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Library Organization and Terminology

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Libraries are normally arranged in a common sense pattern based on their usage. The circulation desk, for instance, is near the entrance/exit. Take a virtual tour of the PAC library at Then review the following terms.

Circulation desk The primary purpose of the circulation desk is to help you with library materials which circulate -- ie., they can be "checked out." Consequently, you check books in and out there, you seek reserve materials there, and often you can ask questions, get change, and various other services.
Reference desk The reference desk might more appropriately be called the "help desk." Traditionally the desk with the librarian sat adjacent to the reference collection, so it was referred to as the reference desk. In the PAC library the reference collection is integrated into the rest of the collection and the reference desk is located near the entrance to each floor so that it is easily found. Remember that the PAC library is an academic TEACHING library. The librarian is there to help YOU LEARN how to use the library resources.
Online catalog The library catalog is a listing of all the materials held by the library. This list used to be kept on cards and was called the card catalog. Today most libraries have moved this list to a computer which is accessible by computers or terminals. The list is less labor intensive to maintain on the computer, and is also much easier to use.
OPAC Online Public Access Catalog... In other words, the library's electronic catalog.
Reserve collection Faculty members will often request that the library hold certain materials "in reserve" for their students. This may be a book or other material held so that it doesn't get checked out and become inaccessible to all students. Or, it may be material owned personally by the faculty member who doesn't wish it to be accessible to the entire population. The primary purpose of the reserve collection, usually found behind the circulation desk, is that materials are consistently available to you for class assignments.
Periodical indexes You can look up the titles of materials in the library catalog. This includes being able to look up the titles of newspapers, magazines and journals. However, being able to look up the title of a magazine does not tell you what is in it. All you know is that the library carries that magazine title... To find ARTICLES in newspapers, magazines, and journals you need another library tool: the periodical index. These indexes come in print form (see the print index tables), in microform, on CD's, and online.
Electronic indexes Electronic indexes are simply indexes to materials in electronic format, or online. The most common index is the periodical index. But there are many other types of indexes, or indices. Some type of Web search engines are actually indexes. There are also indexes to specific subject areas that cover many different information formats. Bibliographies are another type of index. An index is just an alphabetized list of references or citations.
Print indexes Print indexes are the oldest form of index, along with card indexes. Many areas of knowledge are still available only through print indexes. Print indexes also offer some advantages not found in other types of indexes. They offer cross-references, so that if you are using the incorrect term for something you will discover the proper term. They also offer lists of key terms, both narrower terms and broader terms in relation to the subject you are seeking. Knowing proper terms is one of the first essential steps in doing research on a topic. Print indexes are invaluable for this.
Periodical holdings list A periodical is anything that comes out on a regular basis. This usually includes newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, almanacs, encyclopedia yearbooks. A list of the periodicals (magazines, journals, newspapers) "held by" (or owned by, or subscribed to by) the library is called the periodical holdings list.
CORAL union lists Union lists are lists of materials held by a group of libraries -- usually the libraries in a certain geographic area. CORAL is the name of the cooperative library group in the San Antonio area to which the PAC library belongs. So, when you are trying to find out if another library in the area subscribes to a particular periodical or book, you would look at the CORAL union list found in the print index tables area.
Interlibrary loan Also known as ILL, is a service offered by many libraries. It is a large-scale form of cooperation among libraries which allows each library to borrow materials which cannot be found locally. This is usually done by "snail" mail. So if you consider requesting material by ILL be sure that you are working with plenty of lead time. It can often take two weeks to receive ILL materials.
TexShare The State of Texas has mandated that academic libraries work even more cooperatively than just ILL. So, you can now get a TexShare card (similar to applying for a library card--see the people at the circulation desk) and check out books and other materials at academic libraries anywhere in Texas. This system is most easily used within driving distance of your home because you must return the materials when you are finished with them.
District borrowing privileges If you are enrolled as a student at ANY of the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) colleges -- San Antonio College, Palo Alto College, St. Philip's College, or Northwest Vista College -- you have borrowing and usage priveleges at ALL the libraries. It would be best to take your college ID with you when you go.
Citation A citation is a reference to something and includes all the information needed to find it. For instance, a citation to a magazine article will include the author, article title, magazine title, magazine volume and issue number and date, and the pages on which the article is found. The components of a citation are usually arranged in a particular "style" : MLA style, APA style, Turabian style, etc. You should always know what bibliographic style you will be using before starting research.
Reference A reference is simply a referral to another source. References should normally include a full citation.
ISBN International Standard Book Number. This number is normally found on the back of the title page of a book. It is used to establish the exact version of the book used. This information is particularly important if you are referring to page numbers.
ISSN International Standard Serial Number. This number is used to establish the exact version of the periodical to which you are referring. It is normally found on the title page or in the publication information of the periodical. It is particularly important to use if there is another similarly titled periodical which could be confused with the one to which you are referring.
Microform Microform is an information format used to store information. Microfilm and microfiche are the two most common types of microforms. Microfilm is simply 35 millimeter film on which larger materials (often newspaper pages) have been reproduced. Microfiche is a small rectangle of film on which materials have been recorded. All microforms require a machine to read and/or copy the information. Microforms are used by libraries because of their small size and relatively low cost. They allow libraries to hold materials that otherwise would not be possible for them to offer their patrons.

Beyond the common sense principles of arrangement, libraries are arranged by the classification of their collections. Let's take a look now at some classification systems.

NEXT: Classification Systems

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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