Tools for the Novice

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How to Speak Librarianese

Librarians speak a language peppered with technical terms, acronyms, references to people and institutions, and even ordinary English words which have acquired specialized meanings for the profession. This is a preliminary list to help you translate some of the jargon we may throw around. Don't worry -- in a few months, you'll be speaking like a native! If you read or hear something you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask. You might also check the glossaries and other aids listed in the list of sources in this packet.

Especially useful supplements to my list are:
Colorado State University
Library Terminology: A Guide for International Students
University of Tennessee-Knoxville
LIS Wiki (a variation on Wikipedia for librarians)
Online dictionary for Library and Information Science--this one is an entire book, all online!

I strongly urge you to use these alongside this glossary, as they cover Internet and other technical terms that I have omitted.

Underlined words or phrases in definitions have their own entries in this list. URLs are provided for some entries.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, second edition; the rules used for describing and entering library materials in catalogs.
A brief summary of a work which tells enough to allow a reader to decide whether or not it has the information sought; in many cases, it also contains keywords and/or terms used to index the work so that it can be retrieved.
When used in its broadest sense, this term encapsulates the purpose of librarianship--enabling people to identify, locate, and use the information that will meet their educational, occupational, and personal needs. Librarians espouse principles of free inquiry and intellectual freedom; they oppose barriers to access, such as censorship or restrictions based on age, cost, etc. In library organizational structure, access services encompasses functions such as circulation, interlibrary loan, technical services. In the context of automated information systems, one talks about the way a computer "accesses" records in a file. In cataloging, access points are the names, subject headings, etc., which lead to the bibliographic record.
Activities related to obtaining library materials through purchase, exchange, or gift.
Adult services
Public libraries frequently use this term to describe the functions of providing materials, programs, readers' advisory, and other services for adults.
American Library Association (
Association of Library and Information Science Education
A note which accompanies an entry in a bibliography, which tells what the item is about. It differs from an abstract in that it need not necessarily be a summary of the contents. It can be objective, evaluative, or promotional, depending on the purpose of the bibliography.
American National Standards Institute; see NISO
Organized body of noncurrent records of an organization, corporation, agency, or an individual or family, maintained and preserved because of their historical value or to meet legal requirements; also, the depository itself. An archive may be a part of a library or other institution, or it may be a separate entity. It differs from a library in the means it uses to organize the collection and to provide access to it.
Association of Research Libraries (
American Society for Information Science (
Authority control
Means used to insure consistency in entering variant names, titles, spellings, etc. into a database.
Changing from manual, paperbased methods of recording , organizing, and retrieving information to computerized systems. Circulation control and cataloging are among the most widely automated library functions.
Bibliographic control
The identification and location of items of recorded information, described and listed in an orderly arrangement. The aim is to provide access to the bibliographic universe.
Bibliographic instruction--in academic libraries, classes for students on how to use the library. In elementary and high schools, teaching library skills is more commonly used (see also Information literacy).
Bibliographic record
The description of an item of recorded information, which includes all the data necessary to uniquely identify it, together with access points. For records entered into an online catalog, the MARC format is generally used.
Bibliographic utility
Organization which maintains an online bibliographic database to support library functions such as cataloging and interlibrary loan (e.g., OCLC, RLIN) Libraries can arrange to access bibliographic records directly or through service centers (e.g. PALINET in our area)
A list of selected items from the bibliographic universe, which bear some relationship to each other; arrangement varying depending on purpose. Also, the study of books as physical objects (as a means of determining the history and transmission of texts) and the description of books in terms of authorship, edition, etc.
A method of searching a computerized database which uses the operators "and," "or," and "not" to combine concepts.
Once meant library user scanning the stacks for something to read; now more likely to refer to software used to access Web documents (e.g., Lynx, Mosaic, Netscape).
Call number
Set of symbols which identifies an item in a library collection and indicates its location. Usually, a combination of classification and author designations.
A file of bibliographic records, created according to specific and uniform principles of construction and under the control of an authority file, which describes the materials contained in a collection, library, or group of libraries. It is commonly produced in card, book, online (OPAC), CD-ROM, or COM formats.
Compact Disc Read-Only Memory; a format increasingly used to store large computer-readable bibliographic database.
Certification of librarians
Often confused with licensure; in New Jersey, public librarians and educational media specialists must be "certified" by the Department of Education, i.e., licensed to practice, based upon educational credentials. Certification is used accurately when the term refers to the process by which a professional or other appropriate body establishes qualifications and competencies and certifies individuals who meet these; usually voluntary.
