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Learn about what happens in an academic library and how to access Library materials and services.


These definitions are based on the Association of College and Research Libraries' Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users (2018). CC4.0

This Multilingual Glossary lists key library terms in: 中文   한국어   日本人   Français   Español   عربى   Tiếng Việt

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Summary or brief description of the content of another longer work. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work. It is often included at the beginning of a journal article.

Data, numbers, or facts on a specific topic

Library’s off-site storage facility. If a book is located at the Annex, use the link next to the status in BruKnow to request it. Specific volumes of print journals or individual articles may also be requested. See this webpage for more information on the Library Annex.

Note or comment that describes or evaluates an item. For example an annotated bibliography is a reference list with notes for each resource.

Historical or public records which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, and ephemera.

Brief work—generally between 1 and 35 pages in length—on a topic. Articles are typically written by academics or other experts on a given topic. Articles provide detail on research and often include methods and results. They are usually peer-reviewed. Also called journal article.

Ask A Librarian
Virtual reference service allowing library users to ask questions and get assistance through email, text message, or live-chat. All of the options are included on our Ask a Librarian webpage.

Collection of maps or charts published in print or electronic form.

Person(s) or organization(s) that wrote or compiled a document. Looking for information under an author's name is one option in searching.

Security process that typically employs usernames and passwords to validate the identity of users before allowing them access to certain information.


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Bibliography List containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. See also Reference.

Book Reviews Help researchers evaluate books that they may want to use themselves to research a subject area. It is always a good idea to locate more than one book review if researching an unfamiliar subject in order to identify a range of ideological perspectives among reviews. See the Library's Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Boolean Operator Word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches.

BorrowDirect Interlibrary borrowing service offered by the university libraries of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UPenn, University of Chicago, and Yale. Brown faculty, students, and staff may request books at no cost through the BorrowDirect interface or Worldcat. See the BorrowDirect information page for more information.

Borrowing The Library lends materials to members of the Brown community for defined periods of time. Materials include books, ebooks, and DVDs. See Loan Period.

Brown Digital Repository (BDR) Database that indexes, stores, preserves, and makes available digital assets produced via the scholarly, instructional, research, and administrative activities at Brown. Included are library Special Collections, as well as scholarly and creative material uploaded by faculty, students, and departments. See the Brown Digital Repository website for more information.

BruKnow The name for the Brown University Library's simple and powerful search tool for finding books, ebooks, articles, journals, videos, digital media, and more.


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Call Number Group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way to shelve and locate items in the Library collection. At Brown we use the Library of Congress call number system. See Library of Congress Classification and Oversize.

Carrel Study space and desk reserved for graduate students, faculty, and undergrads writing theses. They are located in the open stacks in the Rock and Sciences Library and materials may be checked out to them for use in the library only. They are not secure, so you should not leave personal items there. See the Library's information on requesting a carrel.

Catalog Database listing and describing the books, ebooks, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. It can be searched in various ways— such as by keyword, author, title, subject, or call number— to find out resources a library owns. All items in the catalog will include the title, call number, author, location, and description. The Brown University Library catalog is called BruKnow.

CDS (Center for Digital Scholarship) Advise, design, and carry out projects that use digital technology in scholarship by the Brown community. Offer workshops to support skills in data visualization, digital methodologies and data management. See the CDS website for more information.

Check Out See Borrowing.

Chat Service Text communication between a library user and librarian. Ask questions about the Library or get help with your research. All of your options for assistance are included on the Ask a Librarian webpage.

Circulation 1 . The service provided by Library staff at the front desks in the libraries. 2. The movement of materials from being available to borrow, to checked out by a library user, then returned to the shelves and made available to future users.

Citation Basic information needed to identify and locate a book, magazine or journal article, or other work. Citations differ based on the format of the item and also based on the citation style you use. For more information about the importance of citations and their management, please see the tutorial on the Organizing and Creating Information guide.

Citation Management Tools that help you capture metadata (such as title, author, publication date) directly from databases, catalogs, and websites. They make it easy for you to put citations into your documents and automatically formats bibliographies in the proper format and order. Robust tools such as EndNote and Zotero offer easy ways to capture bibliographic information with a few clicks.

Controlled Vocabulary Standardized terms used in searching a specific database.

Copyright Form of intellectual property law, that protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

Course Reserves Books, articles, videos, and other resources that an instructor has indicated should be read or viewed for class. Electronic reserves are accessed through Course Reserves. The material may be accessed on the Course Reserves login page or through a Canvas course site.


