Barcode Number

The 14-digit number appearing beneath the barcode found in the beginning or end papers of a book. Barcode numbers for Cornell library books begin with the numbers "3 1924" and are used to record checking out, returning, and renewing library books and other items (DVDs, etc.).


A direct interlibrary borrowing service for books only. Cornellians can borrow a book (no periodical articles) from any Ivy League library, the University of Chicago, and MIT. BorrowDirect is normally faster than a recall, taking about four business days.

Circulation Desk

A service desk where books and other materials are loaned or charged out to library users. Library materials which do not circulate (reference books and some periodicals, for example) can be used within the library.


A library user may place a hold on a book charged out to another person; this ensures that the person placing the hold will be next in line to receive the book when the book is returned.

Interlibrary Loan Services

Interlibrary lending and borrowing services (ILL or ILS) provide access to materials (journal, newspaper, or magazine articles; books (see also BorrowDirect, above); video; dissertations, etc.) that cannot be found in the Cornell system. To borrow such materials, use our ILL software. Questions? Check with a reference librarian.


Library users may place recalls on books charged out to other people. The people to whom the materials are charged are notified by email that another library user wants the book. Recalled books must be returned within a short period of time, usually a week. Requesting a book on BorrowDirect is usually faster than requesting a recall.


An extension of the loan period for charged library materials. Renewals may be handled in person at the circulation desk, by phone, or by clicking on the Patron Info button in Cornell Library's Catalog.

Reserve Reading

A selection of specific books, periodical articles, videotapes, and other materials which faculty have indicated that students must read or view for a particular course. These materials are usually kept together in one area of the library and circulate for a short period of time only. Or they are available online as e-Reserve documents. To locate reserve materials, you may use the course reserve module in the Library's web site, ask at the circulation or reserve desk, or look up a title in your reserve reading list in Cornell Library's Catalog.



A one-paragraph description, often written by the author(s), at the beginning of a journal article or other document. Compare with Annotation.

Annotation, Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited. For guidance, see How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography.


A bibliography is a list of citations for books, periodical articles, articles in books, theses, and other materials. Published bibliographies on specific subjects are often found at the end of articles and entries in reference books. The presence of a bibliography is one of the signs of a work of scholarship as opposed to a popular work, for example.
Bibliographies may also be labelled References, Reference works, Further reading, or Notes.


Information which fully identifies a publication: a complete citation usually includes author, title, name of journal (if the citation is to an article) or publisher and place of publication (if to a book), and date. Often pages, volume numbers, and other information are included in a citation. Citations to online sources may contain URLs.

Periodical Indexes, Abstracts, and Databases

Periodical indexes are searchable databases of articles which have appeared in journals, magazines, or newspapers. They cite the author, title, name of periodical, volume, pages and date of publication. They often include abstracts--brief summaries of the content of the article--and links to the full text of the article online. Examples include MLA Bibliography, BIOSIS, and EconLit. These online database are available in the in the Databases section of the Library's web site and also through records in our Catalog. Some specialized indexes that are not online are available in the library's reference collections in print.


A department within a library where you can find librarians, reference assistants, and a collection of reference materials to help you with your research needs. Help is available in person at the reference desks, by e-mail, by phone, and on chat reference.

Reference Assistant

Reference assistants are not professional librarians, but they are trained to help you with many of your research needs. Some reference departments employ reference assistants to help answer reference questions and provide general information about the library.

Reference Collection

A selection of online, CD-ROM, and printed library materials used by reference librarians and reference assistants to help people find information or to do research. Reference collections contain many sources of information, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, directories, or statistical compilations. They may also have bibliographies, indexes, and abstracts. Printed reference materials usually do not leave the library. A selection of online reference materials is available in the Databases section of the Library web site.

Reference Librarian

Reference librarians are specialists in the field of information retrieval. Generally they have a Masters degree in library and information science, and many have other graduate degrees as well. They are available at reference desks, via e-mail, chat, and on the phone to help you find the information you are looking for.

Locating Materials

Call Numbers

Each item in a library collection is classified in a subject area by assigning it a call number. These call numbers are placed on the spine of the book or bound journal. These books or bound journals are shelved by these call numbers in the stacks. The call numbers are entered in the records in the Cornell Library Catalog so you can locate the book on the shelf. At Cornell we use Library of Congress Classification for our call numbers, a combination of letters and numbers (e.g., PQ 1756 .I15 1990).

Card Catalog

Card catalogs are pieces of furniture containing drawers filled with cards that provide information about materials in the collection. At Cornell, card catalogs have been replaced by the online Catalog (below).

