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What are Reference Resources?

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Encyclopedias - Background Information
Encyclopedias are collections of essays that provide concise, factual and accurate background information on a topic - the Who, What, When, Where, Why. Entries in an encyclopedia are short and not appropriate as a cited source for a research paper, but they provide a quick overview of a topic and will jumpstart your research. Encyclopedia entries often include citations to additional books, articles or websites for further reading on the topic. 

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, 2007 15th ed. There are two types of encyclopedias; general encyclopedias and specialized subject encyclopedias.  General encyclopedias, like Encyclopedia Britannica (pictured),  WorldBook or Encyclopedia Americana "cover the waterfront" offering entries on almost all subjects. And what about Wikipedia? It is a very large online encyclopedia, providing information on a multitude of subjects. But since Wikipedia can be written or edited by anyone (yes, that means you too!), the entries may not be complete and are not always accurate.

Published encyclopedias, either in print or online, are written by experts and reviewed by experts to insure that the information is accurate, complete, and useful. Wikipedia is not published in the traditional sense because it does not go through a formal editorial process.

Subject encyclopedias focus on a single topic or discipline, for example:

Popular Psychology: An Encyclopedia
Luis A. Cordon
Call number: REF BF31 .C715 2005
The 120 or so entries in this volume cover a wide range of topics, including, for example, Alien abduction, Birth order, Insanity defense, Mad cow disease, Multiple personality disorder, Parenting styles, and Satanic ritual abuse. Also represented are individuals such as Carl Jung and Dr. Phil. The goal is "to try to counteract the tide of misleading information about the field of psychology with a concise guide to some things that the well-informed student of psychology and the interested general public ought to know." 

book cover imageEncyclopedia of Social Theory
Editor, George Ritzer, 2005
get it online
or in print at call number: REF HM425 .E47 2005
"Reference source for anyone interested in the roots of contemporary social theory. The encyclopedia examines the global landscape of all the key theories and the theorists behind them, presenting them in the context needed to understand their strengths and weaknesses. "

Encyclopedia of Philosophy (10 volumes)
Editor, Donald M. Borchert, 2006
Call Number: REF B51 .E53 2006
Presents a collection of alphabetically-arranged entries that provide information on a wide range of topics related to philosophy, including ethics, religion, history, aesthetics, logic, metaphysics, from Aristotle and the Greek Academy, to modern concepts of feminist theory and philosophy of the mind.

book cover imageEncyclopedia of International Sports Studies
Editors, Roger Bartlett, Chris Gratton, Christer Rolf
Call Number: REF GV567 .E45x 2006The 3 volume Encyclopedia provides comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the science, social science and medicine of sport. The aim of the editors has been to produce a comprehensive work which will be of use to a wide variety of users: students, teachers, researchers, and professionals (coaches, development officers, physiotherapists, etc.). Entries are accessibly written and both facts-fronted and critical.

​To find encyclopedias on your topic, either print or online, type in a subject, i.e. dreams, followed by the word encyclopedias:

You may also search across several dozen electronic encyclopedias at once at the top of Booth Library's Reference Resources page, or here. Gale, Springer, Sage and Ebsco refer to the publisher or platform. Gale and Ebsco are the broadest, Springer is more scienctifically focused and Sage has more in the Social Sciences. 
  Sage EBSCO
Dictionaries - Define Concepts
As you research new topics or read scholarly articles, you may come across words and concepts you don't understand.  Use dictionaries to check spelling, word meanings, word history, usage, and define concepts.  General dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary, will explain words in everyday use.  Specialized subject dictionaries, like the Facts on File Dictionary of Earth Science, defines the words and concepts particular to the subject.  Here are links to frequently used online dictionaries:

Oxford English Dictionary
English Words | Meaning | History | Pronunciation | Quotations

Facts on File Dictionary of Earth Science
Online Dictionary | Earth Science Terminology

Subject dictionaries can be used to look up specialized terminology
for example:

   Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research   
   Editors, Bethel Ann Powers and Thomas R. Knapp
   Call Number: Ref 
RT81.5 .P69 2006 or available online
book cover image
The Postcolonial Studies Dictionary
Editor: Pramad K. Nayar
Call Number: PN56 P555 N38 2015
   A Dictionary of Geography
   Editor: Susan Mayhew
   Call Number: Ref G63 .M39 2009
Book cover image   
   Key Terms in Literary Theory
   Mary Klages
   Call Number: PN44.5 .K58 2012 

    The AMA Dictionary of Business and Management
    Editor: George Thomas Kurian
    Call Number: HD30.15 .K894 2013
book cover image   
   Dictionary of Media Studies
   Editor: Susan Mayhew
   Call Number: PN87.5 .D53 2006

For a longer list of subject dictionaries in Booth colletions see thie RefNews post from January, 2016. 

​To find dictionaries, enter a subject followed by the word dictionaries, i.e. music dictionaries
Factbooks - Check Details & Statistics
Almanacs, Annuals, Handbooks, Reference Companions and Yearbooks pull together essential facts about a subject.  They often include statistics (read more about statistics

Print Examples:

Injury Facts - Annual facts & statistics about car accidents, cause of death, gun violence, etc.
RefDesk HA 217 .A4

Statesman's Yearbook - Annual overview of economic, political & cultural information for 194 countries.
Ref. JA 51 .S7

Statistical Abstract of the United States - Annual compilation of statistics related to every facet of American life.
RefDesk HA 202

World Almanac & Book of Facts - Annual compilation of world events and statistics.
RefDesk AY 67 .N5 W7

Ask for help finding factbooks at the Reference Desk. Visit us on the 3000 Level of Booth Library or use our email or chat service.
Legal Research -- Law & Legislation
Explore legislation, legal arguments and opinions. Online sources include: is the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. The site provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information. is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns.

Illinois General Assembly
Current Information | Bill Status | Full Text of Current and Pending Legislation | Voting Records | Public Acts | Illinois Compiled Statutes | Illinois Constitution | Members & Committees | Transcripts for Senate & House | Legislative Reports and More

Illinois Supreme Court
Opinions | Oral Arguments | Case Documents

Newspapers | Business, Political, Social, Entertainment Topics | Legal Research | Case Law | Law Reviews | Corporate Information

Supreme Court of the United States
This site provides transcripts and audio recordings of oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court.

book cover image
Essential Supreme Court Decisions 
by John Vile
Call Number EBSCOhost (E book) 

Print sets of U. S. and Illinois laws are available in the Reference Room in the call number areas of KF  (U.S.) and KFI (Illinois) along with useful titles like West's Encyclopedia of American Law, U. S. Court Cases and Black's Law Dictionary