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Waidner-Spahr Library

Library Terms and Vocabulary: Glossary

Library Terms Glossary

This page features a list of terms and vocabulary related to libraries. Translations of many of the terms on this page can be found in Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese here.

Our page has been adapted from the Association of College and Research Libraries' Multilingual Glossary for Today's Library Users. More information on this project can be found here.

A-B, C, D-E, F-H, I-K, M-P, R-S, T-Z


Abstract:  A summary or brief description of the content of another longer work, usually at the beginning of an article. 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. For archival materials at Dickinson College, visit the library's Archives & Special Collections.

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. For more information, see the library's tutorial Distinguishing Among Source Types.

Attachment:  A separate file sent with an email message.

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.

Bibliography:  A list containing citations to the resources used in a research paper or other document. Can also be called "Works Cited" or "References." For more information, see the library's Citing Sources page.

Book:  A relatively lengthy work, often on a single topic.

Boolean operator:  A word—such as AND, OR, NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches. For more information, see the library's tutorial Choosing the Best Terms for Your Search.

Browser:  A software program that enables users to access Internet resources, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari.


Call Number:  A group of letters and/or numbers that organizes and identifies items in a library. Waidner-Spahr Library uses the Library of Congress Call Numbers which organizes works by subject. Refer to How Do I Get a Book? for more information.

Catalog:  A database listing and describing the books, scholarly journals, government documents, audiovisual content, and other materials held by a library. You can search the Dickinson College Library here.

CD:  An abbreviation for Compact Disc; it is used for storing digital information.

Chat:  The ability to communicate with others via typed messages on the computer. You can chat with a librarian via the Ask a Librarian page.

Check-out:  To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen, or view it. For information on the library’s loan periods, click here. Items are checked out at the Circulation Desk.

Circulation:  The place in the library where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also rent a laptop, charger, headphones, or surge protector. Items placed on reserve by professors are located here as well. For questions about circulation, email

Citation:  A referent to a book, magazine article, journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book includes the author’s name, title, publisher, and place of publication, and date of publication. Need help citing? Visit the library's Citing Sources page (which includes free access to the automatic citation tool RefWorks), the Citation Searching page, and the library's tutorial Finding a Journal Article from a Citation.


Database: A collection of information stored in a electronic format that can be searched by a computer. You can access the library's databases from the A-Z Databases page. For more information, watch the library's tutorial Choosing a Database.

Descriptor:  A word listed in a book or article's database listing that describes the subject that the book or article is categorized under, in order to help find relevant related materials on a topic.

Download/Save:  To transfer Information from a computer to a program or storage device to be viewed at a later date.

Due Date:  Date when an item borrowed from the library must be returned.  Fines may be accrued if an item is not returned on time. For information on the library’s loan periods, click here.

E-book:  An electronic book which can be read on a computer

Editor:  A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Many scholarly books have editors who compile chapters written by a variety of authors.


Fine:  Money owed for not returning borrowed library materials on time. For information on the library’s loan periods, click here.

Full-text:  A complete electronic copy of a resource, usually an article.

Hardware:  The physical and electronic components of a computer system, such as the monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Holdings:  The materials owned by a library.


Icon:  A small symbol on a computer screen that represents a computer operation or data file.

Index:  A list of names or topics—usually found at the end of a book—that directs the user of a source to the pages where those names and topics are discussed.

Information Literacy: The ability to determine when you need information, and to locate, evaluate, and use the most reliable and relevant information to address your need. Librarians help you develop your information literacy skills during your time at Dickinson.

Interlibrary loan:  A service that allows you to borrow from other libraries throughout the year. Requested items are wrapped in yellow paper and placed by the Circulation Desk when they arrive. For more information on Interlibrary Loan, visit the Borrow From Other Libraries page, or watch the library's tutorial How to Use the Get It Button.

Journal:  Also known as a scholarly journal, academic journal, or a peer-reviewed journal. This is a publication containing scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports, to communicate research findings for other scholars in a field of study. For more information, see the library's tutorial Distinguishing Among Source Types, or this short video Library Tips in Movie Clips: Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly Journals. You can search for journals that the library subscribes to on the Journals & Newspapers page. Also see How Do I Get an Article?

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. For more information, see the library's tutorial Choosing the Best Terms for Your Search.


Magazine:  A non-scholarly publication issued on a regular basis containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical matter than the articles found in a journal. Examples include Time, Scientific American, and The Economist. You can search for magazines that the library subscribes to on the Journals & Newspapers page.

Microform:  A reduced size photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film.

Multimedia:  Any information resource that presents information using more than one form of media.

Newspaper:  A non-scholarly publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter. Often published daily. You can search for newspapers that the library subscribes to on the Journals & Newspapers page.

Non-Scholarly: A source that is less technical than a scholarly source, and has not been peer reviewed by scholars, researchers, or scientists.

Peer Reviewed/Scholarly/Refereed Journal: Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication. Peer review helps to ensure the quality and relevancy of an information source by publishing only works of proven validity, methodology, and quality. You can search for journals that the library subscribes to on the Journals & Newspapers page. Also see How Do I Get an Article?

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

Primary Source:  An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation. To search for primary materials to which the library has access, visit the Archival and Primary Source Collections databases page.

Print:  The written symbols of a language as portrayed on paper. Information sources may be either print or electronic. 


Reference:  A service that helps people find needed information. Sometimes “reference” refers to resource types such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. A citation for a work can also be known as a reference.

Renewal: A lengthening of the loan period for library materials. For more information, see the library's tutorial How to Renew Library Materials Online.

Research Guide: An online guide developed by librarians that brings together library databases, reliable websites, and other materials to highlight research materials on a specific subject. In addition to containing databases for articles and books, some guides include sources for statistics, government reports, and news. Visit the library's complete list of Research Guides to see what resources the library has compiled to support you in finding the most reliable and relevant materials for your research topic.

Reserve:  A request by a professor that a book, DVD, or other item be kept in the library for use by students taking their class.

Scholarly: A source that communicates research findings for other scholars in a field of study. Usually contains more technical language, a bibliography, and is evaluated by other scholars before publication (peer-reviewed).

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.

Stacks:  Shelves in the library where material—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are arranged following the Library of Congress system. Refer to How Do I Get a Book? for more information.


Title:  The name of a book, article, or other information source. For more information, see the library's tutorial Distinguishing Among Source Types.

Upload:  To transfer information from a computer system or a personal computer to another computer system.