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Last edited by girl2k
March 18, 2010 | History

Some Library Jargon Explained (Hopefully)

100, 245, etc.

When librarians speak in three-digit numbers, they are using the names of MARC fields for the data in library records. When a group of fields is referred to, an "X" is used to mean "any digit." So, "6XX" refers to any field in the range 600-699. MARC uses fields from 001 to 899, with the 9XX range reserved for local use.

Some key fields are:

  • 100 - the author field
  • 245 - the title field
  • 260 - the publisher, place of publication, and date
  • 300 - the pagination, size, etc.
  • 6XX - the subject fields, of which 650 is for topical subjects and is the most common
  • 7XX - called "added entries" these are all of the additional authors, titles, and other information that is not part of the main entry.
  • 856 - the field that carries a URL for the online version of the resource, or closely related information such as tables of contents that are online.

access point

Based on the card catalog, an access point was any element of the record that resulted in a card in the catalog. Access points were headings that were filed alphabetically in the catalog. The access point concept was carried over in some computerized catalog software. In these catalogs, a user enters a left-anchored string and is returned a screen of alphabetically sorted catalog entries that appear before and after that string. The term "access point" is sometimes used to refer to any part of the bibliographic record that is searchable, in particular when speaking of fielded searches in OPACs.

added entry

Any heading that is not included in the main entry. On the traditional library card, added entries were found at the very bottom of the card. Added entries are access points in the catalog.

analytic entry

This is what libraries call a bibliographic record for a journal or magazine or newspaper article, or for a chapter in a book. In general, libraries catalog only the "whole": the book or the journal. When they do catalog any parts of those wholes, it is called "analyzing," thus an analytic entry into the catalog. Libraries produce few of these analytic entries; the cataloging of journal articles is done by indexing companies and sold to libraries as services (remember the Reader's Guide in your local library?).

Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR, AACR2)

Library records are created using a very detailed set of rules that determine exactly what data is included and how it is presented. The current rules in the US, UK and Canada are the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition. (ISBN:0-8389-3210-X ISBN:0-8389-3211-8 paperback) Work is underway to create the successor to those rules, called Resource Description and Access (RDA).

call number

The call number is what you see on the spine of the book that tells you where the book can be found on the library shelves. The term "call number" dates from times when libraries had closed stacks and users had to request (or "call for") the book using that number. The call number identifies the book. In most libraries today the call number comes from a classification system and represents the main subject of the book. It is also a unique identifier for that physical volume in that library, although this role of identifier has been partially replaced by the barcodes libraries place on books and that are used by the circulation systems.

class number

Throughout the 19th century libraries experimented with ordering their books by topic using classification systems. Books are assigned a "class number" (although some systems use letters or combinations of letters and numbers). Using class numbers, books can be placed on the shelves in classification order, thus creating a collection that can be browsed by subject. At the same time, the class number allows the book to be located on the shelf. Two often-used class numbers are the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification.

continuing resource

Resources that are published not all at once but over time are called "serials." Some serials come out with new volumes or issues, like journals. Other resources that are published over time make changes in place, such as Web sites, or loose-leaf publications that get update pages. These resources are called "continuing resources."

corporate author

In some cases, a corporation is considered an author. This is the case for government documents and for reports issued by organizations and corporations. In the case of conference proceedings, the conference itself is listed as the author in library bibliographic records.

Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC)

Developed in the late 1800's the DDC is a library classification system that uses numbers in the range 000-999, with each number having the capability to be divided hierarchically using decimal places. The DDC is heavily used in public libraries in the US and in some college and university libraries. The publisher of the DDC is Forrest Press, which is owned by OCLC.

expression (FRBR)

"Expression" is one of the four levels of the hierarchical description of a bibliographic resource in FRBR. Expression follows directly under "work", and, in the case of texts, is the work as it is expressed in some language. The library community is struggling with the abstract concepts of work and expression and the actual dividing line between them, and how they can be defined in bibliographic practice, is not clear.


Library documentation may refer to "filing" or "non-filing" parts of a record. The term "filing" comes from the card catalog days when entries were filed in the catalog. In the computing environment one would use the term "sorting" instead of "filing." The filing rules in the card catalog were not just a matter of alphanumeric order, however, and filing in the correct order required human judgment. For example, numbers were filed as if they were spelled out. This means that the book '1984' would be filed as the words "nineteen hundred eighty-four." To make things even more confusing, numbers were filed using the words of the language of the text. An Italian translation of '1984' would be filed as "mille novecento ottanta quattro," and thus quite far away from the English version. With the advent of online catalogs, libraries came to accept straight alphanumeric order.

Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)

FRBR is a description of the bibliographic entry using an entity/relationship model. FRBR was first issued in 1998 as a product of the IFLA cataloging section. It is the first such model that has been developed in the library cataloging community. FRBR is limited to the data in bibliographic description. There are related functional requirements for authority data (FRAD or FRANAR)

general material designation (GMD)

The "GMD" is a general statement about the physical type of resource, and appears in square brackets after the title:

Title 12 Angry Men [videorecording]

It is defined by the International Standard Bibliographic Description rules.


Another term from card catalog days, "heading" refers to any part of the bibliographic record that would result in a separate card entry in the catalog. Headings were written or typed at the top of each card, and represented titles, authors, subjects, and series. Most items held by the library had 6-8 cards in the card catalog, one for each heading. Today's bibliographic records continue to have fields for these same data elements, and often they are still referred to as "headings."


Libraries refer to the items they own as "holdings". When you look in a library catalog to see what books or DVDs a library has, you are looking at the catalog of the library's holdings.

integrated library system (ILS)

ILS refers to library systems in which all components make use of a single bibliographic database. Components of an ILS include the online catalog, acquisitions and fund accounting, serials control and check-in, circulation (lending), and other library management functions.

inter-library loan

Libraries have a complex system of partnerships through which they will lend items from one library to another for patron use. Depending on the country, this may be coordinated regionally or nationally. In this way, the holdings of all of the area's libraries are available to everyone in that region or country, even those in small locales with limited library service.

International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)

As its name states, IFLA is a world-wide organization that includes the library associations of all countries. IFLA coordinates many library activities, supports the development of libraries globally, and is the standards body for global library standards like ISBD and FRBR.

International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) and ISBD punctuation

ISBD is a standard that was developed by IFLA to provide uniformity in the cataloging work of the world's national libraries. It represents the theoretical basis of the data in the library catalog record, although it is being eclipsed by the FRBR model. ISBD covers all materials that may be held in libraries, such as multi-media resources, manuscripts, and computer data. One usually hears ISBD referred to as a punctuation standard, which it also is. ISBD punctuation is an early text mark-up standard that places particular punctuation in the printed library record to indicate fields. ISBD punctuation is intended to help the reader of a library record display, but also should allow for machine analysis of the library data when it is in textual, rather than fielded, form.

International Standard Bibliographic Number (ISBN)

The ISBN is a publisher product number that has been used in the book supply chain since 1968. Each published book that is a separate product gets its own ISBN. This means that a hardback version and a paperback version of the same book will have different ISBNs because they are different products with different qualities like size, weight, and price. Library records contain the ISBN where available, but many books in libraries were published before the ISBN became a standard. Although it may seem that each library record should have only one ISBN, library records will often carry the ISBN for both the hardback and the paperback editions so that libraries do not have to add a separate record into their database for each of them. Also, some multi-volume works have ISBNs on each volume, and a single library record may represent all of the volumes with all of the ISBNs.


In library terms, an "item" is an actual physical volume. That said, "item-ness" becomes unclear when, for example, a group of journal issues that each have a separate item barcode are bound together into a volume for shelving. The item concept is important because it is the level at which libraries do inventory, report counts of the library's holdings and yearly increases in holdings, and do lending. "Item" is the lowest and most concrete level of the FRBR bibliographic resource description.

Library of Congress Classification (LCC)

LCC is a classification system for libraries. It uses a combination of letters and numbers, and divides the library topically into 21 main classes. Unlike Dewey, the classification number is not hierarchical in nature, meaning that a number like HV21 is not necessarily subordinate to HV2, and that HV21 and HV24 may be unrelated from a taxonomic point of view. LCC is used and maintained at the Library of Congress, and is in use in many university and large public libraries in the United States and elsewhere.

Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN)

The LCCN represents the catalog record created by the Library of Congress. It began as the LC Card Number in 1906, when the Library of Congress printed and sold cards to libraries that they could use in their own catalogs. The LCCN identifies the metadata for the resource, not the resource itself.

main entry

Dating from the time of card catalogs, each bibliographic entry is represented with one author and one title at the head of the entry, although other authors and titles may be present on the record in a secondary position. The main entry creates a uniform display for library catalog entries, and is considered by some to serve as an identifier for the resource.


