The Reference Collection

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1 Unit 7 The Reference Collection Desired Outcomes Student knows where the reference collection is located in the Meriam Library Student is able to identify major types of reference tools and knows what kind of information they contain Dictionaries Encyclopedias Almanacs Yearbooks Handbooks Directories Statistical Sources Maps and Atlases Biographical Sources Student knows when it is appropriate to use a book from the reference collection Student can find a book in the reference collection Student can use a variety of reference tools Orientation to University Life - Information Literacy Student Workbook 127

2 128

3 Introduction The Reference Collection is made up of books that are frequently needed to answer questions. Books in a Reference Collection are usually not the kind of books you would read cover to cover. Instead, they provide quick factual information, overviews of topics, and information on where to access other sources of information. Examples of some common types of reference books would be dictionaries, encyclopedias and almanacs. Periodical indexes and bibliographies, tools that show you where to find additional information sources about a topic, are also considered part of the Reference Collection, but we will cover these in a later unit. Although you are probably familiar with dictionaries such as Webster s Collegiate, or encyclopedias such as the World Book, you may not be aware that almost every subject area has its own reference resources. For example, in religion, there are dictionaries of religion, encyclopedias of religion, directories to churches in the United States, and biographical resources on religious leaders. If you need to write a report for a Religious Studies class on Buddhism, you would find better information from a subject specific encyclopedia such as the Encyclopedia of Religion (ref BL31 E46)) than you would from the World Book Encyclopedia. In addition, subject specific encyclopedias usually have very comprehensive bibliographies at the end of the article, which you can use to lead you to other books and articles on your topic. When you are starting a paper or project, it s a good idea to check the Reference Collection for books that can give you definitions of key terminology, provide an overview of concepts or theories, or give statistical information related to your topic. Becoming familiar with the library s reference books, and learning what kind of information you would be likely to find in the reference collection, can help you write better papers and save you time. How to Find Reference Books The Reference Collection is on the 2nd floor, directly across from the desks where the Reference Librarians sit. The books on the Business Services Tables behind the stairs, and on the Ready Reference Shelf behind the Reference Desk, are also part of the Reference Collection. Ref on the first line of the call number means a book is located in the Reference Collection. Orientation to University Life - Information Literacy Student Workbook 129

4 To find books in the Reference Collection you can search the online catalog by subject and limit your search to the Reference Collection, browse the call number area for your subject, or ask a Reference Librarian for help. Information within each reference book is arranged in a variety of ways. It may not always be clear when you first pick up a reference book how to find the information you need. Some reference books, like encyclopedias, are alphabetical, others are chronological (by date) and still others might be arranged geographically or by category. If you cannot figure out how the information within the book is arranged, or if you are not sure what the book includes, always turn to the front and read the introductory information to get a clear idea of the scope and arrangement. This will save time and help you use the book more effectively. Figure 7-1. Searching for reference material. 130

5 Reference Sources on the World Wide Web Many standard reference tools are now available on the Web. To access select WWW Reference Shelf from the ReSEARCH Station menu and select the subject or category you want to find information about. Some examples of valuable reference tools available via the Web to California State University, Chico users are the Britannica Online (a web based Encyclopedia Britannica) and Contemporary Authors (a bio-biographical guide to over 90,000 authors). There is also an online dictionary, telephone directories, statistical sources and a variety of weather and travel sources. Orientation to University Life - Information Literacy Student Workbook 131

6 Major categories of Reference Books Following is a list of the major categories or types of Reference tools you will encounter in a Reference Collection and what kind of information they contain. Dictionaries A dictionary is a book that lists words in alphabetical order and describes their meanings. Dictionaries can be general language, such as an English or a Spanish dictionary, multilingual, such as an English/Spanish dictionary, or subject specific such as a dictionary of biology or a dictionary of slang. Encyclopedias An encyclopedia has collections of articles about every branch of knowledge or from a single subject area. An example of an encyclopedia with articles about every branch of knowledge would the Encyclopedia Britannica. An example of a subject encyclopedia would be the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. If you were doing a paper about families, the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences would be a better encyclopedia to use. The articles in an encyclopedia provide an overview of the topic and are a good starting point for research. Almanacs An almanac is a publication that comes out yearly and includes calendars with weather forecasts, astronomical information, tide tables and assorted brief facts and statistics on a variety of topics. Example of some well known almanacs are the World Almanac and Poor Richard s Almanac. Yearbooks A yearbook is a documentary, or historical book published every year and containing data about the previous year. The Europa Yearbook provides detailed current information on the economic and political conditions of countries throughout the world. Handbooks A handbook contains facts for an established body of knowledge. The information included in a handbook is usually concise with tables, graphs, formulas and symbols. Handbooks are often very technical and used in fields like science and math. The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics is a well known reference tool in the sciences. 132

7 Directories A directory is a list of objects (e.g. persons, organizations, chemicals) systematically arranged with information about the objects. For instance a phone book is a directory of persons giving addresses and phone numbers. The Million Dollar Directory is a directory of companies in the U.S. making over a million dollars and year and gives brief company information. A chemical directory would give the properties for every chemical listed. Statistical Sources Statistical sources are compilations of statistics on any subject. They can be published yearly or at less frequent intervals. Yearbooks and almanacs often contain statistical tables but there are many specialized statistical sources such as the Statistical Handbook on Aging. Maps & Atlases A map is a representation on a flat surface of the whole earth or part of an area. An atlas is a collection of maps. Maps and atlases can reflect physical, economic, or historical information about an area. Biographical Sources A biographical source contains information about the lives of people. They can cover different geographical areas such as the Dictionary of American Biography, concentrate on a particular group, such as Notable Native Americans or focus on a discipline such as Men and Women of Science. Orientation to University Life - Information Literacy Student Workbook 133

8 Notes 134

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