Function of lending library materials to borrowers.
A note referring to a work from which information is quoted or alluded to.
Classification system
A scheme for arranging books and other materials according to subject, such as the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress systems.
In the computer context, software used to get data from another computer, i.e. a server. In the human context, an information user, a customer, or a patron.
Council on Library & Information Resources (
Coalition for Networked Information, sponsored by ARL and several educational organizations; concerned with information policy, with special attention to copyright and intellectual property issues.
A library's entire contents, or some specific portion of it, such as the children's collection.
Collection management
Includes setting and coordinating selection policies; assessing user needs and studying use; selection, evaluation, and weeding; planning for resource sharing.
Computer Output Microform
The use of chemicals and physical procedures in treatment or storage to ensure the preservation of books, manuscripts and other materials.
OCLCs Cooperative Online Resource Catalog, a database of collaborative library-selected Web-based resource descriptions; automates creation of metadata , maintenance of links, etc. (
Creative Commons (CC)
A nonrofit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative work available to others to share legally by providing free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof..
Organized collection of information stored in a computer. Sometimes applied to noncomputerized set of data.
Dewey Decimal Classification
Depository library
Legally designated to receive free copies of government publications.
Descriptive cataloging
That part of cataloging which deals with the description of the item, as opposed to the provision of subject access.
In indexing, word or symbol used to designate the subject of a work.
Major vendor of online databases. (
Digital Library
Collection of texts, images, etc., encoded so as to be stored, retrieved, and read by computer.
Digital Repository
Organization that maintains digital resources on behalf of their creators, e.g., the collection of a university faculties' manuascripts (institutional repository)
Process of identifying electronic network information resources, usually through a surrogate, such as a URL; see also retrieval.
Dublin Core
A 15-element metadata set for describing Web resources. See
The entity which contains recorded information-- a book, a graphic, an audiorecording, etc. may be called a document, regardless of medium (e.g., digital, paper, magnetic tape)
Formerly, and still used in some other countries to mean systematic collection, organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of specialized information, especially scientific or technical. In the context of computers, the manual that explains hardware and software operation.
Digital book that can be read on software-specific portable readers.
Most accurately, a journal that is published only in electronic format.
Encoded Archival Description, used by to create machine-readable finding aids. Archival finding aids are "descriptive bibliography or metadata tools which take the form of inventories, registers, indexes, guides, and similar resources created by museums, libraries, repositories, and other kinds of archives."
Encoded Archival Description, used by to create machine-readable finding aids. Archival finding aids are "descriptive bibliography or metadata tools which take the form of inventories, registers, indexes, guides, and similar resources created by museums, libraries, repositories, and other kinds of archives."
Electronic edition
Electronic text that has some value added to it, such as annotation or advanced searching capability or both; may be literary or documentary in content, with different guidelines pertaining. Usually prepared with SGML.
End user
A library user who requests an online database search; nonlibrarian who conducts his/her own online searches.
An access point to a bibliographic record under which the record may be searched and identified; a record of an item in a catalog or bibliography. Traditionally, one entry was designated as the "main entry," and others were "added."
Educational Resources Information Center ( is composed of 16 clearinghouses under the auspices of the National Library of Education, U.S. Department of Education. The ERIC database includes the monthly abstract journal Resources in Eduction (RIE) and Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE) and contains material relevant to librarianship. It may be searched through the Rutgers Libraries network.
Any digitized writing.
Ferber - FRBR
Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records. A conceptual model for how bibliographic records can be structured. More at "What is FRBR" by the Library of Congress at :
A collection of related records treated as a unit.
File Transfer Protocol, which makes it possible to send data between computers.
Internet-based information retrieval method consisting of collaboratively created labels that catalog content such as web pages, online photographs, and web links. A folksonomic approach to metadata creation enables the personal classification (or "tagging") of digital resources.
"Garbage in, garbage out."
Software that searches and retrieves documents on remote computers for display on yours. Information is presented via menus.
The access point to a bibliographic record which determines the filing of the entry.
Issues of a serial owned by a library; also may be used to mean the library's entire collection.
HyperText Markup Language; used to "write" Web pages.
HyperText Transport Protocol -- allows servers and browsers to communicate on the WWW.
Information and referral, a service provided by some public libraries which directs users to community services.
ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. (
International Federation of Library Associations (
InterLibrary Loan
Institute for Museum and Library Services replaces the OERI as the home of federal library grants programs ( The Library Services and Technology Act replaces LSCA and Title II of the Higher Education Act.
Systematic guide to the contents of a file, document, or group of documents.
