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DIY Research Guide

Quick lessons on how to best use the library's resources.

Library Terms

A summary of an article or a book.
A type of reference book containing factual information, usually brief.
Collection, as of poems, short stories, or excerpts. Sometimes also called a "reader."
The records of an organization or institution preserved because of their continuing value in documenting the activities and history of the institution.
Book of maps.
The story of one's life written by oneself.
Author's version of the history of a person's life. The author of a biography is called a "biographer."
A list of books or other published writings. The list may be of books by one author, or on one subject.  The list might be brief, containing only several items or it may be comprehensive, filling an entire book or even a database.
Issued in alternate years. Thus, published once every two years. Compare Semiannual.
Issued in alternate months. Thus, published six times per year. Compare Semimonthly.
Issued twice a month. Thus, published every two weeks. Compare Semiweekly.
Boolean Operators

The words "AND," "OR," and "NOT" used in searching electronic databases.

Also known as 'logical operators' because they are a way to query a database using logical relationships.  SEE 'proximity operators'

"AND" is used to narrow a search ("birds AND rainforest" retrieves only those works that are about both birds and the rainforest).

"OR" is used to broaden a search ("children OR homework" retrieves works that are about children, or that are about homework, or both).

"NOT" is used to exclude terms from a search ("Great Lakes NOT Erie" retrieves works that are about the Great Lakes, for instance, but not about Lake Erie).

Bound Periodicals
Several issues of a magazine or journal bound together to make a hardcover book.
To browse the shelves of a library is to look at items and see what appears useful or interesting, as opposed to searching in a database using keywords.  Many online resources also incorporate browse functions that let you discover content without using a search box.
Call Number
Group of letters and numbers given to each book in the library. Books are arranged in the library by call number. The Dewey Decimal Classification System, which we use here at MSU, assigns a call number made up of numbers, such as "973.2 C463p 1966."
Currently checked out by someone else.
To be lent for use outside of the library. Said of library materials.
Circulation Desk
The area near the exit of the library where patrons may check out materials.
The written information about a book or article which you will need in order to locate the item. A citation usually includes title, author(s), journal name, volume, number, page(s), and date.
Classification System

An arrangement according to a systematic division into classes or groups. In most libraries, materials are grouped together by subject.

At MSU the library employs three different systems.

1) The Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) is used for most of the collection.

2) The Library of Congress Classification System (LCC) is employed for the music collection.

3) The Superintendent of Documents system (SuDocs) is used for federal government documents.

Controlled Vocabulary

A set of predefined terms added to records as they are created in databases.  
Displayed for the researcher in the records as subject headings, descriptors, or tracings and available for advanced functions in a Thesaurus.  The problems that a controlled vocabulary provides remedy for are: variant spellings, the inherent ambiguity in nearly all words, synonymous terms that a searcher should think of but won't, and retrieval that is either too specific or too general.
Cross Reference
A "pointer" used in catalogs and indexes to tell you the word you are looking for is actually listed under another term.
A large collection of data organized especially for rapid search and retrieval.
A subject heading assigned to a topic in an indexing system.
Dewey Decimal Classification System
A system by which books are organized in many libraries in the United States. See Classification System. An example of a Dewey Decimal call number is "635.09769 R953k" for Kentucky Fruit & Vegetable Book. This system is used by the library for most of its materials.
Discovery System The default search box for most libraries that allows the researcher to do a single search across as many of the library's electronic resources as possible.  This has subsumed and supplanted the catalog (or OPAC) as the main search tool on a typical library's website.

