Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users

Language Table



Understanding library jargon can be difficult for anyone who is not a regular user of the library. The difficulty of understanding library terms is compounded for English as a second-language (ESL) speakers who must process these specialized terms in a language that is not their native one. This Multilingual Glossary is designed to assist ESL speakers, as well as the librarians who work with them. It consists of commonly used terms in academic libraries today.

The Glossary is divided into two parts: (1) the Language Table, which presents a list of these terms in seven languages, and (2) the Definitions, which give explanations in English for each of the terms.

Librarians can use these two parts separately, or in conjunction, when working with ESL speakers. Sometimes showing ESL speakers the library term in their native tongue is enough to help them understand its meaning and significance, and the Language Table will help to do this. At other times, the ESL speaker needs to read the meaning of the term to understand its application; in this case, the Definitions will be helpful. Cross-references within the Definitions will take users from one term to another.

The Glossary was compiled by members of the Inclusive Pedagogy Committee of the ACRL Instruction Section. The languages for the Language Table were selected by consulting statistics from the Institute of International Education on the number of foreign students from various countries in the United States (see The terms to be defined were selected by polling academic librarians and by consulting the library literature—notably the glossaries included in information literacy textbooks and the research articles on student understanding of library jargon. The Glossary is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every term a librarian might need to use with an ESL speaker but rather a listing of the terms that are most likely to be used in such a context. Definitions were written by members of the committee after consulting a number of sources including the following:

  • Feather, John, and Paul Sturges, eds. 2003. International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science. London: Routledge.
  • Prytherch, Ray. 1995. Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary and Reference Book. 10th ed. Aldershot, England: Gower.
  • Reitz, Joan M. 2004-2007. ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Libraries Unlimited.

The committee acknowledges that these resources are not comprehensive, nor do they reflect the many dialects and nuances within each language. Due to these known limitations, we encourage users of the Multilingual Glossary to adapt this resource to meet the needs of your community.

If you are interested in contributing to future development or revision of this resource, please contact the committee chair. The committee is currently seeking contributions for new terminology to add to the glossary, and volunteers to review the language translations.

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