What Are Those Librarians Saying?!

Librarians can use very specific language. We don’t mean to confuse you! Here’s a list of definitions and synonyms to help you understand our library lingo.


Check Out (or Borrow)

This confusing term is used frequently in North American libraries and basically means “to borrow.” Most books at Columbia College Library can be borrowed for 3 weeks for free.

Synonyms: borrow, loan, issue, charge, sign out

Call Number

The number on the side of each book in the library which is the book’s address on the shelf. Sometimes you’ll see this listed as shelf location in the library’s catalogue.

Synonym: shelf address, shelf location


The library’s online search engine where you can find the library’s books and online articles.

Synonym: database

Circulation Desk

The big desk right next to the entrance of the library. This is where you go to check out books.

Synonyms: Check-out counter, front desk, service desk


When you have a fine, you might feel like things are not fine! A library fine is a small fee you need to pay if you return library items late. Libraries charge fines to encourage you to return items on time.

Synonym: overdue fee, late fee

Loan period

The length of time you can borrow a library item. At the end of the loan period, you should return your items or you will likely have a fine!

Similar words: due date

On Reserve

Books that are kept behind the circulation desk that have a short loan period. We keep textbooks for classes on 3-hour reserve.

Synonym: reserves