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Reference Resources: Reference Services

Brief description of the various reference tools needed in research.

Examples of Reference Books

Reference Services

For answers to all your questions about using the library stop by the Reference Desk, call the Reference Librarian (Miss T.) at (661)362-2201 or email Miss T. at

Miss T. will assist you in

  • finding scholarly resources for your paper or project
  • using the library catalog and library databases
  • locating specific resources
  • developing an efficient and effective research strategy
  • saving time!
  • checking your bibliography for style accuracy (APA, Chicago/Turabian, or  MLA)
  • assisting with copyright questions

Miss T. is happy to work with you individually or in small groups.   She is also available for in class instruction at the request of the course instructor.

Miss T. is on duty from 9:00 a.m. -- 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday or as needed for classroom instruction.

Miss T. should also be consulted for questions regarding copyright law.

Reference Tools


Reference materials are tools crammed full of information and are intended to be referred to for quick answers, facts, dates, persons, places, events, etc. They are not intended to be read from cover to cover as are monographs or textbooks.


Many reference tools are now available in electronic form (softcopy) as well as in print (hardcopy). The TMU library provides access to many electronic reference books via the Powell Library Discovery Catalog as well as via several reference databases: Oxford Reference Online, Oxford Handbooks Online (Philosophy & Religion), Gale Virtual Reference, Cambridge Histories Online, and Salem Reference.

 Types of Reference Tools

Not all reference materials are created equal. There are many different types of reference tools and although they serve their respective purposes very well, they don't all serve the same purpose. Each has its own distinct scope of coverage, arrangement, audience and strengths.  Even the same type of reference tool will contain variations in content.  Perusing the introductory pages or “About” and “Help” in the case of eReferences, will familiarize you with what each will and will not do.

Reference resources include Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Almanacs, Yearbooks, Atlases and Gazetteers, Handbooks and Manuals, Directories, Bibliographies, Indexes, Anthologies and Quotations, Biographies and Chronologies.


Encyclopedias provide extensive information on all branches of knowledge, usually arranged in alphabetical order. They range from very general to very specific subject coverage. Experts are called upon to write articles anywhere from a few paragraphs to several pages in length. There are biases inherent with each author. And they don't all treat the same subject the same way. It will pay to look at more than one to glean the most information.

Some reference works contain the word "dictionary" in the title but they are more like encyclopedias than dictionaries and should not be overlooked just because of the title. Learn the scheme of organization of encyclopedias as they are not all simply alphabetical listings. Look over the “How to Use” portion, the Table of Contents, the abbreviations used, and any supplemental annuals that may be available.

Encyclopedias are especially useful in the beginning stages of research as they provide basic background information on a topic and perhaps a beginning subject bibliography.

Examples of Encyclopedias:

General Encyclopedias –  Encyclopaedia Britannica (softcopy), World Encyclopedia (softcopy).

Subject Specific Encyclopedias - Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics (hardcopy), The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality (softcopy), The International Studies Encyclopedia (softcopy)


Dictionaries provide definitions for words, word etymology, spelling and pronunciation.  As with encyclopedias, there are general and subject specific dictionaries and they vary in size, purpose, and strengths. Biggest is not necessarily best. Some are contain more than just definitions. They can contain charts and chronologies, rules of grammar and usage, common names and meanings, abbreviations, biographical names, chemical elements and other tables of information. Be familiar with the additional information contained in a dictionary's front and back matter. There are also word and phrase books generally compiled around a specific theme.

Examples of Dictionaries:

General Dictionaries - Webster's Third New International Dictionary (hardcopy), Oxford English Dictionary (hardcopy; accounted to be the most exhaustive English language dictionary; it also gives elaborate etymology or word history development and usage), Reverse English Dictionary (softcopy).

Language Dictionaries - translations from one language to another - Inupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun sivninit = Inupiaq to English Dictionary (softcopy), Gaelic-English Dictionary (softcopy), Pocket Oxford German Dictionary : English German (softcopy), The Antarctic Dictionary: A Complete Guide to Antarctic English (softcopy)

Specialized Dictionaries - Dictionary of Computer Science (softcopy), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (hardcopy), New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and Law (hardcopy), Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians (hardcopy), Dictionary of Literary Symbols (softcopy).

Word/Phrase Books - Family Word Finder: a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms (hardcopy), Hutchinson Dictionary of Abbreviations (softcopy), Dictionary of Clichés (hardcopy), Homophones and homographs (hardcopy), Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes (softcopy), Roget's Thesaurus (hardcopy).


An almanac is a one-volume annual reference that crams countless tidbits of information into a few thousand pages. They contain facts and statistics, weights & measures, calendars, formulas, sports records, population figures, government officials, etc. As you use them you will begin to get a feel for the kinds of information which can be obtained from them. Old almanacs can be very useful for historical data.

