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Information Literacy, Level Two: Reference sources

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

Recommended Resource: CQ Researcher

CQ Researcher contains lengthy reports that present both sides of the argument on hot topics.

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: 152 votes (98.06%)
"Eat It, To Save It" Essay: 3 votes (1.94%)
Total Votes: 155

How to find reference sources

Reference sources are:

  • Located on the main floor of the library. When you enter if you walk straight 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.


Recommended Resource: Credo Reference

Credo Reference logo

Credo is an online reference database that includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, biographies and more.

Recommended Resource: Gale Reference

Gale Reference is an award-winning electronic collection of quality reference sources.

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 Virtual 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


Annual publications containing statistical and general information.

Examples: World Almanac and Book of FactsInformation Please Almanac


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


Provide a list of other sources such as books or articles on a particular topic. They cover a specialized topic like a writer (Mark Twain), historical or literary periods (Elizabethan), or a national literature (Irish, Middle Eastern). Sometimes bibliographies offer annotationsshort summaries of each listed source. 

Examples: A Cumulative Bibliography of Medieval Military History and Technology, Bibliography of American Literature Television and Film: An Annotated Bibliography of Research Materials


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)

Reference Guides, Companions:

Similar to other reference books, but are usually highly specialized. They may focus on the work of a particular author, a historical event, or a national culture at a certain time in history.

Examples: A Companion to Old and Middle English LiteratureA Companion to Chaucer