Digital Object Identifier - A DOI can be assigned at, any level of granularity, to online resources so that they can have a permanent URLs even if their actual location changes to a new server.  Here is how one looks:

The origin of a word.
Fair Use
Use of material in a way that does not violate copyright law.
References to works cited, listed individually at the bottom of the pages of a paper, an article, or a book chapter in which they occur.
Dictionary or index of geographical names with locations.
Government Document
A publication of the government.
Granularity The idea that information exists in packages of varying sizes often nested within one another. 
For example: Book > Chapter > Section > Paragraph > Sentence > Word > Alpha-Numeric Character.
Concise reference book which provides useful factual information on a specific subject or subjects, organized for easy access by practitioners. Synonymous with "manual."
The books, compact discs, videos, and other materials owned by a library for patron use. Synonymous with "collection."
See Hypertext Markup Language.
See Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

Clickable Internet links, often in blue, that enable one to "surf" the web.  For example, clicking on this link takes you to the Camden-Carroll Library's homepage:

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
Computer language widely used on the Internet to create documents. Most documents available on the web are written in HTML. To see the HTML code for the document you are presently reading, click on "View" in the toolbar of your Web browser and then select "Page Source" from the drop-down menu.
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
Internet address prefix which, when followed by a colon and two slashes, enables one to access information available electronically on the World Wide Web. Note: a web address is called a "URL." See Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
Index (definition 1)
An alphabetically arranged list of names, places, and topics treated in a printed work which gives the number(s) of the page(s) on which each is discussed. Usually located at the end of a work.
Index (definition 2)
See Periodical Index.
Interlibrary Loan
Service by which materials not held by a "home" library are obtained from libraries that do have them, and delivered to the library for the patron. Fill out interlibrary loan forms online at MSU at This service is available only to MSU students, faculty, and staff.
ISBN International Standard Book Number - A thirteen-digit number (formerly 10 digits) assigned to each edition and variation of a book.
ISSN International Standard Serials Number - An eight-digit number (always separated in the middle by a dash) that is used to uniquely identify a serial publication. The ISSN is especially helpful in distinguishing between serials with the same title.

Periodical published by an institution or professional society. It is more scholarly than a magazine found on at local newsstand or a drugstore. Read more about the distinctions among different types of periodicals.

Significant word in the abstract, title, subject headings (descriptors), or text of an entry in a bibliographic database which can be used as a search term in a fielded or free-text search.
Library of Congress Classification
An book arrangement system created by the Library of Congress and adopted by roughly 75% of academic libraries in the U.S. to organize their book collections.
An example of a Library of Congress call number is "F459.C35 S43 2002" for Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History.
LCC is used to arrange music materials at the MSU library.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
The controlled vocabulary maintained by catalogers worldwide applied to the vast universe of printed books.  The thesaurus for LCSH can be found on our Databases A to Z llist.
Rectangle of plastic containing information in very small type that can be read when enlarged by a machine called a "microfiche reader."
Reel of plastic film containing information in very small type that can be read when enlarged by a machine called a "microfilm reader."
Online Catalog
Computer database that lists the holdings of a library. Sometimes referred to as an "online public access catalog" or "OPAC."  In recent years the online catalog has become a sub-unit of the Discovery System for most libraries.
Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)
See Online Catalog.
See Online Catalog.
A journal is peer-reviewed when an article may be published in it only after receiving approval by a board of experts (the author's "peers"). Synonymous with "refereed."  Peer-reviewed journals are considered scholarly journals. Read more about the distinctions among different types of journals.
Journal, magazine, or other publication which is published at regular intervals.
Periodical Index
Alphabetical list which refers you to articles within periodicals. The list is generally arranged by subject or author. A periodical index may be a print index (in book form) such as the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, or an online database such as Art Index.
Copying someone else's work and then passing it off as one's own.
Primary Source
A document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. Primary sources are created contemporaneously with the topic they describe. Examples include original manuscripts, articles reporting original research or thought, photographs, drawings, memos, financial records, posters, film footage, interviews, government documents, public records, artifacts, and newspaper clippings.  Primary sources also include first-hand accounts that were documented later, such as letters, diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, eyewitness accounts, and oral histories.
Compare to Secondary Source.  SEE libguide for Primary Sources

Proximity Operators

In addition to logical operators (aka Boolean logic) you can query some databases based upon the location and placement of text in relation to other text.

