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Advanced Research: Library Lingo

This guide is for MSJC students and advanced researchers and features topics such as strategic browsing, finding data and research tips to make your research process more efficient.

Library Lingo

Abstract - A summary of an article or book, usually accompanying a citation in a database, index, or bibliography.

Annotated bibliography - A bibliography where each citation is followed by a brief evaluative description of the work.

Annotation - A short evaluative summary of a book, article or document that usually accompanies a citation for the work. An annotation is different from an abstract in that it is critical of the work rather than just offering a summary.

Author search  - A database search for the name of either an individual author (e.g., Ernest Hemingway) or a corporate or institutional author (e.g., Smithsonian Institution).

Bibliographic database - An organized collection of references to published works such as articles, proceedings, reports, and books. Each reference contains specific identifying elements about any intellectual work, such as author, title, publisher, copyright date, subject headings, or descriptors. These pieces of information are usually organized into records or citations in bibliographic databases. See also Full-Text Database.

Bibliographic information - Consists of references or citations to other works, often texts such as books, journal articles, government documents, and published and unpublished technical reports.

Bibliography - The list of works cited by an author at the end of an article, paper, book, or other research-based writing. There are also specialized subject bibliographies which are often extensive lists of books, articles and other information resources concerned with various areas of study, and, which are published separately in book form.

Boolean logic / Boolean operators / Connectors - A computer logic that employs the words AND, OR and AND NOT (or NOT) within a search statement to increase precision or relevance in a database. AND narrows the search, telling the computer to retrieve records that have all of the search terms used with this operator. OR expands a search, telling the computer to retrieve records with any of the search terms used with this operator. AND NOT excludes or eliminates a particular term in a search used with this operator. Other operators, such as proximity operators, include NEAR (searches for records with words close to each other in any order) and WITHIN # (searches for records with words which occur within # words).


Browse / browsing - Can refer to a more casual approach for identifying information than searching for a specific source or topic; ordinarily used when the searcher hasn't defined a topic or doesn't know exactly how to search for the information. A more precise definition of "browsing" refers to search system feature that allows the user to look through an alphabetical (or other type of ordered) list of items (books, journal article titles, etc.), to find potentially relevant information not found through a precisely formulated search statement.

Call number - The letters and numbers assigned to a book to give it a unique location in the library (usually found on the book's spine label), classified by specific subjects and placing it on the shelves with similar subjects. Two of the most common call number systems: Library of Congress (LC) call numbers (primarily used in academic libraries) begin with letters, and Dewey Decimal call numbers (typically used in public and school libraries) begin with numbers.

Call number search - A search in the library catalog using a specific call number (Library of Congress, Dewey Decimal, etc.) to retrieve  bibliographic information on an item or to browse items from a specific call number area within a library collection.

Catalog / Library Catalog - The database that lists the books, journals and other materials owned by a library. Most library catalogs include detailed information about each resource as well as status information about particular items (e.g., whether a book is checked out or available). MSJC Libraries' catalog is called OneSearch.

Circulating - This means that the item may be checked out or borrowed.

Circulation Desk - The service counter where you can borrow books and other materials. The Circulation Desk is located near the entrance in the MSJC Libraries.

Citation - The information given in a database, index, catalog, or bibliography about a particular book, article or other information resource. The citation may include the article title, periodical title, book title, place of publication, publisher, volume, pages, and date. Citations are usually created using a specific style, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago.

Database  - An organized collection of records and information, designed to facilitate access to specific pieces of data by a searcher. Databases can be bibliographic, full text, numeric, directory (a collection of names and addresses for companies, for example), or graphical.

Dictionary - A book providing meanings of words. Dictionaries may be general ( Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary ) or specialized ( Dictionary of Sociology).

eBooks / electronic books - An electronic or digital form of a book that can be read online.

Electronic information - Information encoded in some special format and digitized. Examples of electronic information formats can include CDs, software of various types, and Internet resources.

Electronic journal - A publishing format in which the primary medium for disseminating scholarly research is not paper, but electronic (digital) format.

Encyclopedia - A book or set of books giving general information on many subjects or information on many aspects of one subject. Like dictionaries, these can be general (Encyclopedia Britannica ) or specialized (Encyclopedia of World Cultures ).

