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Reference Resources Guide: Reference Sources

Reference Resources


Reference sources generally summarize topics or assists in finding secondary literature. These sources provide background information or help you to find other sources. They are also great for quick facts, statistics, or contact information, and can be useful for learning specific vocabulary. Many contain bibliographies for further reading or additional sources on your topic. They are a great starting point for your research. 

Most print reference sources cannot be checked out from the library. However, online reference sources are available on the library's website and can be accessed from home, with your SSU Navigator (current students) or Polaris (faculty/staff) username and password.

A - Z Databases List

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Types of Reference Sources



These are collections of maps in book form. In addition to purely geographical atlases, there are specialized ones for a variety of subjects: history, religion, art, architecture, commercial, diseases, sports, exploration, ocean, stars, etc. Atlases are located on the atlas cases in the reference print collection section.  Examples are Atlas of Boston History, Atlas of World Geography and Atlas of the Great Plains. The Census Atlas of the United States is online. (Links to an external site.)iLinks to an external available online.



A listing of geographical features and locations, complete with longitude and latitudes, and short descriptions. Examples include the Historical Gazetteer of the United States and the Utah Atlas & Gazetteer.



Yearly compilations of facts, dates, and statistics. They can be general or subject specific. Examples include Information Please AlmanacLibrary and Book Trade Almanac, Old Farmer's Almanac, World Almanac and Book of Facts 2019, and Old Farmer's Almanac.



A listing of organizations, people, companies, institutions, etc., with a brief description of each including contact information. Online resource ReferenceUSA



Manuals provide"how to" information, such as how to write a correct citation. Examples include 
The Merck Manual Of Diagnosis And Therapy and Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition. 



These are annual documentary, historical, or memorial compendiums of facts, photographs, statistics, and other information from the preceding year, often limited to a specific country, institution, discipline, or subject. Print resource - Broadcasting & cable yearbook


The above types of reference sources list is adapted from Carol Zoppel, Research and Instruction librarian's types of reference sources list. 


Types of Reference Sources

Types of Reference Sources:


The print Reference Collection is shelved on the first floor facing the Library Help Desk as you enter the library.  Online reference collection is available through library databases. 



Use to get an overview of a topic or background information, to identify concepts, people and keywords, and to find references for further reading. General encyclopedias are well known, but we also have many subject specific encyclopedias which should not be overlooked. Examples include Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Education, International Encyclopedia of Human Geography,  and Encyclopedia of Nursing Education. Online resources: Britannica Library (Encyclopedia) and Funk & Wagnalls of New World Encyclopedia. 


Guides and Bibliographies

These provide lists of materials (books, journal articles, etc.) on a subject. Use them to identify references for your research. Bibliographies provide literature on a subject specific or by a specific author. Print  Nursing 2019 Drug Handbook. Online resource: Oxford Bibliographies



Works containing brief explanatory entries for terms and topics related to a specific subject or field of inquiry, usually arranged alphabetically. Entries are usually shorter than those found in encyclopedias.

An alphabetical listing of words in a language with their definitions, pronunciation, etymology, and syllabication. Online examples: New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary, Merriam-Webster DictionaryCambridge Dictionaries OnlineVisual Thesaurusand Oxford English Dictionary (Links to an external site.)and,Links to an external sitand


Biographical Sources

These sources provide information on the lives of specific people. Usually they are one volume. Examples include Who's Who in America and Twentieth Century British Humorists. Online biographical reference sources: Biography in Context and (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. 



Works that present concise factual information on a specific subject. Usually they are one volume. Examples include CRC handbook of chemistry and physics, The Oxford Handbook Of Zooarchaeology, Handbook of American Popular Culture, Handbook of Green Chemistry, and the Business Plans Handbook.


Statistical Sources

Use to find specific statistical information about a given place and time. Online - Sage Stats database. Print resource - ProQuest statistical abstract of the United States 2019


Chronologies and Timelines

Use these to see what was happening in a particular time and place, or to compare events taking place around the world at the same time. Oxford Reference Timelines.



Alphabetical listings of keywords or phrases found in work of an author or work in a collection of writings. Examples -The Concordance of Federal Legislation and A concordance to Beowulf.


Guide Author

This guide is created by Reference, Research, and Instruction Librarian Rukmal Ryder