Examples of Almanacs:

General Almanacs - Information Please Almanac (softcopy), World Almanac of the U.S.A. (softcopy), Statistical Abstract of the United States, Whitaker's Almanack (British; softcopy).

Specialized Almanacs - Almanac of the 50 States (hardcopy), Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (softcopy), Old Farmers Almanac (hardcopy), Catholic Almanac, Places Rated Almanac, Almanac of American Politics, Almanac of European Politics, Almanac of American Education (softcopy), Almanac of the Christian World.


Yearbooks are like encyclopedias but are restricted to the events and developments within a particular year.

Examples of Yearbooks:

General Yearbooks - Britannica Book of the Year, Americana Annual

Specialized Yearbooks - Mental Measurements Yearbook, Statistical Yearbook, Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, Yearbook of the United Nations, Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook.


Atlases and Gazetteers provide geographical and topical maps, historical periods, astronomical, and demographic information.

Examples of Atlases & Gazetteers - Andromeda Concise Atlas of World History (softcopy), Times Atlas of the World, Columbia Gazetteer of the World, The Great Geographical Atlas by Rand McNally, Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide, Philip's Atlas of the Universe (softcopy), We the People: an Atlas of  America's Ethnic Diversity, Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible, World Atlas of Christian Missions. There are many maps on the internet as well.


Handbooks and Manuals provide factual information about specific subjects or organizations.

Examples of Handbooks - Handbook of Aging and Social Sciences (softcopy), Political Handbook of the World, Handbook of Business Letters, The Communications Handbook, Handbook of Mathematical Functions, Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Handbook of Latin American Literature, Chicago Manual of Style, Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style Manual).


Directories provide names, addresses and some factual information concerning specific subjects or organizations.

Examples of Directories - American Library Directory, Ulrich's Periodical Directory, Washington Information Directory, Hispanic American Information Directory, Directory of American Scholars, Congressional Staff Directory, Northern California Business Directory.


Bibliographies are lists of resources:  books, articles, documents, etc. The library catalog is a bibliography of the resources held in the Library.  Bibliographies are often found at the end of books, research papers, encyclopedia articles, reports and dissertations. There are also books of bibliographies - books that list books often on a specific subject sometimes on multiple subjects. There are even bibliographies of bibliographies.

Examples of Bibliographies - Reader's Advisor: A Layman’s Guide to Literature, Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson, Theological and Religious Reference Materials 3 Vols.  by Gorman and Gorman, Sheehy's Guide to Reference Books, Minister's Library, Commentaries for Biblical Expositors, Sourcebook for Research in Music by Crabtree and Foster, The American Historical Association’s Guide to Historical Literature.


Indexes are finding tools for individual pieces of information. They tell you where you can find information on a particular subject, by a particular author, by a particular title even by phrases  There are special indexes for finding articles, book reviews, poems, plays, songs, essays, shorts stories and many other formats.

Examples of IndexesATLAReligion with Serials (softcopy), Christian Periodical Index (softcopy), Granger's Index to Poetry, Play Index, Short Story Index, Strong's Concordance (hardcopy), Song Finder, Popular Music Index, 20th Century Literary Movements Index.

 Anthologies and Quotations

Brings together in one place selections or quotations from essays, poetry, drama, short stories, and other forms of literature. Serves as source material for courses in literature, history, philosophy, theology, etc.

Examples of Anthologies -  Norton Anthology of English Literature, World scripture: a comparative anthology of sacred texts. See “Finding Anthologies” for instructions on how to use a library catalog to find anthologies on any given topic.

Examples of Quotations - Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (softcopy), Book of Bible quotations (softcopy)


Biographies provide biographical and critical information about people representative of a specific subject.

Examples of Biographies - Who's Who in the Twentieth Century (softcopy), Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Something About the Author (softcopy), Contemporary Authors (softcopy), Dictionary of Christian Biography, American National Biography (softcopy), Encyclopedia of World Biography, Century Cyclopedia of Names (hardcopy, softcopy), Oxford Guide to People & Places of the Bible (both hardcopy & softcopy)


Chronologies provide time lines of historical events relating to specific fields of study.

Examples of Chronologies - Timetables of History, Timelines on File, Chronologies & Background Charts of the O.T., Chronologies & Background Charts of the N.T., Chronologies & Background Charts of Church History, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine.


© Janet Tillman/The Master’s University, 2004, permission is granted for non-profit educational use; any reproduction or modification should include this statement.

 Last updated May 2022.

Work smarter not harder. Ask Miss T

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Janet "Miss T." Tillman
Robert L. Powell Library
The Master's University
21726 Placerita Canyon. Rd.
Santa Clarita, CA 91321