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Using the Library

SOAS Library Glossary

Glossary of Words you might come across in this Library...


A-Z of electronic databases: list providing links to all the databases accessible via SOAS Library [see A-Z list of electronic databases]

A-Z of electronic journals: searchable list of all electronic journals accessible from SOAS library  [see list of electronic journals]

Abbreviation: shortened form of titles often used in reading lists and bibliographies (e.g. IJMES = International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies).

Abstract: summary of the themes and arguments in an academic journal article, thesis or conference proceedings

Accession number: a sequential number given to each new book or journal acquired, as it is catalogued. In SOAS books are arranged first by classmark and then numerically by the accession number following the forward slash ( / ) e.g.  A336.73 /918798 will be after A336.73 / 718456 

Archives [see also Special Collections]: holds personal papers and company records deposited in SOAS Library on behalf of other organisations  (notably missionary organisations such as the Council for World Mission).  On closed access.

Article: piece of writing in a journal, magazine or newspaper

Athens accounts: no longer used by SOAS Library. See Shibboleth

Audiovisual: DVDs and CDs (film, music and spoken word). Also includes video, tape and vinyl recordings

Audiovisual equipment:  facilities for listening to and watching sound and video recordings.

Available:  If the catalogue indicates that a book is available, this means that it is not on loan and should be in the library.  Please note that if the book is not found on the shelf, it could be awaiting reshelving, or in use within the library.

Barcode:  1) unique identifier of a copy of a book.  Barcodes are located inside the front of the book. Scan the barcode to issue the book (do not confuse with publisher’s barcode on the back cover!)   2)  Library membership cards also have a barcode, unique to the particular library member.

Bay:  One set of bookshelves, attached by shelf-ends to two uprights. Several bays in a row make a stack.

Bibliographic database (see also Database): a database which gives brief details of journal articles, books etc

Bibliography: 1. List of book titles, journal articles etc. consulted by an author. Usually appears at the end of a publication.  2.  A work, either monograph or periodical, listing and indexing publications (books, journals, articles, etc.) on a particular subject area.  An example is Index Islamicus.

Billed book/ Billed item: if a book is very overdue, the library computer system automatically charges you for a “lost” item. This will stop you from borrowing and renewing other books.

BLE/Moodle: the Bloomsbury Learning Environment is SOAS’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Book bin: return library books here if the service desk or Library is closed.

Boolean operators: terms used in conjunction with keywords to form concise and powerful searches on databases. Common operators are: AND, OR, NOT

Borrow: to check out a book



Card Catalogue: browsable card index for older Library books. Now available online. [See online card catalogue].

Carrel: bookable study rooms reserved for research students (MPhil/ PhD).

Catalogue: a searchable record of all the books and other items in the library [See also OPAC].

Chapter: a numbered and/or titled section of a book; titles and details of chapters are often shown on the contents page at the front of the book.

Check in: return = bring back an item to the library.

Check out: borrow = take out a book from the library.

Check For Full Text = software which takes a reference/citation for a journal article (or any item) from a database, and provides various ways to access it whether it’s available in full text online or in print in a Library.

Classification: see Classmark

Classmark : the letters and numbers appearing on the spine of a library item. The letter(s) usually indicates the region or language  e.g. JA = India and the number shows the subject eg. 294.3 = Buddhism [see also Accession number].

Closed access: items not on the main library shelves, available only on request.  Most material on closed access can be consulted only in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Collection:  1)  Books housed in a particular subject or regional section of the library, e.g. Law Collection.    2)  A collection is made four times per day of items requested from closed access.

Compact shelving:  see Mobile stacks

Computer suite/labs: rooms equipped with computer terminals for SOAS students & staff.

Copy being processed by the Library: this book has recently been received by the Library, and should be on the shelf shortly

Copy ordered for the Library: this book is not yet in the Library. Users may request a notification from Library staff when it arrives

Copyright: legal restrictions on how much of a book may be copied, and for what purposes.  Normally, the author or the publisher hold the copyright (i.e. the right to copy the text of the item).  Notices posted by the photocopiers explain what may and may not be copied.

Cross-search: Some search tools [e.g. Primo-Central listed below] enable users to search a number of databases at once.

Customer Services: Specialist Library team dealing with membership, loans and returns, and other user-facing Library services.

Database: a searchable, computerised record of items such as journal articles, theses, books, data, conference proceedings, statistics etc.  

Dewey Decimal Number: a number code denoting the subject matter of a book, following the widely used Dewey Decimal Classification System. Used in the majority, though not all, of SOAS Library sections.  See also Classmark.

Dissertation:  an extended essay, often done as a contribution to course work or towards an examination (undergraduate or postgraduate);  this is not the same as a Thesis, which forms part of a research degree. The library holds research degree theses, but not taught course dissertations.

Due date: the date upon which items need to be either returned to the Library, or renewed.



ID number: unique six digit student number printed on student card. NB: this number is not the same as the barcode number on the library card.  This serves as a username for logging into various electronic services. See also Username.

Interlibrary loan [ = ILL]:  chargeable service by which students and staff can request loan of books and/or journal articles from other libraries

ISBN: International Standard Book Number assigned by publishers to each distinct edition of a book

ISSN: International Standard Serial Number, an identifier associated with a periodical title.

Issue Desk:  Desk on level E for borrowing and returning books, collecting reservations and paying fines.

