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Library Terms

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Abstract: A summary of an article or dissertation. When available, an abstract can assist you in deciding whether an item will be useful for you.

Accession Number: The unique identifier assigned to each record in a database. It is usually a combination of numbers or numbers and letters.

Adobe Acrobat Reader: The computer program that is needed to open and view PDFs. Most full-text databases provide articles in PDF format.

And: A Boolean operator that narrows a search by requiring all search terms be present in the results retrieved because of the search. For example, hot and cold would only retrieve information where both "hot" and "cold" appear. See also operators.


Bibliographic Record: The collection of information about an item, recorded in a standard format and held in a database. In the past, these records were typed onto cards and filed in the card catalog. Today, they are computer records stored in the online catalog.

Bibliography: A list of citations for books, articles and other resources on a particular subject. Some are published as books, while others are locally produced lists. The list of references at the end of a research paper is also called a bibliography.

Bindery: The office in the library where loose, current issues of periodicals are sent when they are ready to be bound together. If you see a message in the online catalog that says "Shelved in: Temporary Area. Ask at Acquisitions" in the OSU Online Catalog, what you are looking for is in the Bindery. You can use these materials as long as they are in the OSU Library, but you must ask at the Bindery processing door on second floor, west.

Boolean Logic: A method for combining search terms using operators to limit or expand the numbers of results. Originally developed by the mathematician George Boole in the mid-19th Century. See also Boolean Operators, Venn Diagrams and Operators.

Boolean Operators: Commands that allow search terms to be combined to either narrow or broaden a search. Originally developed by the mathematician George Boole in the mid-19th Century. The three basic operators are AND, OR, NOT.

Boolean Searching: The name for using Boolean Logic and Boolean Operators in a search. See also operators.

Bound Periodical: When a full year (or two to three inches worth, whichever comes first) of a periodical is received, the issues are then made into a hard-cover book (bound) and shelved in the stacks. In the OSU Library, bound periodicals are given a call number and shelved with the books.

Browsers: A browser is a software program that enables you to view World Wide Web documents. Examples of browsers include Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mosaic, Macweb, and Netcruiser. OSU's Computer & Information Services (CIS) supports Netscape.


Call Number: The unique address of a book in the stacks. The main system of call numbers used at Oklahoma State University Libraries is the Dewey Decimal system. An example of a Dewey call number is:

The top number is the subject identifier; other items on the same topic will be shelved in the same area. A chart of the Dewey Decimal numbers can be found here. Besides Dewey, there are several other call number systems in use at OSU. The Government Documents Department uses two different call number systems -- SuDocs numbers and Jackson Numbers. The Curriculum Materials Library uses a system found in many libraries to denote children's books of various reading levels. See also Library of Congress Classification System.

Call Slip: A small piece of paper that gives location information for items held by a library. In a "closed stack" system, call numbers for materials needed must be listed on the call slip then given to a library employee who will retrieve the materials for you. In an "open stack" system, the call slip indicates where call numbers are located in the building. In open stack systems, users can go to the floors and retrieve the materials themselves. OSU uses open stacks and users are welcome on all floors to browse the collection. In the OSU Library, call slips can be found by the OSU Online Catalog terminals, the reference and circulation desks.

Catalog: The collection of records identifying and locating the items owned by a library is called its catalog. In the past, this would have been a large collection of drawers with cards called a card catalog. Each card contained the information needed to identify what the library owned and where it was located. Today, most libraries have moved to an online catalog, where the bibliographic records are entered into a computer database, which can be searched to find desired information. At OSU, this catalog is known as the OSU Library Catalog.

CD-ROM: Compact Disc-Read Only Memory. Like an audio CD, a CD-ROM stores information for later playback. Many books are now published with CD-ROM's that may have supplemental information, practice exercises, or guidelines for the book. In addition, many libraries have periodical indexes on CD-ROM. In the OSU Library, these can be used in any of the reference areas.

Circulate: This is what it's called when a book is checked out. Most of the library material which is checked out can be taken from the building, but some such as reserve material must be used in the library. Other items may not circulate at all. Items which often do not circulate are reference books, periodicals, and expensive or rare items.

Circulation and Reserve Desk: This is the place where materials are checked out and returned. The reserves are also found at this desk. In Edmon Low Library, the Circulation and Reserve Desk is on the south side of the First Floor.

Citation: The information needed to locate the source of information. This information is needed both for you to find the source to begin with, as well as for anyone who reads your work and wishes to read more about it. For a book, this includes the author of the book, title, publisher plus place and date of publication. If the citation is to specific pages in the book, this must be included as well. Citations for an article include the author and title of the article, name of the periodical, pages and date of publication. For more information or to see specific examples see a style manual.