Cornell's Library Catalog

Cornell has an online catalog of the library's holdings and resources. This is sometimes referred to as the new catalog. These catalogs contain the same set of records for the books, serials, media, manuscripts and many the other items in the collections of the Cornell University Library. Another, much larger catalog, WorldCat, contains the holdings of other libraries around the U.S. and the world in addition to Cornell's holdings.

Cross Reference

A term used in catalogs, thesauruses, reference books, and indexes to lead you from one form of entry to another (e.g., American poets see Poets--American).


Ebooks or electronic books are digitized versions of books available online. More information about ebooks.


Ejournals are digitized versions of journal articles available online. You can search or browse a list of our ejournals from the Library's home page. To search, click on the link below the search box on the CUL home page.

Library web site

An online site that provides access to a large number of library resources (databases, journals, and reference materials, for example), library services, and information about the Cornell University Library.


The stacks are the part of the library which houses the physical collection. Books, periodicals, and disks (CD-ROMs, DVDs) are arranged on shelves in the stacks. In Olin Library, for example, the stacks are located on floors 3 through 7.

Subject Headings

Words or phrases assigned to books and articles and used to index these items by topic. Determining the subject headings and descriptors used by a specific database or catalog can be an important part of effective research. See also Thesaurus.


A list of all the subject headings or descriptors used in a particular database, catalog, or index. The thesaurus for our Catalog is called Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Kinds of Materials


Films, tapes, disks and other audio-visual materials that require the use of special listening or viewing equipment.


Documents, often ones that are bulky or liable to deteriorate rapidly, which have been photographed and reduced in size to preserve them and to reduce the storage space required. Common formats for microforms are microfilm, microfiche, and microcard (micro-opaque). College catalogs, telephone books, newspapers, magazines, and government documents are available in microform formats in many Cornell libraries.


Books. They may be in print format or online--ebooks. To find monographs, search our Catalog.


Publications which are issued at least twice a year, including journals, magazines, and newspapers. Current periodicals are those which have recently arrived and are usually kept in loose binders, or on open shelves. Bound periodicals are back issues which have been sent to the bindery, covered with a binding, and placed in the stacks. Records for periodical titles may be labeled as serials in our Catalog. Many periodicals are available through the Library web site. They are generally called electronic journals or e-journals. See also the next entry, Serials.


Publications that appear more or less regularly--daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or biennally, for example. Newspapers, journals, magazines, and almanacs are all examples of serials.

Database Terms: Online Indexes and Catalogs

Accession Number

A unique number or combination of letters and numbers assigned to each record in a database. OCLC WorldCat's accession number, listed near the bottom of each record, uniquely identifies each item.

Boolean Searching

see Operators (below)


Compact Disk-Read Only Memory [CD-ROM]. A computer-based technique for storing and reading information from a compact disk using a Compact Disk player with a personal computer. Mostly replaced by online, digitized information. CDs are still used extensively for music.


A collection of information arranged into individual records to be searched by computer.


Digital Video Disk [DVD]. A computer-based technique for storing and reading information from a laser disk using a DVD player and a personal computer. Also used extensively for showing movies using a DVD player connected to a monitor.


See Record (below)


A part of a record used for a particular category of data. For instance, the title (ti) field displays the title for each record in the database. Some of the other fields names are author (au), journal (jn) and abstract (ab). Our Catalog contains additional fields that give the description, call number, location, holdings, and circulation status of an item at Cornell.


A set of fields in the Catalog in serial (newspaper, journal, or magazine) records that shows exactly which years and volumes of that serial are available at Cornell. Records for multi-volume books also contain a holdings field.

Keyword Searching

Searching for the occurrence of a word within or across many fields in a database. The All Fields search in our Catalog is based on keyword searching.


Choices and commands that are displayed on the screen and can be selected by the user.


Words such as AND, OR, and NOT that are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow the results of a keyword search. Combining terms using operators is sometimes called Boolean searching.


A collection of related data, arranged in fields and treated as a unit. The data for each article in an online database makes up a record. The complete information for each item in our Catalog is also a record.

Truncation and Wildcard Searching

Truncation is typing a special symbol at the end of a word to retrieve all possible endings of that word. Wildcards add the possibility of searching for variant letters or spellings within a word (wom?n retrieves woman and women, for instance). If you wish to use truncation or wildcards in our new Catalog, See this Search Tips page for details.

Reference Help

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Michael Engle
106 Olin Library
Cornell University Library

Reference Librarian
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