Glossary of Library Terms


This term can have several meanings

  • A short summary of an article in a scholarly journal. It usually appears at the beginning of the article.
  • An index to journal articles that not only provides a citation to the articles, but also gives a brief summary on each article.
  • A summary of a paper presented at a conference. The full text of the paper is not always published.
Accession Number

Unique number assigned to each record in a database. Used in many databases, such as PsycInfo and ERIC. The ED accession numbers in ERIC are used to locate ERIC documents in the ERIC microfiche cabinets.


A bibliography is a list of citations which appear at the end of a paper, article, chapter, or book. There are also books entirely made up of bibliographies. These usually include a list of citations on a particular subject or on a particular author.

Bound Periodical

A bound volume, in hard covers, often a year’s issues of a journal or magazine. Bound periodicals are kept in call number order in the stacks. Current issues of periodicals are located in the Current Periodicals Room.

Call Number

A combination of letters and numbers used by a library to classify and arrange books, periodicals, microforms, and other materials. Call numbers are placed on the spine of a book and indicate the location of that item in the library. Most research and academic libraries use Library of Congress call numbers, which indicate the subject of the book and allow books with the same subject to be shelved together. Library of Congress call numbers use a combination of letters and numbers, for example, GT 605 .R45 1999.

Check Out

To borrow library materials for a specific period of time.

Circulation Desk

The place in the library where books are checked out and checked back in.


The information needed for someone to find the item. For example, the citation for a book would contain the Title, Author or Editor, Edition, Place of Publication, Publisher and Year of Publication. The citation for an article would contain the Title of the Article, Author of the Article, Title of the Periodical, Volume Number, Issue Number (or sometimes the month and date), Year of Publication, and the Page Numbers. Sometimes also referred to as a bibliographic citation or reference.


A collection of computer records that have a standard format, usually containing fields that are searchable and allow some electronic manipulation such as sorting or grouping. In the library, a database is an organized collection of electronic records for articles in journals, magazines, newspapers, and books. Library databases usually contain citations to journal articles, although databases containing statistical material or the full text of selected publications are also possible.

Database searching

Using a computer system to find subject-specific journal articles or other information.

Document Delivery

The process of locating, obtaining, and providing copies of published or unpublished materials in hard copy, microform or digitized format upon request by a patron.


Folio items are books too large to be shelved in the normal bookstacks. The folio stacks in Mugar Memorial Library are on the 2nd floor.

Full-Text (also ‘full text’ or ‘fulltext’)

An article or book that is available electronically in its entirety.

Government Document

A report, often statistical, published by a federal, state, or local government.


A hold on a book guarantees that a book checked out to another person will be saved for you when the book is returned. You may request a hold on a book at the Circulation Desk.


Systematically arranged list of subjects, names, titles, etc. to help you locate information.

  • Periodical indexes list articles by subject or author, and may also include abstracts. Many but not all periodical indexes may be available electronically as databases.
  • A book index is an alphabetical list of names and subjects at the end of a book, giving page numbers where the information can be located.
InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

A service of the library which borrows materials it does not own from another library. Library users may borrow books and dissertations, and may obtain photocopies of journal articles through ILL.


A periodical on a specialized topic. Journals are usually published by a professional association, foundation, institute or society. It is a publication which has scholarly information, usually written by professors, researchers, or experts in a subject area and not intended for the general public.

Library of Congress Subject Heading.

A listing of subjects used for classifying books.


A periodical intended for the general public rather than for scholars, containing articles on various subjects by journalists and freelance writers who are not necessarily experts on the subject they have written about. Magazine articles are usually not signed nor do they include a bibliography.


A method of storing documents that involves photographing the items and reducing the size of the image. This reduces the amount of storage space needed, and is often used for items that have become fragile or are too bulky to store in paper format. A collective name for microfilm and microfiche.

  • Microfiche – a 4×6 inch sheet of film on which a printed book, journal, or other publication has been reduced in size. Microfiche is located in the Current Periodicals Room.
  • Microfilm – A roll of film on which a book, journal, newspaper, or other publication has been reduced in size. Located in the Microforms Room.

A library term for book.

Online Catalog

An electronic version of a library’s card catalog. It is the database that contains records such as books, manuscripts, music scores, and periodicals held by the Boston University Libraries. It supplies library location, the call number, and whether the item is checked out. It does not contain information about journal articles.

Peer Reviewed Journal

A peer reviewed journal consists of articles that have been reviewed by a panel of subject experts before they are approved for publication. Peer reviewed journals are also known as refereed journals.


A publication that is produced at regular intervals, or “periodically”, under the same title and is intended to appear indefinitely. Examples include journals, magazines, and newspapers (daily or weekly). Periodicals do not circulate.

Primary Sources

Original records created at the time of a historical event, or after the event in the form of oral history or memoirs. First hand accounts, original works, or original research. Primary sources may include diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts, or other personal papers; photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, court decisions, transcripts, government records, records of organizations; research data such as anthropological field notes, market surveys, or public opinion polls. Primary sources may also include books, magazines and newspapers produced at the time of the event. Authoritative documents used to prepare secondary sources.

Proxy Server

A computer that verifies that an off campus user seeking access to restricted electronic resources is a current Boston University student, faculty, or staff member. It is a connection between the user’s web browser and a website; the connection makes it seem as though the user is connecting from on campus when they are actually connecting from home through their own internet service provider.


A recall is a service by which you can request a book that has already been checked out by another patron. When the book is returned to the library, it will be held for you and you will be notified. You may place recall requests at the Circulation Desk.

Refereed Journal

A journal in which articles are reviewed by professional colleagues in order to determine whether the article will be accepted for publication. Also called peer-reviewed journal

Reference Books

Books not meant to be read cover-to-cover, such as dictionaries, handbooks, and encyclopedias, shelved together in a special section of the library called the reference area. Reference Books are used to begin research and to answer quick questions. Reference books cannot be checked out, so they are always available for use. Examples of reference books include almanacs, bibliographies, dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias, indexes, and statistical compilations.

Reference Librarians

Reference librarians are specialists in the field of information retrieval. They have a Masters degree in library and information science, and may have other graduate degrees as well. Reference librarians work in public services answering questions posed by library patrons at the reference desk, by telephone, via e-mail, or through an online chat session. They also provide instruction on the use of library resources and information technology.


To extend the amount of time materials can be borrowed.

Reserve Room

The place where items are put for limited use (often 2 hours) in the library. Do not confuse “reserve” with “reference.”

Reshelving Room

Area where materials are placed prior to being put back on the shelf. At Mugar Memorial Library, the Reshelving Room (also known as “Intermediate Shelving”) is on the first floor next to Photocopy Services.

Secondary Sources

Documents that are derived from or based upon the study and analysis of primary sources. Secondary sources include reviews, criticisms, editorials and analysis. Most journal articles are secondary sources and provide analysis, interpretation or evaluation. Textbooks, biographies, and encyclopedias are also examples of secondary sources.


A publication that is issued in successive parts, usually at regular intervals. Examples include periodicals such as magazines, journals, and newspapers and books such as almanacs and yearbooks which come out every year.


The areas of the library where the books are shelved. Here at Boston University, the stacks are open to students.


Items in storage are off-site, and must be requested at the Circulation Desk. They will be retrieved and available for you to use in 24-48 hours.

Style Manuals

Special handbooks that illustrate the accepted forms for citing references in bibliographies, footnotes, and endnotes of a research paper, thesis, or dissertation. The most commonly used style manuals are those from the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA).


A list of all the subject headings or descriptors used in a particular database, catalog, or index. Do not confuse this with the other kind of thesaurus, a book listing synonyms.