Formal sources - Usually refers to information sources found in libraries, museums, and archives. Formal sources include books, journal articles, government documents, technical reports, and manuscripts. Contrast with informal sources.

Full-text database - An organized digital collection or file containing the entire texts of articles or other documents. In contrast, bibliographic databases typically only contain records or citations for the articles.

Informal communication - Using informal contacts with colleagues in one's profession to do research, stay informed about trends, identify grant writing possibilities, and the like. The channels here include e-mail, phone calls, conversations at professional meetings-any kind of communication outside the formal publishing cycle.

Informal source - An individual or organization whose area of expertise is that particular topic.

Information - Data, in whatever format and channel of communication, with potential meaning or use for the individuals sending and receiving it.

Information access - Refers to the means by which information is made available. A library, for example, might provide information access through a traditional print collection indexed in the library catalog; a collection of networked resources, both bibliographic and full text; databases; or subscriptions to online services. 

Information producer - Any group, company, agency, or individual that originates information. Examples include commercial/trade presses, university presses, government agencies, foundations, and think tanks, and scholars who share "working papers" on the Internet.

Intellectual property - Any kind of intellectual work or product in which the originator (writer, composer, inventor) has a legal, proprietary interest and retains certain rights as to the use of the work by others.

Interdisciplinary research - Research that draws on other research and thought from a variety of disciplines (psychology, sociology, and anthropology, for example). Increasingly, researchers look outside their own fields for new trends and ideas that clarify concepts or difficult issues in their own fields.

InterLibrary Loan (ILL) - ILL enables library users to borrow materials from other libraries when they are not available at the MSJC Libraries.

Internet address - Refers to the unique code assigned to a given individual or site so that e-mail connections can occur across the Internet with no confusion about site addresses. Each computer directly connected to the Internet has a unique address; each individual using e-mail on the Internet has a user name that, in combination with a mail server address at his/her institution or agency, forms a unique address for exchanging e-mail.

Invisible web / Invisible Internet - "Invisible web" is a phrase used to describe information that cannot be found on the Internet with search engines like Google or Yahoo. Articles and information in the databases that the MSJC Libraries subscribe to fall into this category. Most of database content cannot be accessed from the open web.

ISSN and ISBN - ISSN and ISBN stand for International Standard Serial Number and International Standard Book Number respectively. These numbers are assigned to serials (magazines and journals), and books to uniquely identify the resource. ISBN numbers even identify the edition. These are different from call numbers in that they do not classify the materials in any way, only identify them.

Journal - A periodical that is usually scholarly or academic in content and purpose. Examples: Journal of Applied Psychology or American Anthropologist.

Keyword searching - Using significant, expressive words to search various parts of database records including the author, title, subject, table of contents, or notes fields.

Library of Congress call numbers - An LC call number is a uniquely identifiable number created following the rules of the Library of Congress which classify books by broad subject classes, narrower sub-topics, specific places or time periods, as well as authors and/or titles. LC call numbers are usually used in university and college libraries and begin with letters, e.g., E98 .R3 U57 1965   

Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) - An authorized list of subject terms or phrases that are assigned to sources ranging from books to journal articles to government documents. Library of Congress subject headings are the ''controlled vocabulary'' for searching most library catalogs.

Literature Review - A comprehensive review of publications in a specific area of research. Literature reviews are typically found at the beginning of research papers and discuss previous findings in other publications.

Magazine - A general-interest periodical that has popular appeal. Example: Time or Glamour.

Manuscript - A book, article, or any document written by hand. Sometimes used to refer to as an unpublished work.

MARC records - The MARC record is the basic building block for the database of library holdings (books, journals, etc.) made available through a library's catalog.The MARC record is divided into fields such as title, author, publisher, publication dates, call numbers, subjects, notes, and table of contents.

Material type (format) - Refers to physical format, such as book, eBook, journal, etc.

Monograph/Book - A work or piece of writing on a specific subject that is intended to be complete.

Multimedia - An integration of varied types of information, including textual, graphical, numeric, and in some cases, sound. Multimedia is primarily a mode of presentation rather than information itself.

