Jargon-busting guide

When using the library, you may come across unfamiliar words or terms. This A-Z gives a quick overview of what some of these words mean.


Abstract – A summary of a journal article or other publication.

Academic Skills Gateway – A Library Services website which lists free courses, workshops and materials in a range of skills such as study, research, writing and presentation skills.

Access control – The system which allows people to come in to our libraries. You will need to use your University identity card to open the gates or turnstiles to allow you in.

ADF – ADF (Active Directory File) means your University Username and Password. You will have been sent a Username and Password when you registered with the University.

Article – A piece of writing which is published in a journal or newspaper. An article is often on a single topic and discusses it in detail.


Barcode – Each copy of a book is given an individual number. This number is shown on the record on the library catalogue. You may sometimes be asked for this number if you have a query about an item.

Bibliographic Database – A database of information which helps you to find journal articles, conference papers and sometimes books on a subject. The database will find references to articles about the topic you are looking for, and will give details of the author, title, journal, date and page numbers, and often an abstract or summary of the article as well.

Bibliography A list of books and articles which an author has used to find information for a piece of written work. Bibliographies are usually found at the end of an article, book or dissertation. There are also published bibliographies (both printed and electronic) on specific subjects.

Book box – Some of our libraries have boxes either inside or just outside the library where you can return your books. Library staff empty these boxes regularly and discharge the books.


Canvas – A system which gives students and tutors online access to course material and activities. Your tutor will tell you if you have access to a Canvas  course. You will need to use your University Username and Password to access the material on Canvas www.canvas.bham.ac.uk

Catalogue – This is a database called FindIt@Bham which lists all the books, journals and other materials that the library holds or has electronic access to. It is available at: www.findit.bham.ac.uk . It gives you full details of what is available and, for printed material, where it is located and whether it has already been borrowed by someone else.

Citation – A citation is a reference to a source of information which has been used by an author when writing a book or article.  A citation will appear in the text whenever the author refers to a specific source. There are various ways of doing citations called referencing styles.

Classmark A code made up of letters and numbers which indicates what subject a book is about and where it is shelved. This means that all books on a particular subject are shelved together. When you find a book on the Catalogue you should note down all the letters and numbers of the classmark. This will enable you to find the book on the shelves.


Database – A collection of information in electronic form. Bibliographic databases are used to find references to published research in books, journals, conference proceedings and reports.

Dissertation – Similar to a Thesis, a dissertation is a long formal essay which usually involves a review of current research and a discussion of ideas about a topic. It is usually required in the final year of an undergraduate degree.

Due date – The date on which a book should be returned to the library. All items (except in demand items) are issued for a week in the first instance, then will automatically renew day-by-day. As soon as the item is requested by another user, the renewals stop. You will be sent an email to let you know, and it will give you the new due date. In demand items: if you collect an item you’ve requested, and other people have requested it too, you can only borrow it for two days (excluding weekends and University closed days). You can log in to your account on www.findit.bham.ac.uk to see all your loans and their due dates. You’ll also receive an email once a month showing you your loans and their due dates.


E-book – An electronic version of a book, which can be accessed via the Web. Most eBooks at this University are listed in Findit@Bham

Endnote Online – See Reference Management Software.  Endnote Online is a piece of software we recommend to students on taught courses to manage their collections of references.

E-theses – The e-theses website (etheses.bham.ac.uk) gives access to the full-text electronic copies of theses produced by research postgraduates from the University of Birmingham, for example, PhD and MPhil.

EThOS – The Electronic Theses Online System (EThOS) ethos.bl.uk offers free access to the full text of PhD theses from universities throughout the UK.


FindIt@Bham – our library catalogue, where you can look up books which are on our shelves, and access thousands of online journals and ebooks.

Fine – A charge you have to pay if you return a recalled item to the library late (after the due date)


Holdings – The word used on the catalogue to indicate which volumes of a journal or periodical are in our libraries.


Interlibrary loan – An item borrowed from another library when it is not held in any of our libraries. You can order an interlibrary loan online through the FindIt@Bham home page.

