You walk into your neighbourhood Public Library and ask what you think is a reasonable and simple question about a book. The library staff responds; you say thank you and leave.  Not only have you left without the information you sought, but you are now confused and feeling more than a little dumb!


What happened? It’s quite simple - the Library Staff spoke a language that you do not speak, and they did not even notice.  Unfortunately, this is a scenario too often re-enacted in Public Libraries worldwide.


As in every other industry, the Library has its own jargon; its secret language, if you will, that is used among library staff and within the library. This language is second nature to persons within the fraternity; however, we sometimes forget that our customers are not fluent in ‘Library speak’.


In this post, we will demystify some of the ‘foreign language’ you may encounter when you visit a Public Library.  Let’s begin with some acronyms specific to NALIS.


NALIS                     National Library and Information System Authority

NLB                        National Library Building

ELSD                      Educational Libraries Services Division

HLD                        Heritage Library Division

PLD                        Public Libraries Division

POSLL                    Port of Spain Lending Libraries

POSAL                   Port of Spain Adult Library

POSCL                   Port of Spain Children’s Library

POSYAL                 Port of Spain Young Adult Library


General Library Jargon



That’s you! A term used to refer to our customers or library users.


The materials owned/held by the library



 An organized group of information usually stored in a computer and accessible in different      ways.  For example: one type of library database is a list of all the resources the library has available for use by the public. It can be searched by the Title of the item, author name, subject, etc.



Online – requiring use of a computer with Internet access

Public – not private or restricted; for use by all library patrons, registered or unregistered.

Access – a gateway to something

Catalogue – a list of items

An online database of a library’s holdings, available for use by the Library’s patrons to confirm the availability of items/resources and point to their physical locations.



Data or information that describes other data.

The library catalogue/OPAC is considered a metadata system. This means that each item in the library catalogue has information that describes the specific item.  For example, metadata for each book includes, but is not limited to, the title of the book, the author, the date of publication, the publisher, the subject of the book, the book’s unique identifier number.



International Standard Book Number

A unique (commercial) 10 or 13-digit number assigned to each edition and variation of a publication.  For example, a paperback, hardcover and e-book edition of the same book will each have a different ISBN.  ISBNs assigned after 1st Jan 2007 have 13 digits.

Grab any book, flip to the back cover and locate the barcode  and ISBN, similar to the following:


If you are interested in learning more about ISBNs, visit the International ISBN Agency at:



Dewey Decimal Classification

That strange combination of numbers and letters that you see on the spine of your library books?  That’s the DDC in action.  DDC deserves its own space, so look out for a future post.



Ask a lot of these when you visit our physical or virtual libraries!  We welcome your questions and the opportunity to serve you!


Look out for our next Library Speak 101, where we demystify F, NF, WIF, REF, HBK, PBK, Periodicals, Serials, Journals and more.


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