Closed Stacks: A library shelving system which restricts access to the books in the library to library employees only. This system is found in many private collections but it may also be found in open libraries for particular parts of the collection like Reserves or Special Collections. See also open stacks and call slip.

CopiCard: The rechargeable debit card used to operate photocopiers and printers in many libraries. In the Edmon Low Library, they can be purchased in three places: at the machine across the East hall from the Microform and Media Room, the machine in the North entryway across from the bulletin board, or in the STC CopiCenter. They can also be purchased at the reference desks in branches of the library.

Course Reserves: Materials which a professor has identified as being important to his/her course. They may include supplemental information such as tests or quiz files, homework, class notes, solution sets, or textbooks. Course reserves may also include required readings. See your course syllabus for references to course reserves. In the Edmon Low Library, course reserves are located at the Circulation and Reserve Desk on first floor.

Cross-Reference: A term used in catalogs, thesauruses and indexes to lead you from one form of entry to another (e.g., American poets see Poets--American).

Current Periodical: Issues of magazines or journals that are still loose (unbound). These are usually issues published in the last year. In most libraries, the online catalog record will indicate whether or not a specific issue is bound or with the other current periodicals. In the Edmon Low Library, these are shelved in alphabetical order in the Current Periodicals section on First floor.


Database: A collection of information (data) which is arranged in individual records and is searchable. An example of a database is a city phone book; a record includes a person's name, address and phone number. These records are searchable by the last name in each record. Usually when someone refers to something as a database, they are referring to an electronic database.

Descriptors: Subject headings developed for a specific index. An example would be the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) descriptors.

Dewey Decimal Classification System: This is the call number system used by OSU Libraries. It is based on the decimal system, like American money. The general subject is represented by the number to the left of the decimal point, while the numbers to the right of the decimal point indicate very specific topics within that general subject. The Dewey Decimal Classification System groups items on the same subject together within the same call number. A chart of the Dewey Decimal numbers can be found here.

Download: Save to diskette. You would do this if you wanted to save your database search results to look at them later, rather than printing them out right then.



Field: In a database, the part of a record used for a particular category of data. For example, the title field holds the title information for each record. Many of the electronic databases allow you to search on specific fields, so if you know the author's last name and a word in the title, you can search just those two fields.

FirstSearch©: FirstSearch© is a collection of databases, all searchable in the same manner. This way, once you learn how to search one FirstSearch© database, you know how to search all of them.

Full-Text: Some electronic databases provide the text of articles they index along with the citation and abstract. Full-text articles usually do not include any pictures or tables that accompanied the original article, unless they are saved as an Adobe Acrobat File. There is a list of the periodicals that are available full-text.


General Reference Desk: The reference desk on the First Floor which combines Science and Engineering reference with Humanities and Social Sciences reference.

Government Documents: Any materials published by governments such as reports, maps, statistics, congressional data, tax information, and laws are considered government documents. The US Government is the world's largest publisher. One goal of this publishing effort is to make it accessible to the public through the Federal Depository Library Program. This Program places at least one copy of approximately half of everything published by the government in libraries. The OSU Library is a Regional Depository Library and accepts, catalogs, and retains forever, copies of all federal government materials it receives. In addition to US Government publications, the OSU Library is a depository for State of Oklahoma documents and receives many documents from other state governments and International agencies. Government Documents are located on the Fifth Floor of the Edmon Low Library.

Government Documents Microforms Room: This is the room on Fifth Floor where the microform items of the Government Documents collection are kept.

Government Documents Reference Desk: The reference desk on Fifth Floor in the Government Documents area. This desk is staffed by librarians with special training in locating and using government documents.


Holdings: Some library material arrives in more than one piece. Holdings are a listing of all of the pieces for an item. Most of the time, when you see a holdings record, you will be looking at a periodical. The holdings record will tell you exactly which years and volumes of a periodical the library owns. There are also records for multi-volume books that include holdings.

Hypertext: A technology that allows a computer user to click on a spot in a computer file that will then jump them to a different file. Links in World Wide Web pages are examples of hypertext.


Index: A research tool that lets you find information in periodicals, books and conference proceedings. Some indexes are general, pointing at information in a wide variety of sources, while others only look at the literature in one subject area. Indexes can be electronic or paper. An example of a general paper index is the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. An example of a subject-specific electronic index is PsycInfo. The word "index" is also used to describe what these resources do with a periodical. So, PsycInfo indexes many psychology journals.

