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LiONiL: Library Instruction Online for Information Literacy

Definitions of Library Terminology

A short, objective, descriptive summary of an article.

The degree to which something is true.

A distinct section of a periodical or serial.

Authoritative opinion; weight of judgment or intellectual influence.

Bibliographic information
Details concerning a publication that are sufficient to identify it for the purpose of ordering it or locating it in a library. Details usually include author, title, place, publisher, and date.

An intellectual composition of sufficient extent to make one volume.

Boolean search
A query using the Boolean operators, AND, OR and NOT. A typical example is searching for combinations of keywords in databases and catalogs. Boolean searching refers to the capability to perform operations on multiple word searches so that all words will be in resulting record (AND); any one word will be in resulting records (OR); or a specified term will not be in resulting records (NOT).

Classification system
An ordering of the world of knowledge so that works of similar subjects can be kept together and also each have a unique shelf address or call number.

See Library catalog.

Controlled vocabulary
A listing of words or terms which can be used as subject headings or descriptors in a particular database. Often specific to a particular discipline.

A comprehensive collection of related data organized for convenient access, generally in a computer. By entering search terms related to your topic, you will be able to retrieve information about articles of interest from the database.


A value or setting that a database automatically selects if you do not specify a substitute.
A preferred term assigned as an access point to a particular article or document to point to one of the subjects in its text. Synonymous with the term 'subject heading' in library catalogs.
A book or numbered set of books containing authoritative summary information about a variety of topics usually arranged alphabetically as short essays.
Subject encyclopedia
Encyclopedia on a single subject or discipline.
Free text search
Also called a natural language search. Usually searches all fields in a record as opposed to a subject heading or descriptor search which uses controlled vocabulary and only searches a subject field.
Full text database
An electronic resource that includes the full text of a title such as an encyclopedia or a bibliographic database which provides the entire text of articles within a particular periodical. Full text is usually in either HTML form (strips text from article) or PDF (presents a mirror image of the item).
Knowledge communicated concerning a particular fact, subject, or event. Data presented in readily comprehensible form.
  • Extent -- information can be summary and general or specific and detailed.
  • Type -- describes parameters of information—general or specific, current or retrospective, geographic or legal, etc.
Information literacy
A set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.
Interlibrary loan
When a book, article, or video is not owned by a given library, the library will borrow the needed item from another library.
A collection of articles on a particular topic or within a particular discipline, that is devoted to disseminating original research and/or commentary on developments within the discipline or topic area.
Key word
A significant word from a title or document used as an access point to content.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
An authoritative list of subject headings prepared by our national library and used by most libraries in their online catalogs.
A person who has earned a graduate degree in information science and is responsible for the care of a library and its contents, including the selection, processing, and organization of materials and the delivery of bibliographic instruction. The librarian manages and mediates access to information.
Library catalog
Records for items included in a library's collection. The catalog may be on cards, in a book format, or online.
Most databases offer some options for limiting the results of a search. The most common is by publication date. Other options include language, age groups, sub-topics etc. The number and variety of limiters differs with each database.
A periodical publication containing articles by various writers, including stories, articles on general subjects, and oftentimes picture illustration.
The intended audience is not usually academic.
Main concept
Main concept represents an abstraction drawn from many instances or pieces of information.
Using, involving, or encompassing more than one medium of communication, artistic expression, etc.; applications which incorporate a number of media, such as text, audio, video, and animation, esp. interactively.
A printed and distributed daily or weekly, publication containing news, articles of opinion, features, and advertising.
Peer-reviewed/Refereed journal
A scholarly journal which submits manuscripts for critical review by experts in the field before accepting them for publication.
Publication consisting of a number of articles with a fixed interval between the issues.
Using other persons' ideas or words without giving credit to or acknowledging them as the source of that information.
Primary source
A primary source gives the words of the witnesses or the first recorders of an event. Primary sources include manuscripts, archives, letters, diaries, speeches, and newspaper articles written at the time of the event. Primary sources can also be original works or artifacts from an historical period or event.
Reference material
Works that are generally consulted and not read. Includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, directories, etc.
The object of any subject search on a database is to retrieve a set of records, or "hits", which are relevant to your information needs.Relevance is determined by the number of times the term(s) appear, how close to the top of the document the terms are located, or how close in proximity the terms are to each other.
Scholarly journal
Publication in which the articles are reviewed by subject specialists in the field before being accepted or rejected for publication.
Search engine
A program in an electronic environment that searches for information that contains specified keywords and creates a list of documents in which the words were found.
Secondary source
Describes or analyzes a primary source. Secondary sources help us to understand what scholars say about a topic. Most materials in libraries are secondary sources.
A serial is a publication issued in parts or chronologically. Serial is broader in meaning than periodical because it includes annual reports and yearbooks.
Stop word
A word that is so commonly used that is has no impact on the relevancy of a search query. Such words are rarely indexed by search engines and are often ignored in query strings (ex. a, an, the).
Subject encyclopedia
Encyclopedia on a single subject or discipline.
Style manual
Handbook of formatting and documentation style that efficiently refers readers to sources. The two most common style manuals are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association).
Subject headings (descriptors)
A predetermined list of terms that reflect the content of the items. An indexer assigns subject headings based on the content of the item and selects one or more subject headings/descriptors from a controlled vocabulary that reflect the content. Academic libraries generally use Library of Congress Subject Headings in their catalogs.
A list of subject headings or descriptors with a cross-reference system for use in the organization of a collection of documents for reference and retrieval.
Thesis statement
A one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow.
Refers to the "appropriate" or "opportune" appearance of a source in time. For current topics and issues, more recent information is usually more valuable than historic information. For historic topics, date is extremely important.
The subject of a text or literary composition; a theme.
A symbol used at the end of a word to retrieve variant endings of that word. Truncation searching allows one to retrieve documents containing variations on a search term. Ex. creature, creation, create, creating, creator.