Examples of proximity operators

dogs w/p cats  =   the words 'dogs' and 'cats' within the same paragraph

dogs pre/n cats   =   'dogs' precedes 'cats' by not more than "n" words

Reference Book
Book used to find factual information on a subject. 
SEE libguide for Reference Books.
Research Help Desk
The area of the library where librarians and staff are on duty to assist you with your research projects or your particular questions.  In Camden-Carroll Library this desk is located in behind the Circulation Desk as you enter the front doors.
Library materials may be placed on "reserve" by professors. Reserve materials are kept behind the Circulation Desk. These materials are lent to patrons for limited periods of time. Books are placed on reserve because we have a limited number of copies.
Scholarly Journal
The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly community. Most scholarly journals are "peer reviewed" or "refereed."
Secondary Source
Any work that is one step removed from the original source. Secondary sources are created after the fact. Secondary sources describe, summarize, analyze, evaluate, or are derived from or based on primary sources. Examples include reviews, critical analyses, second-person accounts, and biographical and historical studies.
Compare to Primary Source.
SEE or SEE ALSO reference
Usually but not exclusively found in a thesaurus to guide the researcher to information or concepts closely related to the term they have found.
Issued twice a year. Thus, published once every six months. Compare Biennial.
Issued twice a month. Thus, published once every two weeks. Compare Bimonthly.
Issued twice a week. Compare Biweekly.
Publication which comes out in parts. This includes periodicals such as magazines, newspapers, and journals, as well as books such as almanacs which come out each year.
A group of separately published works, usually related to each other in subject, each of which bears, in addition to its own title, a collective or series title which applies to the group as a whole. The individual items are issued successively by the same publisher and may or may not be numbered.
To shelve books is to place them at the correct spot on library shelves. When books have been in use, they need to be reshelved. At the Camden-Carroll Library we ask you to let us reshelve your book for you. Just leave them on any of the tables.
Special Collections
Separate section maintained by some libraries for rare books, manuscripts, personal papers, and other items. The Camden-Carroll library's Special Collections on the 5th floor of the library.
See libguide for Special Collections
The part of a book's binding which connects the front and back covers, and conceals the bound edges of the pages. It usually bears the title, or an abbreviated title, and often the first-named author. In libraries, a label bearing the call number is usually glued or taped to the lower spine of each book.
The shelves where books are located. Usually used to mean the circulating collection.
Style Manuals
Guides which give the prescribed formats for typing footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies for a specific field of study. These formats are called "style" (short for bibliographic style").
SEE libguide for style manuals
Subject Encyclopedia
An encyclopedia devoted to one subject. An example would be the Encyclopedia of Native American Shamanism.
SEE libguide for Reference Books.
SuDoc Number
Group of letters and numbers that is assigned to a government document. Government documents do not have Dewey Decimal call numbers; they have "SuDoc" numbers. An example of a SuDoc number is "C 3.134/2:C 83/2/2000" for County and City Data Book. "SuDoc" is short for "Superintendent of Documents," the main publisher for the U.S. government.
Brief condensation or outline of the main points of a written work, such as the plot of a novel, play or opera.
Compare Abstract.
Thesaurus (definition 1)

Book of synonyms, such as Roget's II: the New Thesaurus.

Thesaurus (definition 2)
Lexicon whose function is to provide a standardized controlled vocabulary of subject headings for use in database searching. Example: Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors.

In a keyword search, a word root followed by a truncation symbol to retrieve variant endings. Example: Africa? will retrieve "Africa," "African," "Africa's" etc.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL)

An Internet address. If you know the URL of a website, you can go to that web page. An example of a URL is

See Uniform Resource Locator.
Person using a library. Synonymous with "patron."
Virtual Library
Collection of texts, manuscripts, images, etc. in computer files that can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. It is not necessary to go to the library to access the texts. Also called "digital library"
Documentary, historical, or memorial compendium of facts and information about the preceding year, often limited to a specific country or subject. Also written "year book."