Information Literacy: The ability to recognize a need for information, find, evaluate and use that information in whatever format (print index, online database, Internet, etc.) it appears.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL): A service which allows you to use books and other materials not owned by your library. At OSU, this service is limited to OSU Faculty, Staff, and Students. Restrictions may apply at other libraries as well. Request forms can be found in the reference areas, the Interlibrary Services Office (First Floor west), and on the OSU Library web page.

Internet: The world-wide network of computers that enables people to share information without ever leaving their desks. The World Wide Web allows interaction with the Internet through the use of images and hypertext links.


Jackson Numbers: A method of arranging a collection of public documents according to the agencies that issue them. This system was developed at Oklahoma State University in the 1940's. Jackson Numbers are intended to be applied to any public document, including those issued by foreign governments and international agencies (i.e., the United Nations). See also call number, SuDocs numbers, and Government Documents.

Journal: A periodical on a single topic published by an academic or association press. It will contain original research. A journal is more scholarly than a magazine you would buy in a grocery store or a newsstand. Journal articles are signed by the author(s) and include a bibliography.


Keyword: A word used when searching.

Keyword Searching: A search performed in any database that looks for important words in a number of fields at one time.


Library of Congress (LC) Classification System: A call number system that uses a mix of letters and numbers to indicate the topic of an item. This system is not used at Edmon Low Library.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH): A set list of subject terms for items in libraries created by the Library of Congress. Most libraries use the LCSH, which makes it easy to find material on the same subject in different libraries. See also subject headings.

Link: In a web page, a location which, when clicked, will move you to a different page. Links are usually marked by text that is a different color and/or underlined. Any place on a web page where the mouse cursor turns into a hand is a link. See also hypertext.


Magazine: A periodical that is published by a commercial publishing house. They often cover multiple topics in one issue. A magazine is written at a less scholarly level than a journal. Magazine articles frequently report on events or the work of another person. They are usually not signed nor do they include a bibliography.

Media: Any format for information storage that requires special listening or viewing equipment: i.e., microfilm, microfiche, videotape, CD-ROMs.

Menu: Choices and commands that are displayed on the computer screen and can be selected by the user. Most programs have their menus on the top of the screen, while databases will often have theirs on the left side or bottom of the display.

MeSH (Medical Subject Headings): A system of subject headings related to the medical fields. These will be seen most often in catalog records for items found at the Veterinary Medicine Library.

Microform and Media Room: Where any media that is held in the Main Library will be found. The Microform and Media Room is on the First Floor, East Wing.

Microfiche: A type of microform where the images are stored on flat sheets of film. Magazines and journals often are stored on microfiche.

Microfilm: A type of microform where the images are stored on rolls of film. Newspapers are often stored on microfilm.

Microform: 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.


Noise Words: Another, less commonly used name for stop words.

Not: A Boolean operator that narrows a search by excluding terms. For example, swimming not beaches would retrieve information about swimming that does not include the word beaches. See also operators.


Online: Refers to a computer system that can be continually and/or remotely accessed. The OSU Library's catalog and web-based databases are examples of online resources.

Online catalog: The publicly searchable computer system that stores the bibliographic records for a library's materials. See also catalog.

Open Stacks: A library shelving system which allows all users access to the books in the stacks. Users are free to browse the collection and select the books they wish to use without involving library personnel. With the exception of reserves and special collections, the collection of the OSU Library is an open stack system, although assistance is available to users with special needs.

Operators: Commands that are used to combine keywords to broaden or narrow the results of a search. Combining terms using operators is sometimes called Boolean searching. Boolean operators are the words AND, OR, NOT, which are used to connect search terms. AND narrows a search by requiring that both terms be present. OR broadens a search by incorporating synonyms or alternate terms. NOT narrows a search by excluding terms. Most databases include other operators, but AND, OR, NOT are the three that will always work.

Or: A Boolean operator that broadens a search by incorporating synonyms or alternate terms. For example, doctors or nurses would retrieve everything that mentions doctors in addition to everything that mentions nurses. See also operators.


PDF: Stands for "Portable Document File. This file format is the most common way full-text articles are provided. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to view PDFs.

Periodical: A publication that is issued regularly, normally at least twice a year. Other schedules are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or biannually. Examples are journals, magazines, and newspapers. See also current periodicals and bound periodicals.

PETE: The former name for the OSU Library computer system that accesses the library catalog and the electronic databases.



Ranges: The shelves where library materials are kept in call number order. Also called stacks.

