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Information Literacy, Level Two

What are reference sources good for?

Reference sources:

  • Define key concepts
  • Give biographical information
  • Outline time line developments
  • Address important people involved in a movement
  • Help formulate a research topic further
  • Provide keywords associated with your research topic
  • Identify additional reading materials in their bibliographies

Types of Reference Sources


An alphabetical source that defines terms. It might list all of the words of a language or it may specialize in terms related to a field such as biology, education, or psychology. There are dictionaries that give the history of words and others that list slang terms and new words that have begun to appear in the language.

Examples: The Oxford English DictionaryDictionary of Poetic Terms


They aim to offer a compact yet fact-filled overview of a wide range of topics. In addition to general online resources such as Credo Reference, CQ ResearcherGale Reference, and Oxford Reference, there are dozens of specialized encyclopedias on all subjects. Encyclopedias usually present a topic factually, without bias or commentary. Sometimes titles use the terms dictionary and encyclopedia interchangeably.

Examples: Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences


Take a look at a map. You can learn about more than geography. You can learn about people, history, economies, and social movements. In addition to maps, many atlases include informative articles about the map and the content it displays. 

Examples: Atlas of Medieval EuropeAtlas of Medieval Man


When you want to know what happened when, these are your best guides. They provide facts about what happened on any date. They may be general or specialized.

Examples: Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient WorldChronology of World History (In Library Reference)Hutchinson Chronology of World History (online eBook)

How to find reference sources

The library's print Reference sources are:

  • Located on the main floor of the library. When you enter, if you walk toward the back right of the floor, you will see the reference section.
  • For in library use only.
  • Designated with a "R" at the beginning of the call number (ex. R 398.369 W495)

We also have a Reference Sources Research Guide that lists out our available reference sources. The guide contains resources available online and in the library. From our OneSearch tab there is also a link to our Reference Sources Research Guide.

OneSearch tab with Reference Sources button highlighted in red

Exploring reference sources exercise

You are starting your research project on the farm-to-table movement. Using the links below, decide which source is best to gather background information:

Farm-To-Table Movement, Gale Reference

"Eat It, To Save It" Essay

Exploring reference sources exercise
Farm-To-Table Movement, Gale Virtual Reference Library: 219 votes (96.9%)
"Eat It, To Save It" Essay: 7 votes (3.1%)
Total Votes: 226