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Database Collection of information that can be searched. Each library database has a specific content focus and offers the ability to fine-tune search results. Databases encompass journal articles, book chapters, entire books, bibliographies, indexes, audiovisual materials, and collections of other resources. These specialized, scholarly resources are often licensed by the University for your use. In order to access these resources you must be logged in with your Brown log-in. A type of eresources.

Descriptor Word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases. See subject headings.

Dictionary A reference source which gives the pronunciation and meaning of words in alphabetical order. Often includes meaning within a certain specific field.

Dissertation Extended detailed work on a focused topic submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctoral degree. The work reflects new scholarship on a topic. Dissertations are available from universities around the world.

DOI Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object.

Due Date Date materials must be returned to the library. See loan periods.


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Ebook Electronic book that can be read on a computer or mobile device. The process of downloading an ebook varies by ebook publisher. For detailed information, see the finding and using ebooks tutorial.

Edition Particular version of a book. Different editions are numbered to indicate a revision in content or presentation.

Editor Person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under the editor's name is one option in searching.

Encyclopedia Work containing concise entries or articles of a branch of knowledge (such as history or chemistry), often organized alphabetically.

EndNote Citation management tool that helps collect citations, makes it easy to put citations into documents, and automatically formats bibliographies in the proper format and order. For more information use the tutorial on EndNote. See also Citation Management.

Eresources Electronic resources that are available in a digital format accessible online. These include databases, ebooks, journals.


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Findit! Software that enables researchers to get the content of an article. It links from a database citation to a full-text article or, if it isn’t available at Brown, a quick way to request a copy from another library. The FindIt! reference will appear in text or with this iconFind It at Brown.

Full-text Complete content of an article or other type of publication.


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GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Systems and related methodology designed to enable better understanding of spatial patterns and relationships through the capture, storage, manipulation, analyzing, management, and presentation of all spatial data.

Glossary Alphabetical list of terms related to a specific subject.

Government Documents Materials published by federal, state, and local government agencies as well as international governmental organizations. Many of these materials are digitized and available online. See the guide to finding Government Documents for more information.


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Handbooks Overview of academic research on a topic. These materials compile information about a topic or technique in an easy to use format, and manuals provide handy how-to information. Updates are published periodically. Similar resources are called manuals and reviews.

Hay Nickname for the John Hay Library.

Holdings Materials owned by a library in any format.


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ILLiad Part of the interlibrary loan system. Everyone with a Brown ID has an ILLiad account, which may be used to submit, review, and track requests, as well as request renewals for items currently checked out through Interlibrary Loan. You will also receive pdfs of requested Interlibrary Loan articles here.

Index Indexing refers to a list of names, terms, or keywords that guides readers to the contents of books, periodical articles, images, and other published items. These may be found in electronic resources (databases) as well as print publications.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library. A service that retrieves or photocopies information sources for library users and delivers it to you through your library. See the tutorial on getting articles from other libraries.


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John Hay Library Home to Brown University's remarkable collections of rare books, manuscripts, and University Archives. This special collections library is an excellent place in which to carry out primary source research. Also called The Hay. See the John Hay Library website for more information.

Josiah The former name of the Brown University Library’s catalog of materials in its collection. Named for the legend of Josiah Carberry, fictional professor of psychoceramics (the study of cracked pots), was born on a bulletin board in University Hall in 1929. See the Josiah S. Carberry entry in the Encyclopedia Brunoniana. The catalog is now called BruKnow.

Journal Publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research within a particular subject published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports. In general, journals assign a volume number to indicate each year and an issue number for each publication during that year. Also called a scholarly journal. See the tutorial on the differences between scholarly journals, trade journals, and popular magazines.

Journal Title Name of a journal. Journal title is one common search term. Many journal titles are similar to one another.


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Keywords Significant or memorable word or term in the title, abstract, or text of an information resource that indicates its subject and is often used as a search term.


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Library of Congress Classification System made up of letters and numbers (call numbers) used to organize and arrange library collections. Each item in a collection is assigned a call number which is based on the classification system. The first letter of any call number identifies the main category of the item’s content. See the Library of Congress’ Classification Outline.

Limiters Options used in searching that restrict your results to only resources meeting certain criteria. Common options include limiting results to materials available as full-text in the database, to scholarly publications, and to materials written in a particular language, available in a particular location, or published at a specific time.

Literature Review Survey of scholarship on a topic. It is a written summary of existing research, and is often written to support future work on the topic. See the tutorial on Writing a Literature Review.

Loan Period Length of time for which library materials can be borrowed. The day the loan period ends is called the due date. Loan periods vary by type of user. See information on borrowing materials. 


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Magazine Publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal. See the tutorial on the differences between scholarly journals, trade journals, and popular magazines.

