How to Use Basic Reference Sources
- The Reference Collection
- Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Encyclopedias
- Bibliographies and Bibliographic Guides
- Other Types of Reference Sources
- Other Tutorials
The Reference Collection
The reference collection is a group of non-circulating, highly used materials such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, bibliographies and bibliographical guides, directories, almanacs, etc. These sources often represent the most current information the library owns in a bound format. The Rome campus library’s general reference collection, located on the main floor, houses reference books on many different subjects. Libraries on the North Atlanta, Lawrenceville, and Riverdale campuses each have reference collections that are largely business-related.
For the most part, reference materials provide background information. These sources answer who, what, where, when and why questions and are more useful for purposes of identification than for in-depth research. The reference section is an excellent “first place to look” when conducting research.
Like the regular collection of circulating material, the Shorter College Libraries’ reference collections are arranged by subject using the Dewey Decimal system, so works on a particular subject would begin with the same call number in reference as they would in the regular collection. Remember, however, that the reference collections in each library are in separate sections.
Many different types of reference materials exist.
Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Encyclopedias
Dictionaries and thesauri can help you understand terms related to your subject. There are both general dictionaries, such as the Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary*, and specialized dictionaries that define such things as acronyms or phrases from literature and mythology.
General encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia Britannica*, contain a broad overview of many topics. Encyclopedias also help to identify terms, and encyclopedia articles generally end with a short bibliography of other sources for you to locate. General encyclopedias are located in call number R 031 of the Rome campus library’s reference collection. (An “R” preceding a call number denotes a reference work.)
In addition to general encyclopedias, which cover all fields of knowledge, the reference collection contains subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries, such as encyclopedias of religion and medical dictionaries. These sources are found within their subject areas, usually close to the beginning of the call numbers (numbers assigned by subject which are used to order books on the shelf) for that subject area; for instance, an art encyclopedia would be found along with other art resources in the 700s section of the reference collection.
Below you will find links to lists of dictionaries and encyclopedias on several different topics. (Note: Often, an encyclopedic work is referred to as a “dictionary.” This simply means that it is arranged in the style of a dictionary, that is, alphabetically).
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
- General (including thesauri)
- Miscellaneous Specialized Dictionaries
- Business & Management
- Law & Government
- Natural Sciences
- Social Sciences
Bibliographies and Bibliographic Guides
Bibliographies list books that have something in common with each other. For example, a subject bibliography might list the best books about a particular topic, such as American History. A critical bibliography might list all the criticism written about a single author or group of authors. Bibliographies are helpful to researchers because they gather together, in one place, materials on a single topic. This saves them from having to track the materials down themselves.
Bibliographic guides to broad subject fields are intended to acquaint the novice researcher with the protocols of research in a particular discipline. They list and describe important reference books, journals, and other research tools, and provide an overview of research procedures in the discipline.
Other Types of Reference Sources
Directories function somewhat like phone books. They provide names, addresses, telephone numbers, and URLs for companies or organizations. Some also list personnel, financial or other information. A list of directories is available here.
Statistical sources provide quantitative data about every imaginable subject. They can be very useful in substantiating claims you make in your papers. Good sources of statistical information can be found here.
Almanacs and fact books provide miscellaneous facts and figures, both for the present and the past. Almanacs and fact books are listed on the News & Facts page.
Several tutorials on this site describe using reference and other information resources to perform specialized research tasks. These are listed below.
- Research Essentials (Basic Research Principles)
- How to Find Biographical Sources
- How to Find Business Sources
- How to Find Critical Sources (Literary Criticism)
- How to Find Religion Sources
- How to Document Sources
- How to Find Journal Articles
- How to Find Books
- How to Use netLibrary (Shorter’s Electronic Book Collection)