Reference Services

The function of libraries is three-fold. Libraries acquire information, organize that information in a way it can be retrieved, and disseminate the information the library has acquired. A reference service fulfills this last function. Reference services may vary from library to library, but most libraries have an information or Reference Desk where assistance from a librarian is available. Almost all libraries provide reference services via the telephone and many libraries offer email, text, or chat services with a reference librarian.
There are three main types of reference assistance:
• Assistance or instruction with using the library, including locating materials, using the catalog, using computers to access information, and using basic reference sources.
• Assistance identifying library materials needed to answer a question.
• Providing brief, factual answers to questions, such as addresses, statistics, phone numbers, etc. that can be quickly located.
Types of Reference Sources
Reference sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, etc. are research tools that can help you with your paper or project. Reference sources provide answers to specific questions, such as brief facts, statistics, and technical instructions; provide background information; or direct you to additional information sources. Reference sources are not scholarly (peer-reviewed). In most libraries, reference sources do not circulate and are located in a separate reference collection. This practice makes reference sources readily available and easily accessible.
Reference sources are designed to be consulted rather than read through. Reference materials can be arranged alphabetically, topically, or chronologically. Many will contain cross listed information and more than one index. If it is not obvious how a reference source is organized, take a moment to look through the explanatory or how-to-use information, which is usually presented at the beginning of the book, or in HELP screens for online products.
There are thousands of reference sources available that cover practically every subject. Although the term reference "book" is frequently used, reference sources can be books, serials, on-line databases or information found on the Internet. A large part of using reference sources well is choosing the right one for your needs.
Despite the wide variety available, reference sources can be categorized into a handful of groups. Think about the kind of information you need and how you will use it. If you are unsure which reference tool is best suited to your information need, a reference librarian will be able to assist you.
The type of reference source :-
Dictionaries, like other reference sources, may belong to more than one category. For example, an English-Russian engineering dictionary is both a foreign language and a subject dictionary.
Dictionaries may be abridged or unabridged. Abridged dictionaries are smaller and contained the most commonly used words. Unabridged dictionaries try to include all words in current usage. Like other reference sources, dictionaries may become outdated as language evolves. Care should be taken to carefully identify the publication date and focus of the dictionary selected. General dictionaries begin with LC call numbers starting with AG. Specialized dictionaries will have subject specific call numbers.
Encyclopedias provide general background information; they are a good place to start researching a topic that you know little about. Large subject areas or disciplines are covered in broad articles that explain basic concepts. These overview articles often contain references to more specific aspects of the larger topic and may include a bibliography that leads you to more in-depth sources. Encyclopedias may be general or subject specific.
• General encyclopedias usually arrange articles alphabetically by topic. Look for an accompanying index which may list cross-references to other articles. Included in this category are Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Cambridge Encyclopedia , Encyclopedia Americana, and the Columbia Encyclopedia. General encyclopedia LC call numbers begin with AE.
• Subject encyclopedias are available for almost every academic discipline. They provide more in-depth and technical information than general encyclopedias. Subject encyclopedias generally assume some prior knowledge of the subject. There is no general rule for how these tools are arranged. Look for an index. A few examples of subject encyclopedias include the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Encyclopedia of World Art, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Subject encyclopedias will have subject specific call numbers.
Directories provide names, addresses, affiliations, etc. of people, organizations, or institutions. They can be used to verify addresses, name spellings, and provide contact information. As in other reference sources, directories may be general or focused on a particular subject.
• General directories: Zip Code & Post Office Directory, Encyclopedia of Associations
• Subject directories: Fairbanks Phone Directory, Museums of the World, A Directory of Eskimo Artists in Sculpture and Prints, A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies, Directory of Multinationals, Thomas Register of American Manufacturers.
Biographical Dictionaries
Biographical dictionaries contain short articles about people's lives. Biography resources have call numbers that begin with CT.
• General biographical dictionaries include Current Biography, Dictionary of American Biography, Who's Who, Encyclopedia of World Biography, etc.