Natural language - The words actually used by writers in documents such as journal articles; database searching using natural language is also called free-text or keyword searching. Natural language searching is frequently used  because "controlled vocabulary" (special indexing terms such as those used in the Library of Congress subject headings) is usually not known by most researchers.

Numeric database - A database consisting primarily of statistics or other data, in contrast to bibliographic or full-text databases. Much U.S. census data is available in the form of numeric databases online.

Numeric information - Information showing quantities, statistics, or other related data.

OCLC - Online Computer Library Center is the primary bibliographic utility for sharing catalog records among libraries, as well as ILL services, in the United States.

Open Access (OA) - 'Open access' or OA describes free online availability of digital content - especially relevant for peer reviewed and scholarly publications.

Peer review / peer reviewed - The practice used in scholarly publishing, particularly in scholarly/research journals, of having experts in the discipline review and make recommendations about articles submitted for publication. See also Refereed journals.

Periodical / Serial - A generic term for anything published periodically including magazines, journals, and newspapers.

Plagiarism - Plagiarism is using others ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

Primary sources / Primary resources - Sources of information close to a person, event, idea or period, usually produced by an individual who has direct knowledge of, or was involved in an event. Examples of primary sources include personal journals or diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, meeting minutes, eyewitness accounts, etc. Secondary sources interpret, comment on, or summarize primary sources or research findings.

Print - Refers to the traditional paper-based format for books, journals, and other resources.

Proximity searching - The use of special symbols called operators to indicate the order and closeness of specific search words. Proximity operators can be helpful to specifying relationships among words in free-text searching; otherwise, many irrelevant items can be retrieved. Ebsco provides examples of proximity operators to be used in its collection of databases.

Publication cycle - The pattern and time order in which information is disseminated in a particular discipline. The usual sequence begins with informal sharing of research first among colleagues, through drafts of papers, e-mail communication, working papers, and other channels. More formal methods follow, including presentations at professional conferences and subsequent publication of conference papers, publications of research articles, and, in some cases, monographs or collections of scholarly papers. Reviewing sources pick up the formal sources some time after they appear. Review articles appear in scholarly journals, various syntheses of the research are made for others in the discipline and, if interest warrants, for a wider audience through popular formats such as newspapers and magazines. Encyclopedias summarize research trends in a field years after the groundbreaking research was done and are therefore often out of date.

Publisher - Any organization or agency involved in disseminating or distributing information as its primary purpose or mission. Examples include commercial or trade publishers, scholarly presses, alternative presses, and the Government Printing Office (for federal documents).

Question analysis - A method for developing a mental sketch of a research topic. This method involves taking a research topic apart, analyzing such variables related to the topic as disciplines involved, time aspect of the topic, likely producers of information, types of resources needed (informal or formal), and vocabulary of the topic (important later for search strategy formulation).

Record - In bibliographic databases, the basic building block of the database; a group of specific pieces of information or data about a particular item, such as a book or journal article. Records are made up of fields, which describe a specific features or aspects of the work, such as author, title, publisher, indexing terms, etc.

Refereed journal - A scholarly or research journal that uses peer review of submitted articles to determine what articles will eventually be published. In other words, manuscripts of articles submitted for publication are sent by the editor to impartial reviewers who assess the quality of the articles, using such criteria as soundness of research methodology, originality of ideas, contribution to the discipline, and quality of the writing. See also Peer-review.


Reference - The process of librarians answering library users' questions about research or finding information; the section of the library in which this takes place.

Reference Librarian - A faculty member who has studied the field of library science at the graduate level. A librarian is skilled in using print and electronic resources and is the person to ask for research assistance in the library.

Reference materials - Books or electronic resources providing facts, statistics, bibliographies, background information, etc.; valuable tools for answering broad or specific questions quickly. These materials typically cannot be borrowed outside the library, and are shelved separately from the rest of the collection.

Research - Diligent and thorough inquiry and investigation into a subject. This includes using all appropriate print and electronic sources, asking the reference librarian for help as needed, and making use of bibliographies given by other authors at the end of their works.

