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Library Research Support

Library Vocabulary

Understanding Library Lingo

Like any specialized profession, librarians have a very particular language. We don’t mean to confuse you. This list should help you translate "librarian-ese" into plain English.


Fancy word for summary.  Most articles will have a short summary that appears at the beginning.  It summarizes what the article is about. Sometimes, you will not be able to see the entire article, you will only see the abstract. This guide will help you locate the full-text or ask a librarian.


A bibliography is a list that identifies the sources of information used and consulted.  It is made up of a list of citations (see below). In an annotated bibliography, the citation is followed by a brief description or summary of the source. See How to Write an Annotated Bibliography for more information.

Call Number

A call number is a series of letters and numbers to help identify and locate a book.  Most academic libraries use the Library of Congress system.  Most public libraries and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal system. See the How to Read a Call Number guide for more information.

Circulation desk

The circulation desk is where you go to check out books. You are able to renew items online if they are not yet overdue. The circulation policies tell you how long you can keep a particular item.


A citation identifies all of the critical information of a source.  For example, it includes the title, author, place of publication, date of publication. Take a look at this page that tells you how to identify different parts of a citation. There are many different ways to format citations. Check out the Citing Sources guide for the most common ones.  Citations are usually listed at the end of an article or research paper in a bibliography or works cited list. Citations are important because they help readers know where you got your information and help you avoid plagiarism.

Course Reserves

Materials that are placed on hold by professors at the Circulation Desk in the rotunda.  Some may be electronic and on e-reserves.


A database offers electronic access to abstracts and full-text of articles. Like the library catalog, the different databases help us identify if we have access to a particular article. We have around 500 databases.  Check out the Databases A-Z list or find the best database in our Databases by Subject list.


The complete article online as opposed to just the abstract. It may be a .pdf or an html. If you only see an abstract and are having trouble locating the full-text, ask a librarian or check out this guide on how to locate full-text articles.


The detailed information listed in the library catalog of a particular item at the library.  It will identify how many copies of the item are owned, and if for a journal, the years of the particular journal.


1. A searchable list of articles or books that are arranged by subject.  2. A list found at the back of a book that lists the topics that are covered in the book.

Information Literacy

Not to be confused with computer literacy. The ability to be able to critically identify information needs, know how and where to find needed information, be able to assess the quality of information, and properly integrate it into one’s own research.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

This is oftentimes a free service that you can use to request items from other libraries if WMU does not own it. Place ILL requests online. 


A journal is an academic publication that contains articles. It usually comes out monthly or quarterly. Can also be called a periodical or serial.


Fancy word for book…"mono", the prefix meaning one, indicates that it has one publication and is not a serial or periodical.

Peer-reviewed article

Most academic articles undergo the peer-review process, which is the evaluation of work or performance by experts in the same field in order to maintain or enhance the quality of information.  Not to be confused with editing or copy-editing. This guide helps you identify the difference between scholarly and popular information


A publication (magazine or journal) that comes out on a regular basis such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly (…periodically… )

Primary Source

This is an original source of information that was produced at the time of an event.  It is an artifact, like an interview, a sound recording, a diary, a photograph. For more information, see the Primary Sources in History guide.

Scholarly article

A scholarly article or book generally is based on original research or experimentation. It is written by a researcher or expert in the field who is often affiliated with a college or university. Most scholarly writing includes footnotes and/or a bibliography and may include graphs or charts as illustrations.


Refers to those items that are a part of a series and may be published in regular installments.


Fancy word for bookshelves. Take a look at the floor plans to see where you can locate a particular call number.

Subject Headings

Think of these as #hashtags. The Library of Congress (LC), our national library, has created a list of the subject terms that are used in most library catalog records in the United States.  Subject headings are words or phrases that are established to represent a subject covered in library resources and are referred to as a “controlled vocabulary.” You can search by subject heading in the library catalog, Books + which is more specific than a keyword search.  It is not always intuitive. For example, a keyword search of “world war two” will bring back very different results that a subject search for “ World War, 1939-1945”, the official LC subject heading.


After many issues of a journal or magazine have been published, we bind them together according to year.  This bound collection of issues is called a volume.