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Library Research Process: A Tutorial

Glossary of Library Terms

Library vocabulary can be confusing! Here are some terms you may encounter in this tutorial or when doing actual library research:

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Abstract - An academic word for summary.

Advanced Search - A set of options in a search engine or database that give the user more control. Usually found via a link labeled “advanced search”, these options usually allow the user to refine or narrow the search in order to find results more suited to the user’s information needs. Specific options will be different depending on the search engine or database. 

Autobiography - A story of a person’s life written by that person.


Bias - Judgment unfairly influenced by subjective opinion when the situation calls for reliance on objective fact. ^

Bibliography - A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. * 

Biography - An account of a person’s life written by another person.

Blog (Weblog) - A Web page that provides frequent continuing publication of Web links and/or comments on a specific topic or subject (broad or narrow in scope), often in the form of short entries arranged in reverse chronological order, the most recently added piece of information appearing first…. Synonymous with blog. The process of maintaining a Weblog is known as blogging. ^ (No expertise is required).

Boolean operator - The words AND, OR, or NOT that command a search engine (or search interface of a database) to combine search terms in specific ways. AND and NOT help to narrow and OR helps to broaden searches. 


Call number - A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress and Superintendent of Documents. *

Circulating collection - Term used in some libraries to identify materials that can be checked out and taken out of the library for a period of time. Usually refers to a section of books also known as the stacks. Often times this collection makes up the majority of a library’s collection of books. 

Citation - A reference to a book, magazine or journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book, for example; includes its author's name; title; publisher and place of publication; and date of publication. *

Citing - The act of providing in-text citations and a reference page, bibliography, works cited page, etc. with full citations at the end of an academic paper. In general, giving credit where credit is due as in crediting a quote during a speech.

Computer literate - The ability to operate and perform basic functions on a computer. Being computer literate does not mean one is information literate. 

Confirmation bias - Accepting as true information only because it supports our beliefs. This occurs when we put a high value on information that confirms our beliefs by accepting unsupported evidence that reinforces our belief and ignoring or rejecting supported evidence that puts our beliefs in jeopardy.

Continuum - A series of related things that progress in time, quality or other criteria such as bodies of water from small to large (pond, lake, sea, ocean) or colors from warm to cool (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.

Copyright - The exclusive legal rights granted by a government to an author, editor, compiler, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to publish, produce, sell, or distribute copies of a literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or other work, within certain limitations (fair use and first sale). ^ 

Course reserves - Select books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course. These materials are usually kept in one area of the library and circulate for only a short period of time.*

Credibility - The state or quality of being worthy of trust or belief. The reliability of information content usually depends on the motives and credentials of the author or provider. ^

Currency (as it relates to current and contemporary sources) - The quality of being in progress, recent, or up-to-date. In information retrieval, the extent to which the content of a document or source reflects the existing state of knowledge about the subject. In research, the importance of currency varies, depending on the discipline. Medical and scientific information can become outdated in less than five years, but in the arts and humanities, materials decades old may be just as useful as recent information. ^


Data - Recorded qualitative or quantitative empirical observations. +

Database - A collection of information stored in an electronic format that can be searched by a computer. * 

Default - A value, option, or setting automatically selected in a hardware or software system in the absence of specific instructions from the user. The default setting may be displayed on the data entry screen to allow the user to see what action will be taken if no input is provided. *

Discovery search - See Federated Search, Discovery Search, Search All.

Dissertation - An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate. *

Domain - URL endings that appear as .com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net and .org are “top level” domains. They generally disclose the kind of organization that runs a website. For example, if the URL ends in .gov, it is a government website.


E-book (electronic book) - A digital version of a book which may or may not have a print version.

EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale - These are the names of three popular database vendors, not the databases to which they provide access. For example, both EBSCO and ProQuest provide access to the ERIC (education) database and the CINAHL (nursing) database as well as to some databases unique to their companies. 


Fair use - Conditions under which copying a work, or a portion of it, does not constitute infringement of copyright, including copying for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. ^

Federated Search, Discovery search, Search all - A search tool designed to query multiple databases in a single search. This type of search is becoming more and more common in the academic library. With a single search a user can find results that may include articles, video, websites and books from several databases.

Fiction - Literary works in prose, portraying characters and events created in the imagination of the writer. The traditional forms of fiction include the novel, novelette, and short story. Compare with NON-FICTION.^

Field (area of academia) - A subject area or discipline in academia.

Field (database) - Parts of a record in a database such as title, author subject. Database searches can be specific to one or more fields. Generally, a few fields will be available in a basic search with many additional options becoming available in an advanced search.

Find on a page - This keyboard shortcut allows the user to identify the location of a specific word on a word document or web page. To do this on a PC, press Ctrl-F. To do this on a Mac, press Command-F. 

Format - Used to describe the physical nature of a resource: electronic, print, web based, DVD, streaming, accessed via a database. 

