or reserve material. Items checked out from the Davidson College Library may be renewed, unless someone has placed a hold on the item. To renew these items, come to the Information Desk or use Davidson Library WorldCat.  (Need help?  See a tutorial here.)  Interlibrary loan items may or may not be renewable; use ILLiad to request a renewal.

Research Guides
A collection of Davidson College Library guides.  These guides are organized by discipline and, in some cases, class.  Library databases are located in the research guides.

Research Help
A service offered by librarians to current Davidson students, faculty, and staff.  Meet with a librarian to discuss research strategies and possible information sources for projects, assignments, papers, presentations, and the like.  For information about how to get research help, see the Ask a Librarian guide.

Research Rescue
An opportunity to receive drop-in research help from librarians in the Fishbowl.  Hours vary during the semester; ask a librarian for more information.

See the entry for course reserves.

(a) A periodical devoted to critical articles on new works.
(b) A critical article in a periodical
(c) An exam at Davidson


See the entry for peer review

Search or Search Strategy
The plan enacted to answer a research question.

Secondary Source
Presents or discusses information originally presented in another source. 

Publications issued at intervals; serials usually have the same title over time.  Periodicals are types of serials.

(a) Related works that are published together in succession that may have been given a series title.
(b) A group of materials in an archive.

Smith Rare Book Room
Located on second floor of the E.H. Little Library, the Smith Rare Book Room is an elegant room housing the library's unique, rare, and unusual book collections.  While requiring additional security and care, books in the room are available for use by Davidson's faculty, staff, and students as well as visiting scholars and the general public.

Stable URL
Provides consistent access to a website, even if the site's URL changes with hardware or file re-configurations.  Also called a permalink or PURL.  For more information, see our Linking to Full Text Resources guide

The area in the library containing most of the bookshelves.  Generally, "the stacks" are the bookshelves containing the books that can be checked out.  The "reference stacks" are the bookshelves that hold the materials in the reference collection.

A service that allows people to watch movies or listen to music online without downloading.  The library offers a number of streaming audio and video databases, including VAST: Academic Video Collection.

Subject Heading
A word, phrase, or group of words that describes the subject content of a book or other item.  In most databases, subject headings, which can be called "descriptors," are a form of controlled vocabulary.  A given item may have more than one subject heading. 


Tertiary Source
A work based entirely on secondary sources, rather than on primary sources.  It does not contain original research, but instead summarizes research reported in secondary sources.  Examples include entries in reference books and chapters in textbooks.

Text a Librarian
A service offered to answer simple reference questions when patrons are away from the library and a computer.

(a) A list of the subject headings or descriptors used in a database, with information about their use and their relationships to each other.  You could search the thesaurus in PsycINFO to identify appropriate descriptors for your topic, for example.
(b) A lexicon or classification of synonyms and related terms (e.g. Roget's Thesaurus).

(a) A treatise written by a masters or undergraduate student.  Distinct from a dissertation.  The library has copies of Davidson student theses in the College Archives.
(b) The main point in a composition or essay.

A symbol that stands for one or more letters at the end of a word.  In an online index or database, you can use truncation to search for the root of a word and all variant endings.  For example, in Academic Search Complete, you could search for human* to retrieve records with the words "humans," "humanity," "humanities," and so forth.  Truncation symbols vary by database; always check the "Help" screens or ask a librarian.

Short, web based guides that explain and demonstrate research tasks.  A full list of our video tutorials may be found here.


A person who uses library resources, services, or facilities.  Also called a patron.



Video Viewing Rooms
Located on the upper and lower floors of the E.H. Little Library, the video viewing rooms can be used for media display or group study. For a map of their location in the library, click here.


A symbol that replaces one character; in some databases, the wildcard may also represent more than one letter or no letters.  In Academic Search Complete, the symbol is ?, and it stands for one character (wom?n retrieves both "woman" and "women").  Wildcard symbols vary by database; always check the "Help" screen or ask a librarian.

Works Cited
The title for a bibliography in MLA style.  See the entry for bibliography.

Additional sources

For additional library terms and definitions, see:

  • Harrod's Librarians' Glossary and Reference Book:  A Directory of Over 9,600 Terms, Organizations, Projects, and Acronyms in the Areas of Information Management, Library Science, Publishing, and Archive Management.  Raymond John Prytherch, Comp.  9th ed.  Brookfield, VT:  Gower, 2000.
    Reference Z1006 .H32 2000

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Contact Information

Davidson College Library Research Guides are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Mailing Address: Davidson College - E.H. Little Library, 209 Ridge Road, Box 5000, Davidson, NC 28035