Recall: When a recall is placed on an item, the person who currently has the book checked out receives a notice that they have two weeks to return the item, since someone else wishes to use it. Any library patron may recall an item.

Record: The collection of fields that, when taken together, describe a unique item. In the days of the card catalog, each card held one record, and there were at least three cards for each item. In the online catalog or any other database, there is one record for each item.

Reference Area: The place or places in the library that have a reference desk, a reference collection and a reference librarian gathered together. The OSU Library has reference areas on First Floor (the General Reference Desk) and on Fifth Floor (the Government Documents Reference Desk).

Reference Collection: A selection of library materials kept in a specific location that are used to begin research and to answer quick questions. The items in the reference collection (also referred to as Reference Books) do not circulate, so they are always available for use. Examples of reference books include dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, directories, bibliographies, indexes, and statistical compilations.

Reference Desk: Most libraries have a desk where users can get specific information about a particular library and its collection. This may include how to find information, how to use the tools available, the location of items in the library, or the answer to a question. In the Edmon Low Library, this desk is centrally located on the First floor. Reference librarians and others working at this desk can help you refine your search topic, answer general questions, instruct you in the use of the many online and paper resources available, and are generally very helpful at any time in the research process.

Reference Librarian: A professional librarian (one who has a Masters degree in Library Science) who specializes in the field of information retrieval.

Renew: When you renew library material, you are extending the lending period ("due date") of those items. Renewals may be made in person at the Circulation Desk, through the OSU Library Catalog, email, mail, phone and fax.

Reserve Desk: The part of the Circulation Desk where reserve items are kept.

Reserves: Materials kept at the Circulation and Reserve Desk which have shorter loan periods. In addition to course reserves, items on reserve at the OSU Library include current newspapers, some magazines, high demand items such as computer or programming books, study guides for teacher certification, and manuals for some computer software.


Search engine: Generic name for the programs and sites on the World Wide Web that allow you to search other sites.

Search operators: Commands that are used to combine keywords to broaden or narrow a search. See also operators.

Serials: Publications that appear regularly. In addition to periodicals, this term is often used to describe book series.

Shelves: Where materials are kept in call number order in the library. See also stacks.

Special Collections: Many libraries have materials which are not placed in the public stacks. These may be old, rare, or expensive. They may also be materials of a local or regional nature, or written by local authors. These materials may be available to the public, but usually special arrangements must be made in advance to view them.

Stacks: The shelves where books and bound periodicals are kept in call number order in the library. Also called ranges.

Status: The place in an online catalog record that tells you whether an item is available, checked out, etc.

Stemming: Some databases automatically search for all of the words that come from the same "stem" word (also called "root" word) unless you indicate that you only want the word you entered. An example would be if you entered computer, the database would also search for computing, computers, computation, etc.

Stop Words: Stop words are small, frequently occurring words that are often ignored when typed into a database or search engine search. Some examples: THE, AN, A, OF. If a stop word is typed at the beginning of a title search, this will often stop the search entirely.

Style Manual: A book or web page that prescribes how materials used in research should be listed in a bibliography or Works Cited page. The most commonly used style manuals are those from the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Subject Headings: Words or phrases assigned to books and articles to describe what the item is about. These words and phrases come from controlled lists that are available in library reference areas so researchers can know which terms to use in their searches. LCSH, MeSH and ERIC descriptors are examples of subject headings.

SuDocs Numbers: A method of arranging U.S. government documents by agency. The Superintendent of Documents classification system (SuDocs) was developed in the Library of the Government Printing Office between 1895 and 1903. See also call number and Jackson Numbers.


Truncation: Using the first part of a word to find any word in a database that starts with those letters. After typing in the first part of the word, a symbol is then typed in to represent any number of letters to follow. An example would be: comput? This would find computer, computing, computational, computers, etc. This is a fast way to search for plurals or related words. The truncation symbols used by individual databases will vary. The database Help screen will tell you which symbol to use.



Venn Diagram: A graphical depiction of Boolean Logic, using intersecting circles to represent search operations. See also Operators.


Web Browser: Also known as a browser, this is a software program that enables you to view World Wide Web documents. The two most common web browsers are Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Wild Card: A symbol used in searching to represent one or more letters. It is most often used to find plurals and other variants of words. Commonly used symbols include "?" "*" and "+". See also truncation.

World Wide Web (WWW): The World Wide Web allows interaction with the Internet through the use of small images called icons and hypertext links. It is often referred to as the "graphical side of the Internet," due to its heavy use of images and other graphics.




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Last Updated: 1 Sept 2009