Often used very broadly to encompass all ideas, facts, and imaginative works; can also be used to mean a single data element. Whole volumes have been written in the effort to define it satisfactorily.
Information broker
Individual or organization providing information service to clients for a fee.
Information center
Corporate libraries are often called this; may also mean that department of an organization which assists staff in using computers.
Information industry
Used by librarians to lump vendors of online databases, jobbers, producers of materials and automated systems acquired by libraries, etc.
Information literacy
The ability to define problems in terms of information needs, to locate, evaluate, and apply information (see also BI).
Information science
The study of the creation, use, and management of information in all its forms.
Information technology
The entire array of mechanical and electronic devices which aid in the storage, retrieval, communication, and management of information--from typewriters to computers to copying machines.
An array of many computer networks linked via common communications protocols, which includes major educational, research, and governmental institutions in some seventy countries.
A specified period of planned and supervised professional training in a library, upon completion of the MLS, such as the internships provided by the Library of Congress, the University of Michigan Libraries, or the National Library of Medicine. Often used erroneously to describe the practicum or field experience included as part of the course work leading towards the master's.
Not a misspelling of Internet; rather, an internal information utility that links an organization's workstations, online systems, and databases, using the same protocol, e-mail, and world wide web standards as the Internet. It can span secure departmental LANs, and is protected from the Internet at large by a firewall.
Information retrieval
Information technology
Wholesale book supplier who sells books from the various publishers to bookstores and libraries.
A significant word in the title, abstract, or text of a document which is used as a descriptor.
Local area network, a small network of computers in one area (connected by cables and other devices, sharing programs and data).
Library of Congress; the unofficial national library of the U.S. which serves Congress and provides many services to all types of libraries. LC may also refer to the Library of Congress Classification system. (
LC subject headings list
A definition recently proposed for use in federal occupational classification:
"Provides timely, working information to a specialized clientele to further the objectives of libraries, educational institutions, museums, non-profit organizations, government agencies, news organizations, law firms, and health care providers. Possesses expert knowledge of information resources, and anticipates the needs of the organization or client. Critically evaluates and filters information to design tailored information products that can meet the strategic goals of the organization or client. Functions also include acquisition, cataloging,circulation, collection maintenance, and reference services; compiling, analyzing, writing, editing, computer programming, and systems design."
(from SLA-NJ Government Relations Committee Report, 12/8/97). The SLA proposed this definition; it is not clear whether it has been accepted. See MLS.
"Q. The word "library" seems to be used in so many different ways now, from the brick-and-mortar public library to the digital library. Is there a good definition of what a library is?
A. We're glad you asked. ALA's Whole Library Handbook 4 offers this definition: "A library is a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is (1) organized by information professionals or other experts who (2) provide convenient physical, digital, bibliographic, or intellectual access and (3) offer targeted services and programs (4) with the mission of educating, informing, or entertaining a variety of audiences (5) and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole" (p. 2). The definition was developed in consultation with several different sources." From the ALA Professional Tips wiki.
Library Bill of Rights
Codifies the profession's stance on intellectual freedom as it relates to libraries; reproduced elsewhere in this packet; available via (
Electronic discussion set up for a particular group and/or purpose. As soon as you have an account on the SCILS server, you should subscribe to the LISSA listserv.
Literature search
A systematic and exhaustive search for published material on a specific topic.
Learning resources center; often used instead of library in community colleges.
Library Services and Construction Act, legislation which provided federal funds for libraries through FY1997; see IMLS
Machine-Readable Cataloging--standardized communications format developed by LC for producing and distributing bibliographic records; provides the consistency needed for automating library systems and sharing of records.
Media center
Often used instead of, or in combination with school library.
MEdical Subject Headings (http://www.nlm.nih.giv/mesh/meshhome.html.) National Library of Medicine, U.S. A comprehensive controlled vocabulary primarily of topical subjects, with cross references, broader terms, narrower terms, and scope notes, used to describe and index the content or subject of library and archival materials in the field of medicine.
Medical Library Association ( or Music Library Association (
Data about data, such as MARC records or Dublin Core. The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has a booklet Understanding Metadata that you can download at: resources/UnderstandingMetadata.pdf
At Rutgers, this stands for the master's degree in library service; used generically, it means a master's degree in library and information studies, although various schools use different wording and letters. The ALA policy states that "The master's degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association is the appropriate professional degree for librarians."
Machine-readable data file; e.g., the census data tapes.
National library
A library designated by a government as such, which usually means that it is the copyright depository and the bibliographic control center of a country.
