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Glossary of library terms: Home

Librarians sometimes use words that other people don't understand. Here's a list of some of those terms, along with quick definitions. Learn these terms and you'll be speaking like a native library user in no time.

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Glossary of Terms

Abstract: Brief description of an article’s contents, usually including enough information to help you decide if it will be useful to your research.

Advanced Search: Screen in the online catalog or a research database that allows you to narrow a search by limiting it to specific fields, such as author, title, or subject.

APA format: Standardized method of formatting papers and reference citations based on American Psychological Association guidelines. It is often used in social and behavioral sciences.

Article: A nonfiction report or essay usually published in a magazinescholarly journal, or newspaper.

Bibliography: Alphabetical listing of resources used by an author in researching and writing a paper, located at the end of an article, chapter, or book. The purpose of a bibliography is to help the reader locate the listed resources, so standard citation information is included for each source. Depending on the paper format, this type of list might also be called "References" or "Works Cited."

Boolean operators: Words (“and” “or" “not”) that are used to connect keywords in searches and help narrow the results (named after nineteenth-century British mathematician George Boole).

Call number: A combination of letters and numbers printed on a spine label, which makes it possible to find a book on the shelf. Hiebert Library uses the Library of Congress Classification Outline for creating its call numbers. There is another library guide on how to understatnd call numbers.

Chicago format: Standardized method of formatting papers and reference citations based on Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. It is often used in historical writing. This format is sometimes also called the "Turabian style."

Citation: Information about a resource that helps you find it, usually including title, author, periodical title, and publication date.

Controlled vocabulary: A pre-selected list of words and phrases that are used to tag items so that they may be more easily retrieved by a search. The Library of Congress Subject Headings are one of the most well-known controlled vocabulary systems. Learning how to use such systems will help you more accurately search for items in the library. Most entries in the library catalog contain subject headings that are based on controlled vocabulary systems.

Database: A collection of information that is organized so you can search the contents by keywords or controlled vocabulary to retrieve information.

Discovery service: Known as "Encore," this is the online tool for finding all resources available through Hiebert Library. It is available through the "search library" box on the Hiebert Library web page or at

Electronic Book or e-book: A book that is available full-text online. E-books can be found by searching the library catalog.

Electronic Journal or e-journal: A scholarly journal that can be accessed online and will usually contain the full text of each article.

Encore: The name of Hiebert Library's online discovery service. It can be accessed through the "library search" box on the Hiebert Library web page, or directly at

Many of these definitions were originally prepared by the Arizona State University Libraries, and are used here by permission.

Full-text: Entire contents of an article, as opposed to just a citation or abstract. This term is most often used when referring to online articles.

Hold: Process that allows you to request a book that is checked be saved or held for you when the other person returns it. Contact the circulation desk if you wish to place a hold on an item.

Interlibrary Loan: A system through which a user of one library can borrow books or receive copies or links to documents that are owned by another library. You can request an item through interlibrary loan using the form on the Hiebert Library web page.

Item: Any object (either physical or digital) held by the library. Items include books, audio-visual material, journals, e-books, or online articles.

Keyword: Word that describes a topic or is closely associated with it, and are drawn from information on a source's author, title, subjects, or abstract. Keywords are a good way to start your search, but you may want to move to an Advanced Search or a search using Controlled Vocabulary in order to focus your search more narrowly.

Library Guide: Resource collections created by the librarians to help you use the library more effectively. Go to the Library Guides page to find the searchable list.

Limiters: (or field limiters) A way to narrow an online library catalog or research database search by specifying such information as keywords, author, title, or publication date.

Link+: A consortium of over 60 libraries in California and Nevada, in which Hiebert Library is a member. The combined library holdings of Link+ members is almost 7 million unique items. FPU library users may request Link+ items from within Encore, and they will be delivered by courier to the library or any FPU regional center, usually within 2-4 business days. There is another library guide with step-by-step instructions for using Link+.

Magazine: (or popular magazine) Publication produced at regular intervals that is usually financed by advertising revenue and purchase price. The purpose is to inform a general audience. Examples include TimePsychology Today, and Scientific American.

Mennonite Library & Archives: A separate section of the library in which all material about (and most material written by) Mennonites is located. The online catalog will indicate which items may be found here. Check the library map for help finding it.

MLA format: Standardized method of formatting papers and reference citations based on Modern Language Association guidelines. It is often used in language and literature fields.

Monograph: A scholarly piece of writing, usually of book length, on a specific, often limited subject. Monographs are different than text books, which cover a broad, general topic. Monographs are one form of secondary source.

Natural Language: Words chosen by the library user when searching for library items, usually as keywords. While natural language searching often works very well, it sometimes returns unexpected and unhelpful results. The alternative to natural language is to use controlled vocabulary terms.

Oversize books: Books that are over 10.25" (26 cm.) tall are shelved in a separate section of the stacks in order make the most efficient use of space. The online catalog will indicate that the location of such books is "Hiebert Library Main Oversize." Check the library map to see the general location where oversize books can be found.

Many of these definitions were originally prepared by the Arizona State University Libraries, and are used here by permission.

Peer-reviewed Journal Article: Article that has been evaluated by experts in the field who judge whether or not the article should be published in the journal. Sometimes also called scholarly, refereed, or juried articles. Because they have been evaluated by other experts, peer-reviewed articles are generally of very high quality. When searching in some research databases, you can limit your search to peer-reviewed articles only. 

Periodical: Publication produced on a regular schedule, such as a daily newspaper, monthly magazine, or scholarly journal. Sometimes also called serials. There is another library guide that defines various kinds of periodicals in more detail.

Primary Source: First-hand accounts, original works, or original research.

Recall: Process of requesting an item checked out by another user so that you can check it out. Contact the circulation desk if you wish to recall an item.

Reference Management Software: Programs designed to help create properly-formatted citations and bibliographies. There is another library guide that describes some of these in more detail.

Reference Section: The reference section includes items such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, which contain general factual information on various topics. They are usually briefly referred to for specific pieces of information, rather than read beginning to end. Hiebert Library's reference section is located near the front desk. See the library map for the general location of the reference section. There is another library guide that describes reference material in more detail.

Research Database: Searchable collection of articles and article citations from newspapers, magazinesscholarly journals, and trade publications. Hiebert Library's research databases can be accessed through the "article search" box on the library web page.

Reserves: Materials set aside by an instructor for use in a particular course. Request these at the circulation desk.

Scholarly Journal: Publication containing articles written by scholars in a particular field to report such things as discoveries, theories, or results of new research. Examples include Journal of American HistoryModern Language Quarterly, and Reviews in Religion & Theology.

Search engine: A computer program that retrieves information from the Web based on search terms or phrases. Examples of search engines are Google and Bing.

Search Strategy: Methodology for focusing your research on a particular topic; the plan or steps taken to locate research materials. In a research database, the search strategy consists of formulating keywords and concepts that will make your search results more appropriate.

Secondary Source: Articles or books written by scholars that are often based on research in primary sources.

Spine label: A small label placed on the lower part of book spines, on which is printed a call number. When you go to the stacks to find a book, you'll look at the spine labels to find it.

Stacks: The shelves containing the materials of the library.

Many of these definitions were originally prepared by the Arizona State University Libraries, and are used here by permission.