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English as an Additional Language: Glossary of Library Terms

Basic Library Terminology

Abstract: A brief paragraph describing the content of a book or article; useful for discovering keywords.

Article: A written work found in a magazine, academic (scholarly) journal or encyclopedia.

Bibliographic record: The description of a book or article in a library catalogue or online database, including subject headings and, (in the case of books), its shelf number.

Bibliography: List of sources (books and articles) referred to in your paper. Can also refer to a published list of books and articles on a given topic, which can be very useful for your own research.

Boolean Operators:  The search terms AND, OR and NOT which you can use when searching in a catalogue or database. For example, "Canada AND history AND fur trade".

Call Number: The combination of letters and numbers on a book label that indicate where it should be shelved; also known as a Classification Number.

Chapter: A written work found within a book.

Citation: Information about the source (book or article) you are referring to or quoting from in your paper, and which you need to record with either an in-text citation (e.g., Smith 1985), a footnote or an endnote. Check with your instructor if you are unsure which Style Manual you need to use for your assignments (see below).

Citing: Documenting your sources of information in your paper to show your instructor where you found your information.

Classification Number: The combination of letters and numbers on a book label that indicate where it should be shelved; also known as a Call Number.

Common knowledge: Everyday knowledge or information which most people know, and which may be found in many sources. Generally, you do not need to cite sources for this kind of information. For example, the Earth is the third planet from the Sun; Canada fought in World War I as a Dominion of Great Britain; John A. MacDonald was Canada's first prime minister. 

Database: A collection of data or articles to which the Library subscribes, and which may be accessed through the Library's website.

Dictionary: A book containing brief definitions of words, concepts, people or events.

Discipline: A field of study, something you would study at university, e.g., psychology, history, biology. 

Encyclopedia: A reference work (usually made up of 2 or more volumes) containing sometimes lengthy articles on a wide range of topics; many Encyclopedias will be about concepts in a particular discipline.

HoldingsThe books, journals and magazines owned, stored and made available in the Library.

Index: An alphabetized list of topics or persons described in a book or academic (scholarly) journal, with page numbers indicating where this information may be found.

Issue: When referring to a magazine or academic (scholarly) journal title, a single publication of that title, e.g., the October issue, or Volume 20, issue #4. 

Journal: An academic (scholarly) periodical containing scholarly (peer reviewed) articles; usually published by an academic society or a university press; are a type of serial or periodical.

Keyword(s): Terms used to describe or search for a book or article

Library catalogue: The online, searchable list of books and journals owned by the library; accepts searches for title, author, subject, or other keywords.

Peer Review: The process by which an article in an academic (scholarly) journal is read, corrected and either approved or rejected by respected scholars in a relevant field.

Periodical: Another term for magazine, serial or journal.

Plagiarism: The inappropriate use of wording (including phrases, sentences and paragraphs) written by other authors and presented in your paper as if you wrote them. This is considered a serious form of academic misconduct. (See Avoiding Plagiarism tab, this guide).  

Quotation: Original wording by another author, which must be enclosed in quotation marks (" ") or indented, and which need to be documented (including page number) in your in-text citation or footnotes.

Reference list: The books or articles (arranged alphabetically by author's last name) you cited in your paper listed at the end of your paper.

Scholarly Source: An article in an academic journal or a book chapter that has been published following peer review.

Sources: Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary 

  • Primary: Original source or account of information (diary, newspaper, interview, photograph etc.) In the sciences an original scientific paper reporting the results of an experiment is also considered a primary source. 
  • Secondary: Books or articles which combine, interpret and refer to the works of others (including primary sources) to gain new perspectives on a given topic. Most non-fiction books in the Library will be secondary sources. 
  • Tertiary: A concise summary of a topic, such as an encyclopedia article or entry in a dictionary.

Serial: Another term for magazine, periodical or academic (scholarly) journal.

Style manual: Guidelines for formatting your paper, documenting (citing) your sources and arranging your reference list. The most common examples are the APA, Chicago and MLA styles.

Subject Heading: Terms used in a library catalogue or database to describe a given topic or concept. As opposed to keywords, which can be different from book to book depending on how authors use them, a subject heading is a formal, agreed-upon and established term that is supposed to apply to all books or articles on a given topic, regardless of the terms an author uses. 

Synonym: Alternative word with a similar or related meaning to the term you are searching for.

URL: Acronym for Uniform Resource Identifier, the name given to website addresses, e.g., 


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