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Library Terminology

Definitions of library terms.


Libraries use their own language. You may encounter terms that are only used in library settings or have different meanings. Below is a quick list of definitions of commonly-used library jargon. Need more? The Multilingual Glossary for Today's Library Users (from ACRL)  and the glossary's Language Table presents terms in seven languages:  English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese. A separate list provides Definitions in English.

stack of books


#: a symbol for the word “number.”


ABSTRACT: 1) brief summary of a book or periodical article.

2) an index by subject or author, which includes summaries of periodical articles.


AVAILABILITY: in HOYASEARCH, "availability" tells whether the physical item is "in place" and may be borrowed or whether it is “due” (someone has borrowed the book) and when it is due back. For ebooks and online articles, "availability" will show links to the online content.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: a list of writings by an author or on a subject.


BIOGRAPHY: a book or periodical article about a person’s life.


BOOLEAN LOGIC: allows you to combine terms with “and” or “or” in computerized databases.  For example, searching “personnel management and Japan” retrieves citations which contain both terms.  Searching “automobiles or cars” retrieves citations which contain at least one of the terms. Boolean Searching online tutorial.


BROWSER: software, such as Google or Firefox, that displays Web files.


CALL NUMBER (CALL #): a combination of letters and numbers which indicates the location of library materials and works like an address.  The call number appears under “Call Number” in the online catalog and on the spine of the book.  B 151 .S6 is an example of a call number. "How to Read a Call Number" provides more explanation. (see LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION)


CD-ROM: Compact Disc Read-Only Memory.


CHECK OUT: to borrow library material for use outside the library.


CIRCULATE: books that circulate may be borrowed for use outside the library.


CIRCULATION DESK: the counter in the library where books are borrowed for use outside the library.


CITATION: the information needed to identify and locate a book or periodical article.  This usually includes its author, title, and date.  This information is used to compile a bibliography.


CROSS REFERENCE: a direction from one subject heading to use another subject heading instead; also called a “see reference.”


DATABASE: an organized collection of related information or data (usually computerized).


DUE DATE: the book should be returned to the library by this date.  The due date is on a slip of paper put into the back of the book when you check it out.  If you return it late, you will be charged a fee.


FOLIO: a very large book (over 35 cm. tall) kept on special shelves for folios located on the second floor of Lauinger Library.


GELARDIN NEW MEDIA CENTER: Located on the first floor of Lauinger Library, the Gelardin New Media Center provides spaces, software and other tools, and expert staff to help students and faculty create media projects. Resources are free to use for Georgetown students, staff, and faculty.


GOVERNMENT PUBLICATIONS: the library collects publications of the U.S. Government. Many of these are online and you may link to them in HoyaSearch.


HOLD: a book may be held for you at the Circulation Desk for 48 hours, usually because it was recalled or because the staff located a missing book for you.


HOYASEARCH: the name of Lauinger Library’s online catalog and search service.  HOYASEARCH lists books and other items available in Georgetown University Libraries (Lauinger, Blommer Science, Woodstock Theological, School of Continuing Studies, Bioethics, and Law). It includes books in the Washington Research Library Consortium (American, George Washington, George Mason, Gallaudet, Catholic, Marymount, Howard, and the University of the District of Columbia). You may also search for articles.


HTML: Hypertext Markup Language. The HTML coding in a Web page tells the Web browser how to display the text and images.


HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol.  The instructions, or language, required for transmission of HTML files across the Internet.


IN-LIBRARY USE ONLY: the book must be used within the library and may not be checked out.


INDEX:          1) periodical index – allows you to find articles by topic or author.

2) index of a book – an alphabetical list of names and subjects (with page references) located at the end of a book.


INTERNET: a high-speed network linking computers and their users with thousands of information resources.


ISP (INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER): a company that provides access to the Internet.  Usually for a monthly fee, the ISP gives you software, a username, password, and an access phone number.  To connect to the Internet with an ISP you will typically need a modem for your computer and a phone line.


