Glossary of library jargon v.2

Every branch of knowledge has its own special vocabulary or jargon and in the Library you may come across some words from the subjects of librarianship and publishing that are unfamiliar to you. In addition there are names for individual service points and other locations in the library that may not mean much to you at first. These names change over time but staff may occasionally use the old name. Here is a short guide to some of those "library" words and names that may be new to you.
Note: terms underlined in bold link to their own entry in the guide.


A short summary that gives all the major points of a book or article. Sometimes abstracts are published together in a reference book that allows you to find details of articles and books on particular topics called Abstracts and Indexes.  As tools for finding publications they have largely been replaced by bibliographic databases


Alto is the name for the computer system  that runs the staff terminals at the Library Help Desk. You may hear staff refer to the catalogue as ALTO ("is it on ALTO? Have you checked ALTO?")


This is short for the American Psychological Association which developed a style of bibliographic referencing widely used at the University. It is one of the three systems or conventions for producing bibliographic references used in the University. There are printed guides available and an interactive referencing guide called Referencing@Portsmouth on the Library website.

Athens account

Athens Accounts used to be used to login to resources. This system is no longer in use at the University. See Shibboleth

Bibliographic databases  See database

Bibliographic reference (also sometimes known as a bibliographic citation )

A bibliographic reference describes the information needed to identify and retrieve a publication. This would include items like author, title, publisher, place of publication, journal title, volume and part number. A bibliography can be said to be made up of bibliographic references. There are various different systems for producing bibliographic references and your department will prefer you to use one of these when you write assignments. The three systems used in this University are called APA (formerly known as Harvard APA), OSCOLA and Vancouver. The library has guides and workbooks to help you reference correctly.


A list of bibliographic references to works which can comprise books, book chapters, journals and articles on a particular subject. You will often find a bibliography at the end of a book or journal article.

Boolean operators

Conjunctions (link words) used to join search terms. The three Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.

Catalogue (also known as OPAC)

Computer program that enables you to check which books and journals are in stock at the library and where they are kept (also known as location). Each floor in the University Library has some computers with just the catalogue loaded on them. The catalogue is  available  anywhere over the Internet.

Classmark (or shelfmark)

Related word = classification. You will see this as a search option on the library catalogue. It is the number which appears on the label on the spine of the book. Books are kept in number order on the shelves. The number depends on the subject of the book, so that books on the same subject should normally be near one another. Sometimes this is not the case, because the numbering system we use (= Dewey Decimal classification scheme) was developed in the 19th century before many new ideas came into being.

Another reason is that books sometimes are about more than one subject and we have to choose one of these subjects to have the main classmark for where the book is shelved in which case we also give the book added classmarks for the extra main subjects so that anyone doing a classification search on the catalogue for those subjects will still be able to find them.

Each number also has a 3-letter code after it based on the author's name or the first main word of the title. Within each number, books are shelved alphabetically so 658.8/SMI comes after 658.8/JOH. Strictly speaking, on the catalogue the shelfmark is the classmark with the added letters and any other information you need to locate the item such as Large item or LAW REF COLLECTION. This information does not appear on your first screen of results so you always need to go deeper into the record.


Sometimes people may suggest to you that you 'search the databases' or 'search the CD-ROMs' for articles. 'CD-ROM' is used because most of our databases used to be produced in CD-ROM format. Now they mostly come to us via the Internet.

A database can be thought of as a collection of information organised in such a way that you can use a computer program to quickly select the bits of data you want - a bit like an electronic filing system. Traditional databases are made up of files of records - each record being made up of searchable fields. We have a lot of databases in the library - many of them of the type sometimes called 'bibliographic databases'. In these each record describes a published document (book or article) and there is a field for author name, field for title, field for subject, field for publisher, etc. So you can search these databases by author name or subject or keyword etc. and find references to books or articles. Sometimes the whole article (= full text) is attached to the record and can be retrieved at the same time. Sometimes you will only get a short summary (see Abstract) describing the article's content and you will have to check on the library catalogue to see whether we have the journal in which the article was published.

Database platform

A service that hosts several databases, using a common interface to search any of those databases. Examples are the Disovery Service (provided by a company called EBSCO) and ProQuest.


Here at Portsmouth we use the word dissertation to refer to a major written assessment done as part of an undergraduate degree or a taught masters degree and you will sometimes hear the words "final project or final year project" used instead. Essentially, it is a major piece of work done as part of a degree, towards the end of the course and often (but not always) involving some element of original research done by the student. Only some departments send their dissertations to the Library.  Dissertations are shelved by course, year and author, they do not have shelfmarks and they may be borrowed.

E-Dissertations (electronic dissertations) are also available on the Library website.

See also Thesis.

Electronic Journal or e-journal

The Library doesn't just buy journals in printed form to support your studies. It also has subscriptions or access to several thousand e-journals, where the articles from a printed version have been digitised and loaded online on the Internet (note: a few journals only appear electronically). E-journals often have the advantage that they can be viewed and printed anywhere over the internet. Usually you will need to enter a username and password before you can do this, and that username/password combination is often your university username and password, which uses the Shibboleth authentication system.

Faculty Librarian

Each department has its own Faculty Librarian. Usually a Faculty Librarian looks after several departments at once. If you need help with finding information for assignments or dissertations and the enquiry staff on the IT Help Desk can't help, you can see your Faculty Librarian. Sometimes you will be able to see him or her straight away; sometimes you may need to make an appointment. Your department will probably arrange for you to have classes with your Faculty Librarian so you can find out how to use the Library and its databases but if nothing has been scheduled and a group of you feel you need some extra help, please ask your lecturer to organise a class for you. We have a page with fill details for each of our Faculty Librarians.


