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Library Terminology


Happy September!

You may have already searched WorldCat for books and articles, and you may be familiar with the Library Homepage, but if you’ve found yourself wondering about a word or two that you’ve seen on our website, check out our Glossary!

You’ll see a few of these words relate to searching databases, such as the following:

  • Citation – a reference to an item from which a quotation or information was taken or to which a person is being directed. Includes enough information to locate the original item. For example: a book citation would include author, title, place of publication, publisher and date of publication; an article citation would include author, title, name of periodical, date, and page reference. A citation may be found in a research paper, a periodical index, or in a catalog. (Note: may also be described as a bibliographic citation).
  • Database – a collection of information in electronic format. Some databases have bibliographical information relating to books, articles, and other published material. Other databases provide numeric or statistical information.
  • Descriptor/Subject Heading – a word, group of words, or phrase used to identify the subject of a book, article, or other item. Descriptors are used to group together items about the same subject under one standard heading. They are controlled vocabulary. Compare with keyword.
  • Index – a list of topics mentioned in a book (usually at the end of the book), or a periodical index is a special type of index which can be used to identify articles in journals, magazines, or newspapers.
  • Journal – a type of periodical including ones that are issued by a society or institution and contain news, proceedings, transactions and articles about work carried out in a particular discipline. Intended for a scholarly audience. What’s the difference between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine?  
  • Keyword – a “key word” which describes the subject you are looking for. Keywords are natural language, meaning there is no one standard way to express the subject. Compare with descriptor/subject heading.
  • Magazine – a periodical intended for a general reading audience with articles of popular interest.
  • Periodical – a publication which appears at regular, or periodic, interval such as daily, monthly or annually. The term periodical includes journals, magazines and newspapers.
  • Subject Heading – a word, group of words, or phrase used to identify the subject of a book, article, or other item. Subject headings are used to group together items about the same subject under one standard heading. They are controlled vocabulary. McCain Library uses the Library of Congress subject headings in our catalog, WorldCat.
  • Thesaurus – a list of descriptors/subject headings. A thesaurus tells you which words to use in a catalog, database or article index. A thesaurus may lead you to other, related topics.
  • Truncation – the process of shortening or cutting off part of a keyword. The keyword is shortened so that it will match with all terms starting with the same stem, e.g. librar* will match with library, libraries, librarian, librarianship, etc.  This is helpful to expand your search and find more materials.  

These terms will be helpful in researching as well as fully utilizing the resources available through McCain Library!

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