KEYWORD: searching by any word or phrase.  For example, if you want information on how personnel management works in Japan, keywords would be “personnel,” “management,” and “Japan.”


LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION: a system of arranging books so that they are shelved together by topic.  Each book has a call number (a combination of letters and numbers).  For example, most books about Africa will have call numbers which begin with the letters DT.  (see CALL NUMBER)




LIMIT: a feature of HOYASEARCH which allows you to reduce the number of your search results.  For example, if you retrieved a large number of citations, you could select “limit” to restrict your results. Limits could be content type, such as books or articles; publication date; language; or library location.


LOCATION: in HOYASEARCH, the information given under “location” tells which library has the book and in what general area it is kept.  Click on the location in HOYASEARCH for more information or a library map.


MICROFORM: a book, magazine, or document which has been photographed and reduced.  Microfilm is a roll of film.  Microfiche are film cards. Microforms are kept on the Lower Level of Lauinger Library.


MULTIMEDIA: software that incorporates graphics, video, text, and sound into an interactive computer presentation or database of information.


OFF-CAMPUS ACCESS: Georgetown faculty, students, and staff who are currently registered borrowers of the Library have access to many of the library’s subscription databases from computers not on the Georgetown campus.  You may login with your GU NetID and password.


OFF-CAMPUS SHELVING: some older or little-used books and periodicals are kept in storage, away from the library.  If the book or periodical you want has the location Riggs Storage or WRLC Center, you will need to ask for it.  In the record for the item in HOYASEARCH, click on “Request Georgetown Item” and fill out the information requested to have it retrieved for you.


PDF: Personal Document Format.  A file format that displays images of the original printed document. PDF files are created using software such as Adobe Acrobat. To view and use the files, you will need the Acrobat Reader, which you can download for free.  Acrobat will then start automatically whenever you want to look at a PDF file.


PERIODICAL: a publication that appears at regular intervals. (see SERIAL)


1) magazine  – a periodical for general reading.

2) journal – a specialized or research-oriented periodical.

3) current periodical – recent, unbound issues.

4) bound periodical – one that is contained in a hard-backed volume.


PROXY SERVER: a server that sits between a client application (your computer) and a real server.  The library’s proxy server controls access to remote Web servers, providing access to the library’s subscription databases to valid patrons anywhere in the world.


QUARTO: a book too large to be put on regular shelves (over 31 cm. tall).  These books are shelved on the second floor of Lauinger Library.


RECALL: if a book is checked out, you can have the Access Services Department recall it for you.  The person who has the book will be notified to return the book to the library.  When it is available, you will be notified that the book is being held for you.


REFERENCE: the area of the library where encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, indexes, and other information sources are kept.  Reference librarians are available to answer your questions about the library and how to do research.


RENEW: to extend the length of time you may keep a book you have borrowed. You may login to your library account to renew online.


RESERVE: a collection of books needed for specific class assignments kept at the Circulation/Reserve Desk.  These materials have short check-out periods and some must be used in the library.


SEARCH ENGINE: software which allows you to search for sites on the Web using keywords.


SERIAL: general term for publications that are issued at regular intervals.  Periodicals, newspapers, and yearbooks are all types of serials.


STACKS: the shelves where the books are kept.  Lauinger Library has open stacks, which means you must go directly to the shelves to get books.


STORAGE/OFF CAMPUS STORAGE/WRLC Center: some older or little-used books and periodicals are kept in storage, away from the library.  If the book or periodical you want has the location Riggs Storage or WRLC Center, you will need to ask for it.  In the record for the item in GEORGE, click on “Request Item” and fill out the information requested to have it retrieved for you.


SUBJECT HEADING: a word or phrase describing what a book or article is about.  (See LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS)


SUDOC NUMBER: Superintendent of Documents number–refers to a U.S. Government Document.


URL: Uniform Resource Locator.  The address of a file on the Web.  URLs are case sensitive and spacing and punctuation must be exact.  The URL provides the exact location of a resource on the Internet and describes the type of resource, for example: asks your computer to use the hypertext transfer protocol to connect to the computer at and retrieve the file /tools.


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