Skip to Main Content

Defining Library Terms

Confusing terms that you may see or hear in a college library.


A lot of things about a college library might be unfamiliar to most new college students. At MVCC libraries, we do our best to explain what we do in plain language and define "library speak" when we have to use it. However, you might still come across unfamiliar terms while using the library. That is where this list of library vocabulary can help you!

If you do not see the term you're looking for, or want some further help, please ask us:



A-Z list of terms

  •  Abstract: A brief summary of an article. Typically found in academic journal articles. 

  • Academic (or Scholarly) Journals: These articles are written for scholars, researchers, or students.  Articles in these journals always include a list of references, typically include author credentials or affiliations (which college or university they work for), and nearly always undergo peer review. Examples of these journals are the American Journal of Political ScienceThe New England Journal of Medicine, and Child Development. Compare to popular journals/magazines. 

  • Annotated Bibliography: A list of citations with descriptions and a brief summary or critical statement about each. See some examples. 

  • Appendix: Section of a book or article, usually at the end, containing supplementary materials such as tables or maps.

  • Article: A contribution written for publication in a periodical like a journal, magazine, or newspaper. Articles are shorter than books. 

  • Autobiography:  A work written by a person about their own life.

  • Biography: A work written by a person or persons about someone else's life. Unlike many public libraries, the MVCC libraries do not shelve biographies all together in a separate section. The best way to find a biography in our collection is to search for a person's name in the library's main search.

  • Call Number: A call number is a combination of letters and numbers assigned to each book in the library's collection. Items are arranged on the shelves by call number, so it is the "address" of the materials in the library. A book's call number can be found in the item’s record within the library’s main online search:

  • Citation: Provides the complete information to give credit to a source used. For books, the information includes author, title, publisher and date of publication. For articles, the information includes author, title of the article, title of the periodical, volume, pages, and date. A citation is one entry in a list of works cited. See also, in-text citation. Learn more about citations.

  • Copyright: The legal right to control the production, use, and sale of copies of a literary, musical, or artistic work. Copyright dates on books, videos, or images indicate when the work was created. Copyright laws limit how much of a work can be scanned or copied, and set up guidelines for how to reuse the work of others.

  • Database: In libraries, collections of sources related to a particular subject or in a particular format (like streaming video), arranged electronically for easy searching.

  • DOI (Digital Object Identifier): a string of numbers, letters and symbols used to permanently identify an article or document and link to it on the web. Many, but not all, academic journal articles have a DOI. Learn more about DOIs.

  • Due Date: The date by which materials borrowed from the library should be returned. For students, the due date for most items is the last day of the current semester: return any library materials before you leave for break!

  •  Full Text: Full text articles in databases have the entire article included for you to read. Articles that are not full text only show an abstract or the citation for the article. If we do not have access to the full text of an article you need, just ask! We can interlibrary loan it- borrow it from another library. 

  • Holds: Placing a "Hold" on an item in the Library allows a patron to request an item that is either on the shelf or currently checked out to someone else. The item will be set aside for the patron when it is available to pick up from the circulation desk. Holds may be placed on materials located at either campus library.

  • In-text citation: a brief citation within a work, at the point where information from the cited source was used. 

  • Index: a list of names, subjects, etc., with references to the places where they occur, typically found at the end of a book. 

  •  Information Literacy: Knowing how to locate, evaluate and use information. The library's goal is to increase everyone's information literacy.

  • Interlibrary Loan (ILL): A system where libraries borrow materials from each other. When a requested item arrives, you will be notified by email. Learn more about interlibrary loan. 

  • Journals: The word "journal" is sometimes used to mean magazine, although it usually refers to scholarly journals, while the term magazine is most often applied to popular titles. The journals the library provides access to are available electronically through databases.

  • Keyword:  Aa significant or memorable word or term in the title, abstract, or text of a document. Use keywords and combinations of keywords to search library databases for sources. 

  • Library: a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is (1) organized by librarians who (2) provide convenient access and (3) offer targeted services (4) with the mission of educating, informing, and/or entertaining (5) and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole (adapted from definition by George Eberhart).

  • Main Desk (sometimes called the Circulation Desk): Located in the front of the Library, this is where you can borrow or return library materials, find course reserves, and request a study room.

  • Open Access:  An article, book, website, or online software application which is free to use, often with fewer copyright restrictions. Articles you can read all of for free on Google Scholar are open access. 

  • Open Educational Resources: Open Access items specifically designed for classroom use, such as textbooks or lesson plans.

  • Peer-Review:  This term refers to a journal containing articles that have been reviewed for accuracy by people who are experts in that field (the author's peers).  These are considered scholarly articles and are usually published in academic journals.

  • Periodical: Materials published at regular intervals and intended to be continued indefinitely.  Examples are magazines, journalsand newsletters.

  • Plagiarism: using someone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit. At MVCC and other colleges in the United States, plagiarism is considered to be a form of theft, and has serious consequences, like failing an assignment or course, or even being expelled from the college. Common examples of plagiarism include using information word-for-word from another source without using quotation marks or citing the source or using ideas from another source in your own words without citing the source. 

  •  Popular Journals/Magazines: These are articles written for the general public, usually only reviewed by an editor, rarely includes references, and they have flashy covers and pictures.  Examples: Time, Newsweek, People, and Sports Illustrated. Compare to scholarly journals

  • Primary Sources:  Note: the terms primary sources and secondary sources are used differently by different disciplines. Ask your instructor for their definition! In history, primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.  These sources are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events. In literature courses, a primary source might be a book or poem you are analyzing. Learn more about primary and secondary sources. 

  • Reference Desk:  Located to the right of the Circulation Desk and staffed by professional librarians, where you can get help with using the library and receive answers to your questions.

  • Reserves: Course materials like textbooks and videos placed at the Library Circulation Desk by MVCC instructors, generally for use only in the library.

  • Secondary Sources:  Books or articles that explain or analyze primary sources.  Examples: a criticism of a literary work or a history book about an event that was written long after the event occurred. Learn more about primary and secondary sources. 

  • Source: a specific item from which research information is obtained. Common sources include books, journal articles, and websites.

  • Stacks: Rows of shelves where library books are stored.  The term “stacks” in the library's main search refers to items on the tall shelves in the left side of the library.

  • Subject: The major ideas of each source, usually assigned by a librarian from a predefined list of subjects. These are the terms you would use if you were doing a "subject" search in the library main search or an individual database.

  • Table of Contents: a list of sections or chapters within a book, usually found at the beginning of the book.

  • Thesis: The main idea or argument of a paper.  What the author is trying to say regarding the topic. This is usually found in the first paragraph.

  • Topic: The main subject of a work; what the work is “about.” 

  • URL (Uniform Resource Locator): The technical term for an internet address, usually just called a link. 

  • Works Cited: A list of items that have actually been cited in a Research paper.  Also called, References.

  • Young Adult Collection: the library's books written for teenagers, approximately ages 13-18, but often enjoyed by adults too! In the Utica Campus library, this location is located on the left side of the library near the cross-hallway where the librarian offices and instruction lab are. 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Mohawk Valley Community College Libraries is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0. This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content non-commercially, with credit to MVCC Libraries.

When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Mohawk Valley Community College Libraries and shared with a CC BY NC SA 4.0 license.

Mohawk Valley Community College Libraries - 1101 Sherman Drive, Utica, NY, 13501- P. 315.792.5561