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Information Literacy, Level One: Reference sources

This guide is designed to support the Information Literacy unit within ENG 111, but also provide a first-level introduction to research skills for any Meredith College student.

Reference Sources: What are they good for?

Reference sources are books and e-books that provide general background information; they are great for giving you an overview or an introduction to a topic. They are often the best starting place for your research. Use reference sources to:  

  • Choose and develop a research topic
  • Introduce yourself to a topic's most important aspects
  • Find reliable, factual information about your topic

The most valuable reference sources for your research will often be encyclopedias: books containing articles (sometimes very short, sometimes more detailed) on a wide variety of subjects. If you have an idea for a topic, and want to find out more about it, or possibly narrow it down, academic encyclopedias are a great place to look, because they provide authoritative, reliable background information which is:

  • Written by experts
  • Usually written for non-experts

They also often provide suggested further reading on your topic, which can help you continue your research.   

So as you get started with your research topic, try looking in a reference source!

Finding reference sources: online

The library has several online collections of reference sources  which allow you to search across hundreds of different reference e-books to find articles related to your topic.  

Use this box to search the library's online reference collections using OneSearch:


Or, try searching in these individual library reference databases:

Finding reference sources: print

Image of reference book spines

While most of the library's reference sources are available online, we also have a number of print reference books.  These books are:

  • Located on the main floor of the library in the back.
  • For in library use only.
  • Designated with a "R" at the beginning of the call number (ex. R 398.369 W495)

If you're looking for a print reference book related to your topic, you can browse this collection, or ask a librarian for help!

A word about Wikipedia

WikiPedia logoThumbs up and down imageQuestion mark

Wikipedia is an example of a free online reference source-- it's popular because it's so broad and easy to use.  

But it's often not a great source to use in academic writing, because:

  • Anyone can edit articles, and all edits are anonymous, so you don't know who's responsible for what you're reading, what their level of expertise is, and what their biases or agenda may be.
  • Articles change all the time: what's there today may not be there tomorrow.

So, many professors will ask that you not cite Wikipedia in your assignments or cite it only as a last resort.  

The library's reference sources aim to provide background information like that found in Wikipedia, but from sources you can confidently cite and use in your paper.