Manuscript Author’s original text that has not yet been published. Media In libraries, this term describes non-print materials such as DVDs, films, recordings, slides and digital images.

Microform Printed book, journal, newspaper, or other publication which has been reproduced in a much smaller size. The format requires special equipment to read the material. Microforms include microfiche (sheet of film) and microfilm (reel-to-reel film).

Monograph 1 . Scholarly book often written by one author that is a detailed work on a specific subject. 2. A book of one volume held by a library.


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Newspaper Publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter (i.e. business, culture, education). Often published daily. International, national, and local coverage of issues and events for a particular region and often with a distinct editorial perspective.


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OCRA  The library has migrated its online course reserves (OCRA) to a new platform in spring 2023. Please visit the Library’s New Course Reserves Service for more information. 

Open Access Free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.

Oversize Books that are larger than most and which are shelved separately from regular sized books. They are denoted in a call number as 1-SIZE, 2-SIZE, or 3-SIZE. Technically oversized books have a height greater than 27 cm and width greater than 26cm.


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Peer Review Process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source. Also referred to as a refereed journal or scholarly journal.

Periodical Information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. Each issue normally contains separate articles, stories, or other writings. Also referred to as a serial.

Permalink Link that will return you to the same page every time you click the link.

Plagiarism Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source. See the guide on plagiarism for information on how to recognize and avoid plagiarism and for best practices in the citation of research materials.

Primary Sources Original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation. See John Hay Library. See the tutorial on finding primary sources in the humanities.

Proxy Server Internet server that acts as a “go-between” for a computer on a secure local network and the open Web. Often checks to determine “right of access” to the secure environment and speeds up requests by caching frequently accessed Web pages. Can also act as a firewall. See also Authentication.

Publisher Entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.


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Reference 1. A service allowing library users to ask questions and get assistance. All of your options are included on our Ask a Librarian webpage. 2. Sometimes "reference" refers to reference collections, such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. 3. A citation to a work is also known as a reference. See Ask A Librarian.

Renewal Extension of the loan period for library materials.

Research Consultation Meeting with a subject librarian to discuss strategies for finding information on a research topic.

Reserves (See course reserves.)

Rock Nickname for the John D. Rockefeller Library.


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SciLi Nickname for the Sciences Library.

Search Statement/Search Query Words relating to an information source's author, editor, title, subject heading or keyword entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information. Search terms can be combined by using Boolean operators and can also be used with limiters. See the tutorial on search tips for help getting better research results. In addition, our Research Support guide discusses this topic in depth.

Secondary Sources Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs. For more detailed explanations with examples, please see the guide Improve Your Research Skills.

Serial Publications such as journals, magazines and newspapers that are generally published multiple times per year, month, or week. Serials usually have number volumes and issues. Also called periodicals.

Special Collections Materials that have specialized importance that provide evidence of a time or process or due to their subject matter, age, uniqueness, or value. These materials are typically used as primary sources that the researcher interprets in their own scholarship. All materials in our Special Collections must be used in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Stacks Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. "Open" stacks allow all users to browse through collections while "closed" stacks are accessible only to library staff. The John Hay Library is a closed stacks collection. All other libraries at Brown are open stacks. Also referred to as “book stacks.”

Style Manual Information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. Outlines specific formats for structuring research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing in different fields of study. The exact arrangement and formatting of a citation is dictated by a style manual. Please see the Citation Guide which discusses how and when to cite and includes examples from the most common styles. For specific questions, contact the librarian for your subject area.

Subject Heading Specific words used by libraries to describe the content of an item.Subject headings are found on the catalog page for each item in the collection and are designed to make finding information easier by linking to other materials that have the same subjects assigned to them. Databases often use subject headings as well. These are different from keywords, which are the words you use to describe the content you are researching. See also Controlled Vocabulary and Descriptors.

Subject Librarian Librarians who have specific areas of expertise. Their role is to assist faculty and students in conducting their research and acquire materials needed for teaching and research. Also called a library expert. See Subject Librarians by Department.


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Tertiary Sources Sources that index or collect primary and secondary sources.

Thesis Significant research projects that are completed for masters degrees and some bachelor degrees. The work reflects new scholarship on a topic.


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Virtual Reference See Ask A Librarian. 

VPN (Virtual Private Network) Extended access to Brown’s network when you are off-campus. A few Library eresources, such as SciFinder and Luna, require a VPN. For assistance with the VPN, contact the CIS Help Desk.


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Zotero Citation management tool that helps you collect citations, makes it easy to put citations into documents, and automatically formats bibliographies in the proper format and order. See also Citation Management. See the tutorial on Zotero.


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