National Commission on Libraries and Information Science; comprised Librarian of Congress and fourteen members appointed by the President with advice and consent of Senate; organizer of two White House Conferences on Libraries and Information Services; see its "Principles of Public Information" reproduced in this packet.
*NOTE: The NCLIS was closed in 2008. Some of its functions were consolidated into the IMLS.
Another multifaceted word, which can mean anything from informal collegial communication to the linking of computer stations on a campus. A library network may be a group of libraries that agree to extend borrowing privileges to one another's users, or it may be an arrangement whereby libraries exchange information electronically through a bibiliographic utility, such as OCLC.
National Information Infrastructure, a government initiative to develop policies that will affect information access via telecommunication, including the Internet, cable, telephone, etc.
National International Standards Organization, a subgroup of ANSI, which prepares technical standards of importance to libraries and publishers, e.g., romanization of various alphabets, criteria for indexes, rules for serials holdings statements, book numbering, etc. (see Z39.2, for example).
National Library of Medicine.
Online Computer Library Center--bibliographic utility which libraries use to trace, acquire, and catalog materials, or arrange interlibrary loans; formerly Ohio Computer Library Center.
Online database service or vendor
Organization which provides access to computerized information, such as DIALOG, Ovid, etc.
Out of print.
Online public access catalog.
Open Access
Resources that are openly available to users with no requirements for authentication or payment.
Open Source
Program with coding that is available for anyone to download, use, and modify at no charge
Provides bibliographic services based on OCLC to midatlantic region; offers training, consulting, etc. in "technologies which foster information access, resource sharing..."
Peer Review
The process by which scholarly articles are chosen to be included in a refereed journal. An editorial board consisting of experts in the author's field review the article and decide if it is authoritative enough for publication.
Actions taken to prevent the deterioration of library materials and to save their intellectual content. See conservation.
Public services
Includes reference, user assistance and instruction, and other functions not generally considered to fall within technical services.
Resource Description Framework, an application of XML, which allows the exchange of metadata.
Ready reference
Provision of quick answers to factual questions, using standard sources such as dictionaries, almanacs, and directories.
Reference service
Providing answers to users' questions, in person or by telephone.
The fetching of information, through the discovery process.
Radio Frequency Identification, a technology that allows a tiny chip to uniquely identify objects, which libraries might wnat to use for circulation control. controversial becuase of privacy issues.
Research Libraries Information Network, the bibliographic utility which serves primarily very large university libraries (Rutgers is one). The database may be searched via Rutgers; now incorporated in OCLC.
Really Simple Syndication is the usual explanation for what RSS stands for; it is a protocol that allows you to receive automatically updates of selected Web sites
Social Bookmarking
The practice of saving bookmarks to a public website and tagging them with keywords.
Society of American Archivists. (
List of subject headings used by small, nonspecialized libraries.
Can refer to the machine that stores files of many users and programs that can be shared, or to the program that allows communication with a client, such as a browser.
Standardized General Markup Language, used in creating electronic editions of scholarly material.
Master file of a library's collection, arranged in the same classified order as the books on the shelves.
Special Libraries Association (
State library
The library that serves a state's legislature and state employees; usually also the general public. In many cases, it also houses the state's library development agency, which distributes state and federal aid to libraries, conducts statewide planning, fosters cooperation and resource sharing, and collects statistics. For New Jersey, see
An identifier standing for a particular information resource.
Syndetic structure
In a catalog or index, the network of see and see also references showing relationships between headings and descriptors.
Technical services
Generally includes cataloging, acquisitions, processing of new materials.
Word or phrase used in a definite or precise sense to provide access to a record.
Guide to use of terms, showing relationships between them, for the purpose of providing standardized, controlled vocabulary for information storage and retrieval.
The operating system used on the SCILS and Rutgers computers through which you will use e-mail, etc. As opposed to the operating system on a personal computer (e.g., DOS, Windows, MacOS), UNIX allows multiple users and uses at the same time.
Uniform resource locator -- Web address.
Union list
Merged list of holdings of several libraries, usually serials, showing who has what.
User-centered Catalog
An online catalog that is born and assumes its form while it is consulted, and whose form is conditioned, if not determined, by its users.
Virtual library
Access to electronic information in a variety of remote locations through a local online catalog or other gateway, such as the Internet.
Web site
A file of related Web pages of text and graphics linked through Hypertext.
World Wide Web (Web for short), a system that gives hypertext-linked access to information on the Internet.
White House Conference on Library and Information Services.
Extensible Markup Language, a subset of SGML, expected to eventually replace HTML.
The NISO Information Interchange Format which undergirds library automation and cooperation by standardizing the MARC and other bibliographic formats.

*Some definitions are from the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science (ALA, 1983)

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