Library Vocabulary

Using a research library involves not only learning how to use its resources but also learning some new vocabulary. Here are some key terms that will help you navigate the library system:


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 charge, discharge, and renew books.

Borrow Direct
A direct interlibrary borrowing service for books only available by clicking on the Borrow Direct button in Cornell Library's Catalog. Cornellians can borrow a book (no periodical articles) from one of the participating Ivy League libraries. It is normally faster than a recall, taking about four business days. Also available from Library Services - Borrowing and Delivery Requests in the Library's web site

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 provide access to materials that cannot be found in the Cornell system. To borrow such materials, use the interlibrary loan form available through the Catalog or the Library's web site. 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 mail that another library user wants the book. Recalled books must be returned within a short period of time, usually a week.

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 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.

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 will be included in a citation.

Reference Assistant
Reference assistants have been trained to help you with many of your research needs. Some reference departments hire reference assistants to help answer reference questions and provide general information about the library.

Periodical Indexes and Abstracts
Periodical indexes are searchable databases or print serials 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. Examples include MLA Bibliography, BIOSIS, and EconLit. The online database versions are available in the Library's web site in the Database section and through Cornell Library's Catalog. Some indexes not online are available in the library reference collections in print.

A special 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 Collection
A selection of networked, 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. Networked reference materials are available in the Library web site.

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


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 call numbers, a combination of letters and numbers (e.g., PQ 1756 .I15 1990).

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).

Keyword Searching



Keyword searching allows a user to construct a search by looking for a word or combination of words from the author, title, or subject fields of the Catalog.


Library web site
An online site that provides access to a large number of library resources (indexes, 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 and periodicals are arranged on shelves in the stacks.

Subject Headings
Words or phrases assigned to books and articles and used to index these items by topic. Determining the correct headings for a specific database or catalog is 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 the Catalog is called Library of Congress Subject Headings.


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 in many Cornell libraries.

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 are labeled as serials in the Catalog. Some 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.



Accession Number
A unique number or combination of letters and numbers assigned to each record in a database.

Boolean Searching, see Operators

Compact Disk-Read Only Memory. A computer-based technique for storing and reading information from a compact disk using a Compact Disk player and a personal computer. Also used extensively for music.

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

Digital Video Disk. 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 hooked up to a televsion.

Entry: See Record

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). The Classic 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 multivolume books also contain a holdings field.

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 the Catalog is also a record.

Typing a special symbol at the end of a word to retrieve all possible endings of that word. If you wish to truncate a word while keyword searching in Cornell Library's Catalog, use the question mark (?); other databases may use the pound sign (#), the asterisk (*), or another symbol. For example, when Command Keyword searching in the Library Catalog, typing forest? in the "Search For" box retrieves the words forest, forestry, forests, forested, etc.