A searchable category within a database e.g. 'author' in a bibliographic database. Bibliographic fields are conventionally abbreviated e.g. author = AU.

Field-specific search

A database search that is limited to one or more fields e.g. instructing a bibliographic database to search for 'Freud, S' in the author field would yield only items theat are written by Sigmund Freud, rather than items about him.

Free-text search

A database search that is not limited to any particular field. Freetext searches yield larger numbers of results, but these can be less relevant.

Full Text Database see database


In the Library world this word is used to refer to the stock of books, journals, etc. held (i.e. owned) by a library. You will see it in our catalogue where we use it to show which volumes (which years) of a journal we have in stock.


Meaning 1) in a book, an alphabetical list of all the names or topics in the book followed by relevant page numbers
Meaning 2) a publication that you can use to find articles or books on particular topics. The information about each item is very brief. There are Abstracts and Indexes sections on each floor of the University Library.

Information Desk

There is an information desk on the ground floor, called the IT Help Desk, where you can go if you have a general enquiry.  The IT Help Desk is open during the evenings and at weekends during term-time.

Interlibrary loans (ILL)

This describes the system libraries have for borrowing books from one another and for photocopying articles for one another. This means that if you want some information that we don't have here and that information is contained in a book or article, it is usually possible to obtain that information for you. You may have to complete a form and get the permission of a lecturer or your Faculty Librarian before we can request the information from another library.


A copy or particular edition of a journal or periodical, e.g. " I need the January issue of the Journal of ...".

Journal (also known as periodical or serial)

A publication, which contains articles (often describing the latest research on a topic) and which is issued regularly and in separate parts. So in some ways a journal is similar to a magazine, which tends to have articles in everyday language on more general topics. An academic (or scholarly) journal usually only publishes articles which have been through a process called 'peer-review'. This is where other experts in the subject area are asked to review the articles before publication and comment on their quality. The journals are shelved in alphabetical order on the top floor. This means that you won't, for example, find all the psychology journals together. You need to know the name of the journal you are looking for. The only exception to this is that the current issues of some journals are displayed under broad subject headings


In the context of bibliographic databases a keyword is either:

Doing a 'keyword search' will produce very different results depending on which of the above is meant.

Large books

Each floor has some books that are too big to fit on the normal shelves. These books have the word Large at the beginning of the shelfmark and an 'L' in front of the number on the shelfmark label on the spine of the book, e.g. L724.5/JEF . The large books are shelved at the end of the numbered sequence on the top floor.

Library Website

From here you can search a range of resources (eg. Discover, catalogue) as well as access a range of subject pages which are full of resources which have been carefully selected for your subject area. There is also lots of useful information about using the Library and help on finding, accessing and using the resources for your studies. You can see the website from outside the University but for most databases and electronic journals you will need to login with your University/Institutional username and password.

OPAC See catalogue


OSCOLA stands for the Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities and is the referencing system adopted by University of Portsmouth Law Department. It is one of three referencing systems or styles, in use at the University, the others being APA and Vancouver


In this library the word pamphlet describes a slim publication or booklet that only has up to 20 or so pages. Pamphlets are shelved at the end of the numbered sequence on the top floor after the large books. On the catalogue the classmark has the word Pamphlet in front of it. The label with the shelfmark has a P in front of the number.


PRISM was the brand name for the computer system that runs the Library catalogue.  Sometimes you might hear the staff refer to the catalogue as PRISM (“is it on PRISM? Have you checked PRISM?”)


A single entry in a database, describing an individual item. Usually divided into seperate sections known as fields.

Reference books/Reference only

'Reference books' are ones you might want to look at (refer to) for information but probably wouldn't want to read from cover to cover. This includes items like dictionaries, encyclopaedias, bibliographies, collections of statistical tables, etc.  'Reference only' means that a book may not generally be borrowed because we think it holds information lots of people may want to refer to and so needs to stay in the library to be available most of the time.


If you check the catalogue for a book and discover that all the copies in stock have already been borrowed by other students, then you will need to make a reservation if you want to join the waiting list to see a copy of the book. You can make a computerised reservation by clicking the appropriate button on the catalogue and following the on-screen instructions. You can only make a computer reservation if all the copies are on loan. The Library will then recall the book from the student who currently has it on loan by sending the student an email message or letter . If you get a recall notice from the Library you should return the book promptly or you will have to pay money as a fine.

Search term(s)

The words used to try to find items when searching a database.


Shibboleth/Institution/Academic Login  Shibboleth is an 'access route'. Many electronic journals and databases use this for both on and off campus access to resources. To login, you need your University/Institution username and password. For more information about logging into resources, see the accessing electronic resources page.

Statistical database

A database that contains primarily numerical database rather then text.


TALIS the old name for the computer system (now ALTO) that runs the staff terminals at the Library Help Desk. You may still hear  staff refer to the catalogue as TALIS ("is it on TALIS? Have you checked TALIS?")

Thesis (plural = Theses)

Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines thesis as "a long written dissertation or report, especially one based on original research" and indeed, some universities use the word thesis to refer to what we at Portsmouth call a dissertation. Here, the Library uses the word thesis to refer to a major piece of original research produced by a student for a postgraduate research degree (MPhil, PhD or MSc by research). Theses are shelved behind the Issue Desk in the Thesis Collection and may be borrowed.


A way to enable you to search (in certain databases) for words which have the same stem but different endings e.g. child* would retrieve children, childless, childlike etc. in dtabases that allow truncation using the * character.


One of the three systems or conventions for producing bibliographic references used in the University. There are printed guides available and online versions on the University website.


A way to deal with the problem that certain words are spelt differently according to country of origin e.g. col??r retrieves both colour and color in databases where the ? character enables wildcards to be used.