A term from FRBR, the "manifestation" is the actual produced book. In modern publishing, a manifestation is a book that is mass produced in a printed product, and data that refers to the manifestation is valid for all of the items from that printed product (e.g. title, publisher name, pagination).


MARC is a general designation for the record format used in many Western libraries and developed as an ANSI standard in the late 1960's. The term "MARC" can be used to refer to the record format defined in the standard, the library instance of that record format that makes particular choices, and the content standard for creating bibliographic records in that format. The current definition of the record format standard is ISO 2709. The library instance of the MARC standard as well as the content standard are maintained by the Library of Congress. The current version of the library standard is called MARC21. There are many variations on the standard, the most common of which is UniMARC.


Originally developed in the late 1970's, OCLC is the primary metadata service provider in the US and maintains the largest database of bibliographic records in the world, as well as the information on which libraries own the items. Libraries subscribe to OCLC services for bibliographic records, for the management of inter-library loan requests, and, more recently, as the user interface to the library's collection.

OCLC number

Each record in OCLC is given an OCLC system number. This number generally represents a published item that will be found in many libraries. In theory, each published book (or music CD, or DVD, or other library resource) will have one record in OCLC with an OCLC number. When libraries use OCLC for their cataloging, the record in their database usually retains the OCLC number for the record that the library downloads from OCLC, which can be used to identify the record and to link to other records for the same bibliographic resource.

onlne public access catalog (OPAC)

OPAC is the term for the computerized catalog interface used by the library public. It essentially is the replacement for the card catalog.


In library records, pagination consists of the paging pattern (Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, etc.) and a record of the highest number used for each pattern: xii, 356 p. While this gives an indication of the total number of pages it is not a precise measure of the total number because it does not include an un-numbered front matter or blank pages. Pagination can be recorded in leaves rather than pages. (A leaf is a physical page with two sides, whereas with pagination usually both sides receive a page number.) When a work is in multiple volumes, the library data usually just records the number of volumes (e.g. 3 v.) and not the number of pages or pagination of each volume.

Resource Description and Access (RDA)

The successor cataloging rules to AACR2, RDA is expected to be available in 2009 as a subscription-based online product. RDA is based at least in part on FRBR concepts.


Items that are published over time are called "serials." Common serials are magazines, newspapers, and journals. Other publications that are considered serials by libraries are: reference books published yearly (e.g. Physician's Desk Reference, Farmer's Almanac); and works that receive periodic updates (e.g. Standard & Poor's business publications in binders).

statement of responsibility

The "statement of responsibility" is a string of characters that follows the title in the library catalog record, usually preceded by a slash ("/ "). The content of the statement of responsibility is taken directly from the title page of the resource, and can read something like: "by John Smith with illustrations by Maggie Jones." Its role is to show the user how the resource described itself on the title page.

title page

It has long been the custom in printing to include a page at the front of the book that contains the title, the author(s), the publisher, and often the date of publication. This page may also list other key contributors like translators or illustrators. The back side of this page (the "verso") will usually have details such as copyright information, the ISBN, and for US publications it may have the Library of Congress "cataloging-in-publication." Certain information in the library bibliographic record is transcribed faithfully from the title page, such that the record functions as a surrogate for that page. In particular, these elements are taken directly from the title page: title, statement of responsibility, place of publication, publisher name, date.


One of the least clear terms in the bibliographic universe, "work" is casually used to refer to an individual book or resource. In the area of cultural commentary, "work" may be used to refer to all of the intellectual output of an individual (e.g. "Thomas Mann's work spans three decades..." However, "work" has taken on a formal meaning when one is speaking in the context of FRBR, and it refers to a single creation at its most general level. Thus, if one refers to the work "Der Zauberberg," this includes all versions, printings, and translations of the creation by Mann. A work is inherently abstract in the FRBR definition.

History Created November 7, 2008 · 20 revisions

March 18, 2010 Edited by girl2k fixed more typos
March 18, 2010 Edited by girl2k fixed typos reported by user
March 12, 2010 Edited by Lance Arthur Correct blockquote
March 12, 2010 Edited by Lance Arthur Remove CSS (ignored online) and update layout
November 7, 2008 Created by Karen Coyle Edited without comment.