Inter site loan – An item requested by a borrower at one of our site libraries and brought over from another.

In transit – If an item is listed as in transit on the catalogue, this means it is being moved from one of our libraries to another. It will not yet be available on the shelf.

Issue – When you take an item out from the library, it is issued to you.


Journal A magazine published at regular intervals eg. monthly, quarterly. Also known as a periodical or a serial. Journals in the library often contain scholarly information and research.

Just Ask – Contact the library via Just Ask, using 24/7 chat or email.  www.intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/justask.  You can also chat from FindIt@Bham


Keyword – A keyword is a word which describes the subject or topic on which you want to find information. You can use keywords to look for items in the library catalogue or in bibliographic databases.


Library/ID card Your University identity card also acts as your library card. You will need to have it with you when you come to the library, and to borrow books. You should never lend your card to anyone else.


My Account – The option on the catalogue which lets you see which books you have borrowed, and renew them if necessary. You can also check whether there are any reservations waiting for you or whether you have any fines.


Off campus access – This means being able to connect to the University’s electronic journals and databases from a computer that is not on the University campus (such as your computer at home). To do this sign in to FindIt@Bham.  

Overdue – This means that a book that you have borrowed has not been returned to the library by its due date. A fine may be charged to a user who does not return library material when it is due.


Periodical – See Journal

PDF – PDF (Portable Document Format) is an electronic file format which presents a document in its original appearance, and which can be printed off or saved.


Research Reserve – A collection of books which are less often used.  They are held in the basement of the Library, but you can request them using a link from the library catalogue, and most of them can be borrowed.

Resource List – A list of books, journal articles and other documents which have been recommended by your tutor to read for a particular course. Resource lists may be given to you by your tutor in class or they may be available electronically in  http://resourcelists.bham.ac.uk/

Recall – If you have borrowed an item which someone else wants, they can place a reservation on it. You may receive an email to your University email address asking you to return the item earlier than the original due date. This is called a recall.

Reference Management Software This is computer software which helps students and researchers to create their own database of references. Reference Management Software works with Microsoft Word to put references and citations in various referencing styles easily into a Word document that you are writing. For more information go to www.i-cite.bham.ac.uk 

Reference item (in the Library) – An item that cannot be taken out of the Library. Some journals and books (such as dictionaries and encyclopedias) are for reference use only.

References – See Bibliography

Referencing Styles – Different ways of presenting references, citations and bibliographies in your written work. The University of Birmingham prefers the Harvard style, but there are many others such as the Numeric, Vancouver or MLA styles. Your tutors will advise you which style you should use, and there is more information about them at www.i-cite.bham.ac.uk

Request – If all the copies of an item you need have been borrowed by other people, you may place a request on it. You do this through the catalogue. You will receive an email to your University email account when the item is ready for you to collect. You have two days to collect the item. Please contact us if you need longer.


SCONUL Access scheme – This scheme allows you to use libraries at other Universities in the UK. https://www.sconul.ac.uk/sconul-access

Self-issue machines – Machines which let you issue items to yourself. You will receive a receipt by email. They are in the Main Library, Barnes Library, and Dubai Library.

Self-return machines – the Main Library has a self-return machine in the entrance before the gates. There’s another one outside the library which runs when the Main Library is closed. Place the item you want to return in the slot, and you’ll receive a receipt by email. Barnes Library: items can be returned on the self-issue machine.

Search Terms – Words used to look for references in a bibliographic database or search engine to help you find books, journal articles or websites. See also Keyword.

Shelfmark – See Classmark

Serial – See Journal

Special Collections – The University Special Collections houses our older (published before 1920) and more valuable books, as well as collections of manuscripts and archives. Any student or member of staff of the University can use Special Collections. More information can be found at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/cadbury


Thesis – A piece of original written work done as part of a higher postgraduate degree.


UID cards – see Library/ID Card


Zones – The Main Library is divided into four Zones (A, B, C and D). These help you to find the location of the books and periodicals you need.


Professional Services