Reserve / Reserves - Library materials with shorter than standard loan periods - a few hours or days - Reserves are typically held in the Reserve area of the library for specific classes, typically at the Circulation Desk. Instructors place materials on reserve to ensure that students enrolled in the class will have access to these resources.

Review article - A source of evaluative information about research reported in other articles, or in books or other sources. Review articles summarize trends in research on a particular topic (meta cognition in psychology, for example) and evaluate contributions made by various writers and researchers on the topic within a given time period.

Scholarly discipline - A field of study that deals with some aspect of reality, makes certain assumptions about what is important to study, uses certain methods for performing research, and employs special technical terminology for communicating ideas among experts in the field.

Scholarly research - The practice of studying and reporting on special phenomena, events, issues, or concepts of particular interest to scholars and researchers in a specific discipline, such as women's studies, anthropology, political science, for psychology. Scholarly research in the social sciences usually involves conducting some kind of original testing of theories or ideas by gathering data through experiments, surveys, field research, or from uninterpreted data sources such as the Federal, State of Local census.

Scholarly journals - A type of periodical that is discipline-based and publishes research findings on topics of special interest to the field involved. Articles in scholarly or research journals use technical vocabulary and assume specialized knowledge on the part of the readership, often employ charts, graphs, and other statistical presentations, and are edited by specialists in the field.

Search limiting - A feature of online catalogs or databases allowing the user to limit or refine search results by publication date, publisher, material or format type, or some other factor.

Search statement - An information query expressed in the language and format acceptable to a specific database or other information retrieval system. EXAMPLE: (conservation OR protection) AND environme*

Search strategy formulation - In database searching, the process of developing a well planned search statement, using the search words identified in question analysis, adding synonyms or differing concepts to represent the various concepts of the topic being searched. Search strategy formulation ordinarily involves connecting the search terms with AND or OR; grouping synonyms where appropriate and otherwise "nesting" search terms to specify relationships among the key concepts of the topic; and using special tactics such as truncation and proximity searching where appropriate.

Search vocabulary - The words selected for use in formulating a search strategy, usually taken from a thesaurus (for controlled vocabulary searching) or from the searcher's own knowledge of the topic or field, or other sources such as dictionaries and handbooks (for natural language searching).

Searching tool - An electronic resource (search engine) which locates or retrieves information for you in response to a search string or search query.

Secondary sources / secondary resources - A source that summarizes, synthesizes, or evaluates primary sources. An example of a secondary source in psychology might be a review article

Stacks - The shelves that hold the main collection of a libraries' books.

Style manual - A book that tells the reader how to format a paper, with regard to citations, footnotes, bibliographies, pagination, etc. Instructors will specify which style manual to use in different disciplines. Two commonly used style manuals are: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers and Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (also called APA).

Subject heading - A standardized word or phrase found in a library catalog record  that describes the subject of a book or other work.

Subject search - Searching a database or catalog using subject terms that describe the searcher's topic. The searcher must find ways to match his/her search vocabulary with that used by the system. Both controlled vocabulary and natural language can be used in subject searching.

Thesaurus - A special source listing the controlled vocabulary terms unique to a particular database or discipline. A thesaurus serves as a key to terminology appropriate for subject searching in a particular system and shows the interrelationships among the indexing terms assigned to records in the system.

Title search - Searching title fields and any related fields in records in a particular database. A title search usually is either keyword (meaning that any significant words from the title can be the search words, with word order unimportant), phrase (meaning that part of the title can be searched, starting with the first words in the title) or exact (meaning that the exact title must be entered, as it appears in the record).

Trade/commercial press - Publishers of high-volume books and other publications. Some trade publishers specialize in certain fields and subject areas, while others publish books for a wide range of interests.

Truncation - In database searching, the use of a special symbol (* or $ or ?) at the end of a word, to pick up variations in word endings and thereby expand search results.

University press - A press sponsored by a college or university and primarily publishing very specific scholarly monographs or research journals, with profit not being a primary motive for publication.

UserID - A unique set of characters, often a name, used to login to an account. 

Wildcard - Using symbols such as * or ? in a database in order to retrieve all words that contain a root of a word or segments of a word. EXAMPLES: sing* would retrieve sing, singing, singers, single, etc.; wom?n would retrieve women, woman.