Stephen A. Schwarzman Building > Research Guides

Library Lingo: A Research Guide

All professions have a way of describing what they do in terms that may not be commonly understood by those who don't work with them daily. The glossary below attempts to demystify terms used to describe the collections, catalogs, and procedures at the New York Public Library. Some of these are ideosyncratic to NYPL, but many are common to libraries and the information world at large.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A list of books or articles on a specific subject. Sometimes this is found at the end of a book or an article. Sometimes a long bibliography is published separately as a book. In The New York Public Library Research Libraries Dictionary Catalog, bibliographies almost always appear at the beginning of the subject headings.

BORROWING [a book]: The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library do not lend their materials. The Branch Libraries of The New York Public Library are lending libraries where you can take books and other materials out.

BRANCH LIBRARIES: The lending, or circulating, part of The New York Public Library, consisting of 82 local "branches" in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. (Brooklyn and Queens have separate branch systems.) The Branch Libraries have a different catalog from The Research Libraries. It is available in online (computerized) form on several terminals, and in book form in the Public Catalog Room. The Branch Libraries use the Dewey Decimal System. Go to Branch Libraries Home Page

CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read-Only Memory): A form of technology used for storing, retrieving and distributing information. Audio, graphic images, digital data and digitized text can all be stored on a CD-ROM. Indexing sources make up the largest number of CD-ROMs available in this Library. The equipment necessary for retrieving this information includes a CD-ROM drive and a computer.

CALL NUMBER: A code made of letters and numbers assigned to each item in the Library to indicate its location on the library shelves. The call number is required, along (usually) with author and/or title, for the retrieval of library materials. In the old or Dictionary Catalog, the call number appears in the upper right-hand corner of the card; it often consists of a few letters of the alphabet. In CATNYP, the call number appears at the beginning of the information about the book, periodical, or other material.

CALL SLIP: A request slip you fill out with information from the catalog to enable library staff to obtain your material. The user information is confidential. Give your call slips, three at a time, to the clerk at the west end of the Information Desk. You will receive a number which will light up on the electronic Indicator Board in the South Reading Room when your material has arrived, usually within 20 to 30 minutes.

CARD CATALOG: A library catalog that uses cards for subjects, authors and titles of books. The New York Public Library's Dictionary Catalog is a photographic reproduction of the Library's card catalog through the end of 1971.

CATALOG: A list that includes bibliographic information about books, periodicals, maps, recordings, music scores, visual materials, multimedia and other materials owned by the Library. The New York Public Library has two catalogs: The Dictionary Catalog (or "black book catalog") for materials acquired before 1972, and an online (computerized) catalog (CATNYP) for materials acquired after 1971.

CITATION: Information that identifies a book, an article, or other cited item. For a book, a citation should include the author, the title, the place of publication, the publisher, and the year of publication. For an article, a citation should include the author, the title of the article, the title of the periodical, volume and issue numbers, date of publication and the page numbers of the article.

CLASSMARK: See Call Number

CONTROLLED VOCABULARY: Words used as subject headings by a catalog or an index. Often these are listed in a thesaurus, which you can use to see terms for your topic before you start to use that catalog or index. The controlled vocabulary used in CATNYP is the Library of Congress Subject Headings list.


DICTIONARY CATALOG: The New York Public Library's 800-volume catalog of materials acquired before 1972, often referred to as the "black books." The Dictionary Catalog is primarily an author and subject catalog, with some titles. These are interfiled in a single alphabet, like a dictionary. More about the Dictionary Catalog

ENTRY: An item in a catalog. In the Dictionary Catalog, the "main entry" is usually under the author. The main entry gives the most authoritative information about the item and may show cataloging changes not recorded elsewhere.

HOLDINGS: Items owned by the library (books, periodicals, volumes, etc.). "Periodical holdings" or "serial holdings" refer to individual issues of a periodical or serial owned by the library.

INDEX: A list of citations to articles and/or books or other materials, usually arranged by subject, by author, or by title.

INTERLIBRARY LOAN: A service (called Cooperative Services at NYPL) which makes it possible to borrow from another library material which The New York Public Library does not own. If a cooperating local library (such as Columbia or NYU) owns the material, you may be issued a METRO pass to see it at that library.

INTERNET: The international network of computer networks. Two means of organizing information on the Internet are the Gopher system, a hierarchical structure, and the World Wide Web (WWW), which organizes and presents information using hypertext. Other tools which allow you to use the Internet include electronic mail (e-mail) and telnet.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS: The Library of Congress is the authority for subject headings used in CATNYP. There are copies of the lists of LC Subject Headings, providing the right terms to use in searching the library catalogs, in the Public Catalog Room. The Dictionary Catalog uses similar subject headings, but if you are in doubt about an appropriate heading to use, ask a librarian at the Information Desk.

MICROFORMS: Various technologies used to film or copy a printed work or manuscript in a much smaller size. Examples of microforms are microfilm, microfiche, and microcard. Generally this is done because the printed copy is in danger of falling apart, or the printed copy is out of print and very rare.

PERIODICALS: Items with the same name that are published on a regular schedule. (Periodicals are also serials, but not all serials are periodicals.) Magazines, journals, newspapers are all periodicals, as are yearbooks, annual reviews, etc.

READING ROOM: The reading room specific to a library division is the area where its materials are read. Divisional reading rooms have small open-shelf reference collections. The Main Reading Room consists of North and South "Halls" in the long gallery perpendicular to the Public Catalog Room.

RESEARCH LIBRARIES: The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library consist of four centers: The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building; The Science, Industry, and Business Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. As in research libraries generally, The New York Public Library's Research Libraries' materials cannot be borrowed. Go to The Research Libraries Home Page

SERIALS: Any library item that appears as part of a series (including series that are produced without a regular schedule).

SPECIAL COLLECTIONS: Collections which are housed separately because of the nature or rarity of their materials. At The New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, these include Rare Books and Manuscripts, Prints, Photographs, the Arents Collection, the Berg Collection, the Spencer Collection, and the Pforzheimer Collection. A card of admission, for which you apply in the Special Collections Office (Room 316), is required to use these collections. Go to Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Home Page

STACKS: The area where the library's books and other materials are stored. In common with other major research libraries, The New York Public Library has "closed stacks": you must request material instead of going to the shelf to retrieve it yourself. The New York Public Library's Branch Libraries have "open stacks" where you may browse and retrieve material yourself.

SUBJECT HEADINGS: Words used in library catalogs and in indexes to describe the contents of a book, periodical, article, or other work. Because there are many possible words to use for the same subject, catalogs and indexes use a controlled vocabulary (such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings).

TELNET: A service that allows you to connect to a remote Internet computer or host; also (in lower case) the program on your computer that uses the Internet to connect to a specified remote computer or host. For example, you can telnet to the Library's CATNYP catalog by sending the following message: telnet (login nypl).

THESAURUS: A list of terms which serves as a standardized or controlled vocabulary for identifying, locating, and retrieving information.

UNION CATALOG, UNION LIST: A catalog or list of the holdings of a group of libraries, generally established by cooperative effort, with an indication by library code or other identifier of the libraries holding a given item; e.g., the National Union Catalog, the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, the Union List of Serials.

--Prepared by the General Research Division, November 1995. This is no. 5 in the General Research Division's Research Guides series.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to New York University's Bobst Library, from which some of these definitions have been adapted.

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