IT Service Desk: Desk on Level E for dealing with any problems with printing or using computer equipment.

Journal: see Periodical

Keyword:  It is possible to search the catalogue or a database by using any significant word (a ’keyword’), or combination of words,  from the author, subject, or title of the item required.  

Large books: Books over 26cm in height (28cm for Art books) are shelved separately and have an “L” in front of their classmark.  See also Extra Large.

Language Lab/ Language Study Room: Specialist room for studying languages, equipped with computer terminals and headphones.

Lee Periodical Reading Area: a heavily used, core collection of journals situated on Level E.

Level: see Floor plan

Library catalogue: a web-based catalogue containing records of the majority of the Library’s collection.

Library Hub Discover: Search a trial database of UK and Irish academic, national & specialist library catalogues.

Library record: your account information, includes details of loans, fines, reservations etc. Accessible via the Library catalogue.

Loans: items that you have borrowed from the Library.

Location list: web page listing the the location of a classmark in the Library, in alphabetical.



Microfiche: Film copies of (usually) old documents or newspapers, in a flat sheet format.

Microfilm: Film copies of (usually) old documents or newspapers (on a reel).

Microform: Generic term for Microfiche and Microfilm.

Missing: item status on the catalogue. This item is unavailable. Library staff will seek to replace this item. To report a missing item e-mail

Mobile stacks: Level F bookshelves which are on tracks, so that they can be compressed when not in use and unrolled for access- used to maximise space. Otherwise known as compact shelving.

Monograph: a scholarly book or pamphlet on a specific subject, sometimes published in a series. Usually used synonymously for book.

Multimedia: Please see Audiovisual.

Nippon Decimal Classification: Japanese classification system based on, but different from, the Dewey Decimal Classification.  Used in SOAS Library Japan section.

Off-campus: When you are not in a SOAS building.

Off-site store: Some items are not held in the library, but in an off-site store  This should be indicated on the catalogue record. These are normally available on request.

Offprints: copyright cleared photocopies of readings.

On-campus: When you are in a SOAS building

One week loan: identified by green tape and / or sticker. These books may be borrowed by SOAS staff and students for seven days only.

Online card catalogue: Some older material is not yet on the OPAC, but it is listed on this digitised form of the card catalogue.

OPACs: Online Public Access Catalogue: see Library catalogue

Original script: script in which a text is originally published. Original scripts have been systematically added to library records since 2000 for some of the major languages using non-Roman scripts (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Japanese) and search can be performed using both transliterated characters and original script.

Overflow shelving area: If we run out of shelf space for books, we may keep them in these special holding zones until space can be made for them in the correct place.

Oversized: See large books



Scan: make a digital copy of an item.

SCONUL Access: scheme providing borrowing or reference access for students and academic staff to over 170 university libraries in the U.K and Ireland.

Security gates: the card-operated barriers at the entrance / exit to the Library. An alarm will sound if you leave with library material that has not been borrowed.

Self-Service machines: these are found facing the Issue Desk on Level E. You may use them to both borrow and return books.

Serial:  Alternative term for Periodical.  Please see separate entry for ‘Monograph Series’.

Series:  See Journal, Periodical, Serial and Monograph series.

Shelf mark:  See Classmark

Shibboleth: the authentication system used by SOAS to allow access to resources on and off-campus

Short loan: items which can be borrowed for 24 hours, or until 10:00 Monday morning, if borrowed on a Friday. Identified by a yellow tape or sticker.

Silent zone: Levels D, C, B, & A are reserved for silent study. Conversation and use of mobile phones is not permitted on these floors.  See also Quiet zone.

Special Collections [see also Archives]: closed access collection of rare books, SOAS PhD theses, manuscripts, photographs and documents.

Stack: numbered set of bookshelves e.g. the book is on Level E, stack 46.  

Store: see Off-Site

Student ID: See ID number and Username.

Study carrel: see Carrel

Subject guide: online guides to specialised web resources and SOAS databases selected by subject librarians

Subject heading: standardised words used on the library catalogue to describe what a book is about.

Subject Librarians: the library’s team of regional and subject specialists. Contact details on Staff pages or individual Subject guides

SUNCAT: unified catalogue of the journal or periodical holdings of most of the research libraries in the UK and Ireland.

Thesis (plural Theses): an extended piece of research conducted for a Research degree (PhD).  SOAS Library theses are held in closed access, available on request.

Transliteration: (also called Romanization) process in which the characters of other writing systems (e.g. Arabic or Japanese) are represented by the characters of another (e.g. Latin script).

Turnstile/ gates/ access gates: see Security gates

Username: your SOAS ID number which is required for accessing databases off-site, and the printer / photocopying network.

Volume: can be used to refer to (a) the cumulative parts of a journal for one year e.g. Vol.45 (2012) OR (b) where a book is published in more than one part e.g. Encyclopedia of Judaism, Vol.1

Walk-in user: a member of the public permitted to use the library. Entitled to access selected electronic resources from computer terminals located physically within the institutional premises, but not remotely.

WiFi/wireless: A facility allowing computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect to the Internet or communicate with one another wirelessly within a particular area.

Wildcard: symbol used as a substitute for one or more characters when searching for variant spellings or forms of a word e.g. organi*ation will search for organisation and organization. See individual databases for details, as particular wildcards can vary.