Full text - Usually used when referring to articles. Simply describes whether you can see the entire text of the article. There is an option in most article databases that allows the user to limit results to only full-text articles. This limiter, when selected, would eliminate any results that only include a citation or a citation and abstract.


Gale - See EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale.

Genealogy - Study of ancestry and family history.

Google - A popular search engine that links to websites. Provides results to almost any search inquiry but does not provide any information to the user on the quality or credibility of sources. A tool that can be incredibly powerful yet undeniably unreliable when conducting research.


Identity Protecting Reasoning (IPR) - According to Dr. Bruce Hull, IPR occurs when people doubt science and experts rather than question their identity. Related to Confirmation Bias. 

Information literate - The ability to find and evaluate information to answer a question or fill a need as well as the knowledge of how to use the information legally and ethically.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) - The sharing of materials between libraries. Sometimes restricted to books. Often this is a free service but there can also be fees associated with this type of borrowing, which might be taken on by the library or institution, or the library patron / student.

Internet - Connected computers that may or may not be accessible to the public. The World Wide Web is the part of the internet that is searchable by engines such as Google.


Jargon - Words and phrases unique to a field or industry or commonly used words that have a different meaning in a specific field.

Journal - A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports.*


Key words, keywords - The terms that best describe a topic. The term keywords is also used in some databases to describe searching terms in multiple fields.


Library catalog, online catalog - A type of database that indicates what print and electronic holdings are available at a certain library or library system.

Library research - Finding and reading books, articles and other information sources on a topic often to support a thesis or answer a question. For a college student, the end result would often be a research paper or class presentation. 

Literature review, lit review - An overview or summary of research and writings a specific topic collected together and presented as such as a result of library research. Often appears at the beginning of scholarly/peer reviewed journal articles before the researchers present their findings. 


Microform - A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer. *


Non-fiction - Literary works in prose describing events that actually occurred and characters or phenomena that actually exist or existed in the past. Any piece of prose writing in which the content is not imagined by the author. Compare with FICTION.^


Open Educational Resource (OER) - Free educational materials with various licensing obligations for usage.

Original research - Type of research in which a researcher conducts surveys, tests, experiments, or other methods to determine new findings or confirm finding from previous research. Generally published in journals or conference proceedings. The best way to search for full-text original research is to use a library database. 


Peer review - A process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the authors’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source. A peer-reviewed journal may also be called a refereed journal or scholarly journal. *

Periodical - An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. *

Phrase - A small group of two or more words. 

Plagiarism - Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source. *

Popular information - Information that is not academic and not peer reviewed. Can be found in sources where the author is a reporter, journalist, blogger, etc. but not necessarily an expert in the field. These may or may not have been edited and fact checked depending on if the source is a newspaper, magazine, blog, or webpage. Can include many other popular sources not listed here. 

Primary source - An original record of events, such as a diary, a contemporary newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation. *

ProQuest - See EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale - Publisher - An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications * (print or electronic).


Records - A database is made up of records and the records are made up of fields. For example, in an online catalog each book has a record. The fields in that record include the title, author, publisher, publishing date, subject and so on.

Reference collection - Collection of books that may be in print or electronic format that include items such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, atlas, almanacs, etc. Print books in library reference collections are usually for in-library use only.

References cited - See Bibliography

Reserves - See Course reserves


Scholarly journal - A scholarly journal article is written by an expert in the field and may or may not be peer reviewed. See also peer-review.* 

Search All - See Federated Search, Discovery Search, Search All.

Search engine - The software that allows us to search a database. (e.g. Google’s search engine allows us to search Google’s database. EBSCO’s search engine allows us to search Academic Search Complete and other databases.)

Secondary source - Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs. *

Style manual, style guide - An information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. A style manual outlines specific formats for arranging research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing the paper. *


Tertiary source - A source of information that summarizes and/or digests information in primary or secondary sources without a pronounced point of view, for example, a subject specific encyclopedia.

Transferable skills - Skills that can be used in various and different environments. For example, information literacy skills, once learned, can be valuable in any library in the world or in any instance information seeking may take place.

Truncation - To cut off. When used in searching, a symbol such as an asterisk (*), is added to the truncated word allowing the database to replace one or multiple letters and find variations of the root word with different endings (and sometimes beginning). Example: typing in librar* will find library, librarian, libraries. 


URL (Uniform Resource Locator) - Web address such as . See also Domain.


Web, World Wide Web, WWW - A global network of servers providing access to websites that allows content to be linked. Searchable via a tool such as Google.

Wildcard - Similar to truncation, but replaces only one letter, most often within a word. Example: typing in wom?n will find variations of spelling of this word:  woman, women, womyn.


Works cited for this Glossary:

* Instruction Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, 2018. Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users - Definitions

Reitz, J. M. (2014). ODLIS: Online dictionary for library and information science. Retrieved from

Lewis-Beck, M. S., Bryman, A., & Liao, T. F. (Eds.). (2004). The Sage encyclopedia of social science research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


Creative Commons License
This glossary is adopted from Information Literacy: Basic Research Skills by Carol M. Withers, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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