Library Terms

It may seem that library staff speak a different language when it comes to things like indexes, Boolean operators, classmarks, metadata, and OPACs. So here’s some of the more commonly used library jargon explained.


ABSTRACT: a brief summary which outlines the main idea or content of a journal article, book, or dissertation. These are useful when deciding on the potential use of an item before reading.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC DATABASE: a searchable resource which lists the bibliographic details of items such as journal articles and conference papers. They confirm that an item exists on a particular subject and often provide an abstract and sometimes a link to the full text where subscriptions exist. Web of Knowledge is one such resource.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: a list providing details of books, journals and websites. These are often listed at the end of books; but also are used at the end of assignments as a list of all works consulted but not necessarily cited (see also: Reference List).


BOOLEAN OPERATORS: based on the logic of mathematician George Boole, the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT can be used in constructing searches in databases and online search engines:


• AND = retrieves items containing both search terms, e.g. water AND aquatic


• OR = retrieves items containing one or other or both of the search terms, e.g. water OR aquatic


• NOT = retrieves items containing the first search term but not the second, e.g. water NOT aquatic


CLASSMARK: the number which appears on the spine of a library book and by which it is located on the shelves. It can also be known as the spine number or the call number.


CORE TEXT: items that have been identified as core reading or are in heavy demand are added to the Core Text Collection. This contains books and photocopies of some journal articles. Items in this collection are on an overnight/restricted loan period.


DOI (Digital Object Identifier): is a unique number allocated to a digital object, for example, a journal article, providing a more stable link than a URL that may change over time.


EDITION: all copies of a work, e.g. a book, that are published and printed at the same time and from the same plates. Revised or subsequent editions, e.g. 2nd edition, etc, usually implies that changes have been made to the text or that new material has been added.


HELP DESK: located in the Central Library on the ground floor, this is the desk where you can ask for more in-depth help on locating items, inter-library loans, and accessing material from the store.


INTER-LIBRARY LOAN (ILL): is a library service which allows the request of material not held at that library to be provided from another library. To find out more about this service, and the inter-campus requests service, click on the Inter-Library Loans link from within the Library Catalogue.


ISBN (International Standard Book Number) & ISSN (International Standard Serial Number): these are international numeric codes assigned to a specific edition of a book and a specific journal or serial title respectively.


ISSUE DESK: this is the desk where you can speak to library staff and where you can issue, return and renew items. It is also the place where you can pick up items you have placed a hold on.


JOURNAL: is the name used for academic and scholarly publications, they can also be referred to as PERIODICALS as they are published periodically, or SERIALS as they form a series of publications. These can come in both printed and electronic formats, and both usually use volume and issue numbers.


KEY WORDS: also known as SEARCH TERMS these are the words you enter to represent the subject you are searching for either in the Library catalogue, a bibliographic database, or in an online search engine.


LIBRARY CATALOGUE: this can sometimes be referred to as an OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue). This contains details and location information of all items held by the library and links to electronic resources subscribed to by the library. As well as the basic search, there is a complex search option which allows you to search by various options including format, e.g. thesis. You can also place holds, renew your books and search for Core Texts.


METADATA: is often described as ‘data about data’. It is information, such as records on the Library catalogue, that describe the format, location, author, title, and sometimes content of an item.


OPEN ACCESS: this is digital information that is made available at no cost to the reader for educational reasons. This can be achieved by the placement of articles into academic repositories, such as Spiral (the Imperial digital repository) or by publishing in an open access journal; a list of these can be searched online through the Directory of Open Access Journals:


PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL: is the term used to describe academic journals where the articles have been read by other academics and scholars in the field and judged to be of a high quality and therefore approved for publication.


PLAGIARISM: is essentially passing off someone else’s work as if it were your own by giving no reference to your source/s. The Library provides training for students on how to avoid plagiarism and produces a citing and referencing guide to help students reference material correctly in their assignments. Pop into any Imperial library to pick up your free copy.


REFERENCELIST: a list providing details of books, journals and websites. These are used at the end of assignments as a list of all works actually cited (see also: BIBLIOGRAPHY).


REPOSITORY: an online deposit of research material of the institution, including material such as journal articles and book chapters. The digital repository of Imperial is called Spiral.


SCONUL Access Scheme for staff and research post-graduates & SCONUL VACATION ACCESS SCHEME: as a member of SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) staff and students may have access to certain other university libraries. To find out more see the Services area of the Library website and look under the Using other libraries section.


SUBJECT GATEWAYS: gather together links to subject specific websites. Most are constructed to help staff and students locate good quality resources on the web. One of the major examples of a subject gateway is Intute – this is freely available on the internet or via the library website.


TOC (table of contents): the list of contents of a publication.


TRUNCATION: using the shortened version of a search term will retrieve the various forms of a word, e.g. fish* will retrieve fishing, fisher, fishes, fisherman, etc. Always check the help section of a database for information about how the truncation works, not all may use the asterix.


WILD CARD: so that you retrieve all the results available to you whether using UK or American English spellings, you can insert $, or * to allow for variant spellings, e.g. colo$r. Always check the help section of a database for information about how the wildcard option works, not all may use the $ or *.

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