Library Terminology

Information Retrieval Dictionary

This Guide to Information Retrieval uses several words related to information retrieval and the library industry that you may not have come across before. You can check the meaning of these words using our dictionary for information retrieval. To do so, go directly to a specific initial letter from the links below, or browse the terminology in alphabetical order.


A short presentation that provides a general idea of a document’s content. 

An independent text that is a part of a publication. 

Assigned indexing 
An indexing method, in which directory words are taken from the indexing language. 

See Enumerative Bibliography.

Research which aims to analyze the visibility and influence of publications in the scientific community.

A product of mental work that is published either in printed or electronic form, often as a physical unit with numbered pages.

Boolean operators 
Logical operators AND, OR, NOT that are used in formulating a search query or a search profile.

Citation style
The layout of citations and bibliography in a document. 

Content description 
The expression of a document’s content by means of keywords, index terms (subject headings, descriptors) or other notation based on an indexing language.

Controlled vocabulary 
A list of words or phrases that are used in content description (indexing) and retrieval of documents. For example, the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). Visit LCHS website.

Data bank 
A group of documents or databases with a common storage, processing and retrieval system. 

Data management 
Creating, managing, and storing material and descriptive data (metadata) in relation to research in such a way that the material remains usable and trustworthy. 

Data processing 
Systematic processing of data. 

Data protection, information privacy 
Juridical, administrative, technical, and physical measures, which are used to prevent unauthorized access to information and their illegal use. 

Data security 
A warrant of the information’s integrity, born as a result of data protection measures. 

An information format that is suitable for communication, interpretation, and processing. 

A group of data that has been organized for a specific purpose and for a particular information processing system. 

Describing data
Measures or their results that include the summarization, analysis, organization or storage of a document’s data for its identification and management. 

A catalogue of words belonging to a certain language or one of its categories, which have been alphabetically and systematically explained either in the same language or translated to another one. 

1. A reference work in an alphabetical, chronological or systematic order provides detailed information on the recognition and location of people, objects, organizations and locations.
2. An organized catalogue or a part of a reference work, which provides access to its differently organized part, a document’s location data or the document itself. 

Stored information or a physical object, which may be considered a unit in the documentation process.  

Continuous and systematic collection and processing of information for its storage, classification, retrieval, use and forwarding. 

A document containing knowledge from all fields or from a certain subject group, in which the information has been organized alphabetically or systematically. Often includes lengthy articles. 

Enumerative bibliography
A catalogue that contains bibliographic information, for example, about publications in a certain discipline.

A group of records that are stored together and that are processed as a unity. 

National information retrieval service, which includes information about archives, museums and other operators’ material in addition to national catalogues. The reference information of national scientific articles is also found in Finna. Visit Finna’s website.

Full text database 
A reference database that includes entire documents or their relevant parts. 

A list of terms and obscure, rare or dialect words. 

A reference work that includes a certain field’s basic knowledge. 

Harvard style
A citation practice in which in-text citations are indicated with author’s last name and year of publication and bibliography is sorted in alphabetical order by last names of authors.

Headword, keyword, search term 
Words that are used to find information with a search engine or from a database. 

H-index, Hirsch index 
A meter for measuring the publication efficiency and importance of a researcher. Created by Jorge Hirsch in 2005. 

A relevant answer matching the formatting of the search query that is gained from the retrieval system. 

Impact Factor
Indicator for the significance and effectiveness of a scholarly journal. The number of citations the articles in a journal have received divided by the number of articles published in that journal during a certain period, usually two years. Impact Factors can be found in Journal Citation Reports database.

An abbreviation for a structure of a scientific original article (Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion).

Content description of documents to be recorded in a database by using index terms.

Index term, subject heading, descriptor 
A word or a phrase in a controlled vocabulary (thesaurus) that is used in content description (indexing) and retrieval of documents. One index term always stands for a single concept. Index phrases can combine several concepts (so-called precoordinated index term). In UEF-Primo index terms may be used in Subject search field.

Information literacy 
Knowledge of information, data, and the possibilities provided by them, as well as the skills for their use. 

Information retrieval, information search
1. An active process that is used to find recorded documents or data.
2. The retrieval of desired information from its storage location.
3. The measures that are taken in a retrieval system to gain information on documents. 

Information service 
The storage, retrieval, processing, analysis and forwarding of information in accordance with the needs of certain users of information. Information services may include traditional library and information services, such as processing books, papers, archives, standards, patents, research reports etc., as well as electronic media and services, such as electronic documents, and multimedia, online information retrieval, scouting for new release, forwarding electronic documents etc.  

A World Wide Web that enables data transfer between multiple data networks via joint computer systems and gateways. 

ISBN (International Standard Book Number)
An international identifier of a book. ISBN is helpful in identifying and processing a publication in information systems.

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)
An international identifier of a journal or serial publication. ISSN is helpful in identifying and processing a publication in information systems.

A single item of a book or a serial publication.

Julkaisufoorumi (JUFO, Publication Forum) 
A level classification implemented by the Finnish scientific community to support the evaluation of research quality. The objective is to provide scientific publications with a grade classification, in which 1 = basic, 2 = leading, and 3 = top. In addition, the level 0 also implies that a publication has been classified as scientific. Visit Publication Forum’s website.  

A word describing the content of a document that is not taken from a controlled vocabulary (thesaurus). Keywords are often picked from title, abstract or full text of a document. 

Keyword, search term
Words that are used to find information with a search engine or from a database.

Keyword truncation
Making a keyword shorter at the end with a truncation character in such a way that the removed part may vary freely during a search. In some databases it is possible to shorten the word at the beginning also and replace letters inside the word. The truncation makes it easy to search for different word variations.