• Subject biographical dictionaries may focus on a subject area or group. These sources include Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Contemporary Authors, Biographical Dictionary of Psychology , New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Women of Science, etc.
Gazetteers or Atlases
Geographic information is located in gazetteers, atlases and maps. Geography resources have call numbers that begin with G.
• Atlases contain collections of maps. They provide information on geographical/political changes. There are world, national, and thematic atlases and these may be current or historical.
o World atlases include National Geographic Atlas of the World.
o National atlases: National Atlas of the United States, Atlas of the American Revolution.
o Thematic atlases focus on a specific subject area, such as astronomy or agriculture. Examples include, The Oxford Economic Atlas of the World and the Environmental Atlas of Alaska.
• Gazetteers are sometimes referred to as geographical dictionaries and provide descriptions of places, but no maps.
o General gazetteers include Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World, Gazetteer of Undersea Features, etc.
o Regional gazetteers, such as Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, by D. Orth, focus on a specific geographical region and are good places to look if you want to know the location of a town, its population, or where its name came from.
Sometimes atlases and gazetteers are combined, as in the Alaska Atlas and Gazetteer, by DeLorme Mapping, which publishes similar products for the other states.
Almanacs contain statistics and facts about countries, events, personalities, or subjects. Almanac resources have call numbers that begin with AY.
• General almanacs include the Statistical Abstract of the United States, The New York Public Library Desk Reference, World Almanac (an American focus), Information Please Almanac (print ed. called Time Almanac), Whitaker's Almanak (United Kingdom focus).
• Subject almanacs include The Weather Almanac, The Almanac of Renewable Energy, Political Reference Almanac, Alaska Almanac, and more.
Handbooks and manuals are subject area tools. Handbooks provide facts, terms, concepts, movements, etc. of a topic. Manuals provide detailed instructions on a particular subject, such as how-to-do something or how something works.
• Handbooks: Handbook of North American Indians, Guide to Alaska Trees, Words and Ideas: A Handbook for College Writing, Handbook of Mathematical Formulas, MLA Handbook For Writers of Research Papers.
• Manuals: Manual of Photography, Manual for Environmental Impact Evaluation, Alaska Craftsman Home Building Manual, United States Government Manual.
Review & Criticism Sources
These tools provide reviews or critiques of a person's work.
• General: Book Review Digest, MLA, New York Times Book Review, Contemporary Literary Criticism.
• Subject: Children's Literature Review, Popular Music Record Reviews.
Historical Tables, Chronologies, Historical Yearbooks
Historical tables and chronologies present historical facts in different formats. Historical tables provide facts chronologically in columns with each column representing another geographical area or other major area, such as history, economics, religions. etc. Chronologies use narrative form to present facts. Historical tables and chronologies may span long or very short time periods. Historical yearbooks provide facts and statistics for a single year and may be published annually.
• Historical Tables: The Timetables of History, Historical Tables, 58 BC-AD 1985.
• Chronologies: Chronology of World History, The New York Public Library Book of Chronologies, Chronology of the Expanding World, 1492-1762, A Chronology of the People's Republic of China from October 1, 1949, Annals of European Civilization, 1501-1900.
• Historical Yearbooks: The Statesman's Year-Book.
Indexes & Abstracts
Indexes and abstracts lead to additional sources of periodical articles. Indexes only provide author, title, and subject information. Abstracts tend to be more descriptive. Some online index databases also include the full-text of the article.
• General: Reader's Guide to Periodic Index, Book Review Index, Periodicals Abstracts.
• Subject: Art Abstracts, New York Times Index, Biography Index, Chemical Abstracts.
Bibliographies lead to other information sources. They are lists of books and other materials that provide author, title, and publication information. Annotated bibliographies also include a brief description or summary of the item. Bibliographies are available on almost every topic and may focus on specific persons, groups, subjects, or time periods. Many bibliographies are selective and do not attempt to include all publications. Bibliographies are sometimes referred to as "Guides to the Literature ..."