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Introduction to the SHU Library

Librarians sometimes use terminology that is specific to libraries and not necessarily meaningful to most library users.  Below is a list of common library terms and their definitions. Some of the definitions on this page were adapted from the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz. 
Boolean Searching – A system of logic that allows the user to combine words or phrases representing  key concepts when searching in a library database or the library catalog.  The OR command is used to expand your results by including related terms.  The AND command is used to narrow your results by adding additional terms to make your search more specific.  For example, use the OR command like this: sleep and (teen* or adolescen*).  Use the AND command like this:  violence and television and children

Catalog – A comprehensive list of the books, videos, journals and other materials in the library collection.  The SHU Library catalog is available online and can be searched using simple keywords to find material that the library owns on a particular topic.

Database - Databases are online resources that the library subscribes to that contain articles and other information from print sources such as magazines, newspapers, journals and reference books.  The SHU Library subscribes to both article databases and reference databases that provide facts, statistics and background information.


Interlibrary Loan (ILL) - When a book, journal article or video needed by a student or faculty member is unavailable, the student may request that it be borrowed from another library by submitting an online form.  If it is your first time to request a book via interlibrary loan, you will need to first set up an account (you will be prompted from the online form - it takes about 2 minutes). 

Keyword -   A significant word or phrase that can be used as a search term to retrieve all the records containing it. Databases respond best to keyword searching in which your search terms are connected by words such as “and” and “or” (see Boolean searching above).  For example, if your research question is “What impact did the bubonic plague have on Europe?” a good keyword search for this topic would be: bubonic plague and Europ*.

Journal - A periodical devoted to publishing original research and commentary on current developments in a specific field of study (example: Journal of Clinical Epidemiology),  Journal articles are usually written by the person (or persons) who conducted the research. Longer than most articles in popular magazines, they almost always include a bibliography or list of works cited at the end.  Articles from scholarly journals are considered more authoritative than those published in popular magazines.

Peer-Review - The process of subjecting an author's scholarly work or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the field. Articles from peer-reviewed journals have been reviewed by other scholars in the field before publication and are held to a high standard in relation to the quality of an author's research and writing, making them more authoritative than articles from popular magazines such as Time or Newsweek.  Popular magazines have dual intentions of entertaining and informing their audiences, and are not always suitable for scholarly research.

Reference Book - A book designed to be consulted for authoritative background information or topic definitions rather than read cover to cover. Print reference books are shelved in the reference room and have to be used in the library—they cannot be checked out.  The SHU Library also makes available a number of online reference sources. Online reference sources can be located by searching QuickSearch with simple keyword searches.

Stacks - The area of the library where the main body of the book collection is stored.  The SHU Library stacks are housed on the upper level.

Truncation - The dropping of characters and the addition of a symbol at the end of a word in a keyword search to retrieve other forms of a word.  Truncation is particularly useful in retrieving both the singular and plural forms of a word in the same search. For example, truncate adolescent as
adolescen* to search for adolescent, adolescents and adolescence at the same time.