Common Reference Resources

Between my time at Ellis Reference and long-term filling in at my old middle school library, I have noticed a trend in which reference resources are most commonly used.  As knowing these things can be useful to more than just me, I thought I would present a couple lists.

Middle and High School:

  1. Atlases: Online or print, either works. My favorite general print version is Rand McNally as they update maps yearly.  There are also specialized atlases for specific eras, events, etc.  For online, Google Maps or Google Earth dominate the market for current information.
  2. Dictionary and Thesaurus: Again, either print or online will work.  My favorite to refer to online is Merriam Webster as it provides the definitions, variations, synonyms, and antonyms.
  3. Citation Guides:  In both high school and collegiate general studies composition classes, the favored guide was Diana Hacker’s A Pocket Style Manual.  This guide provided the most used citation and formatting guidelines for three main citation styles.  For online reference, the Perdue OWL Research and Citation Resources are equally useful. For more in-depth help, the official guides (MLA, APA, and Chicago or Turabian) are still the best to refer to.
  4. The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary:  Both now and back when I was in middle and high school, there were poetry assignments.  While some called for freestyle, most didn’t.  The teacher provided a pattern or rhyming schema to use.  When one cannot think of a word that rhymes with another, The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary is a great resource.  It groups words by their ending sounds, for example -at or -end.

Collegiate Level:

With the possible exception of the Rhyming Dictionary, the above listed resources are also heavily used for those in college and graduate school.

Encyclopedia pages showing world flags

“Encyclopedia Pages Showing World Flags” by Horia Varlan from Flickr Creative Commons

  1. Almanacs:  Whether the basic World Almanac and Book of Facts or a more specialized one (ex. on a specific country or region), these are frequently requested for the data they hold.
  2. American Decades:  While included in the Gale Virtual Reference Library, the print set at Ellis still saw a much use, mostly by history and textile arts students.  The latter used them to study era fashions.  Each volume provides decade-specific information on news headlines; arts and entertainment; business and the economy; education; government; politics and law; lifestyles and social trends (including fashion); medicine and health; science and technology; and sports.  While not used as frequently, American Era covered earlier time periods.
  3. Gale Virtual Reference Library:  Offers a searchable collection of reference e-books from Gale and its publishing partners.  It is highly used as a starting point for research.
  4. Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia:  While included in the Gale Virtual Reference Library, the print set at Ellis still saw exceptionally heavy use by freshman biology students.  Enough in fact that these seventeen volumes were the main “workhorse” of the department.  This set provides details information on all forms of animal life divided by their scientific classifications.
  5. Oxford Reference Online: This subscription-based online resource offers many useful tools.  It is well-known for the many specialized dictionaries it contains.  Additional resources include up to 180 subject specialized encyclopedias, companion guides, and other reference works.
  6. Specialized Dictionaries:  This is a broad category that includes foreign language dictionaries and dictionaries tailored to a specific subjects, such as law, music, or medicine.  While the most requested were still print, the Oxford Reference Online also offers these dictionaries.
  7. Statistical Abstracts of the United States:  While not always asked for by name, the reference librarians frequently introduced this resources when data is requested because it offers a variety of 1900 to 2012 statistical data about the United States, its resources,  and its population. Volumes for 2013 and after be published by ProQuest and will not be freely available online.

Plus don’t forget, there are always the general encyclopedias (Britannica, World Book of Knowledge, etc.)!  While the online versions are the most current, most libraries still offer print editions.  I honestly did not see these used frequently, but I wanted to mention them.


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