Understanding based on thinking, the correction of which can be verified. 

Main term
Main term, according to which the book is placed on the bookshelf: the author’s name or the title of a book or a series.

Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) 
An index term (subject heading) used in MEDLINE and PubMed databases for content description and information retrieval. Utilized in some other databases also. 

Mendeley is a free reference management software that can be used through a browser, or an interface installed into a personal computer. 

A statistical re-analysis of results presented in original articles. Included often in a systematic review.

Descriptive information about some information resource. For instance, metadata about a book includes, among other things, information about the title, date of publication, subject headings and ISBN number.

A publication in printed or other form, comprised of one or a limited number of volumes. 

A term that has been made to reference a single or multiple index terms, which should be used in its place. 

In information sciences, ontology refers to an explicit model of a certain subject area’s concepts. An ontology describes the concepts that belong to its subject area as well as the relations between them in a formal, machine-readable manner. In contrast to thesauri, the hierarchy of the relations is specified comprehensively for all concepts. 

Open access 
Publishing research online in such a way that their access is free for all. 

Original article
A scholarly journal article that contains new research results.

A single side of a sheet of paper. 

A manner of scientific publishing, in which experts review an article before its publishing in a journal or other publication. 

A periodical publication, the characteristics of which include a variety of writers and topics, both within a single issue and between different ones. 

A method of presenting the search topic in structured format. Used especially in planning a systematic review in health sciences. P=patients, population; I=intervention; C=control, comparison; O=outcome.

Precision, spesificity
A concept that indicates the proportion of retrieved relevant references or documents to all references or documents retrieved. See also Recall.

A document that includes the textual content of presentations held in a meeting or other such occasions, as well as reports of the discussions roused by them, and other measures related to them. 

Proximity operator, adjacency operator
A search operator that can be used to define how close each other keywords must be in a search. More precise than AND operator (the words must be found in the same reference or document) but broader than phrase search (the words must be found one after another in given order). Proximity operators are not available in all databases and their spelling is database specific.

A printed document or an electronic document that has been made public. Printed publication is often produced in multiple copies.

A search with one or multiple phases with the objective of gaining results from a retrieval system’s references or other data. 

A quotation in the document that refers to another document or its part. cf. reference. 

Recall, sensitivity
A concept that indicates the proportion of retrieved relevant references or documents to all references or documents in a database. See also Precision.

A group of data concerning a single person or other subject, which has been chosen and produced for a specific purpose. 

Reference data
The information, according to which a publication can be identified and found.

Reference management software 
Software that help in the storage and management of source references. 

Reference work 
A document that provides quick access for detailed information on a specific topic. 

A mention in a catalogue or bibliography containing information about other documents. cf. quotation. 

A document’s qualitative characteristic, which describes how well the document matches the description of the retrieval task. 

Remote service, interlibrary services 
An interlibrary service that enables forwarding books and article copies to distant customers, even around the world. 

Research data 
Data produced during research or data that was collected for its implementation. Research data is used to ground the results of the research. 

Retrieval system 
A system that allows one to access document descriptions and their location within a collection or the documents themselves. 

Review article
A scholarly journal article that aims to present an overview of a topic or a level of knowledge in a certain discipline. Usually based on original articles.

Scope note 
A short description on how an index term should be used. 

Search engine 
A program that searches for pages on the internet and adds them to its index, from which it retrieves information according to the search terms provided by the user. 

Search evaluation 
Inspection of the efficiency and results provided by retrieval systems. 

Search field 
A text field, with which a search can be targeted on a book or an article’s title, writer, textual content, index terms etc. 

Search history 
A list of keywords and search queries used during a search session.

Search profile 
An entity comprised of keywords and search queries, used especially in systematic information searching. Often the same as search strategy. 

Search query 
A command given to the search engine, in which individual search terms have been combined into a larger unit, e.g. by using the Boolean operators. 

Search, retrieval strategy 
A plan for choosing the optimal option for the current information retrieval process. 

Serial publication, series
A publication that is published subsequently. The issues are often tagged either numerically or chronologically, and they are supposed to appear continuously regardless of the frequency. 

The identifier, according to a publication is placed on the bookshelf.

Stop word
A non-indexed word that cannot be used in searching (e.g. a, an, the, of, on, in).

Subject index 
An alphabetical index of subject entries, which shows their placement in the tables of the information retrieval system. 

Systematic review
A publication that presents a comprehensive, research based evidence about a specific topic. Systematic review is based on a systematic information search. Meta-analysis is often a part of the systematic review.

An often database-specific glossary that follows a certain hierarchy, and which can be used to describe the contents of a databases records into the database. For example, Medical Subject Headings a.k.a. MeSH

The name of a publication, like book or article.

Title page 
A page in the beginning of a book that contains bibliographic information such as author(s), editor(s), book title, publisher, place of publication, year of publication.

Making a keyword shorter at the end with a truncation character in such a way that the removed part may vary freely during a search. In some databases it is possible to shorten the word at the beginning also and replace letters inside the word. The truncation eases searching of different word variations.

Truncation character, wildcard
A character that is used to replace a single letter or multiple letters in keyword truncation. The truncation character varies by database. The most common is asterisk (*). Dollar sign ($) and question mark (?) are also used.

Vancouver style
A citation practice in which in-text citations are indicated with consecutive numbers and bibliography is sorted in numerical order.

A dictionary that contains names and definitions from one or multiple special fields. 

A set of serial publication items or issues that came out during a certain period of time.

See Truncation character.

General Finnish Ontology. YSO is a trilingual ontology consisting mainly of general concepts.

A free open source reference management software.