Reference work

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A reference work is a work such as a book or periodical (or its electronic equivalent) to which one can refer for information.[1] The information is intended to be found quickly when needed. Reference works are usually referred to for particular pieces of information, rather than read beginning to end. The writing style used in these works is informative; the authors avoid use of the first person, and emphasize facts. Many reference works are compiled by a team of contributors whose work is coordinated by one or more editors rather than by an individual author. Indices are commonly provided in many types of reference work. Updated editions are usually published as needed, in some cases annually (e.g. Whitaker's Almanack, Who's Who). Reference works include dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, bibliographies, biographical sources, catalogs such as library catalogs and art catalogs, concordances, directories such as business directories and telephone directories, discographies, filmographies, glossaries, handbooks, indices such as bibliographic indices and citation indices, manuals, research guides, thesauruses, and yearbooks.[2] Many reference works are available in electronic form and can be obtained as reference software, CD-ROMs, DVDs, or online through the Internet.

The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, the best known traditional reference book in German-speaking countries
The Lexikon des Mittelalters (Dictionary of the Middle Ages), a specialised German encyclopedia
Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition: volumes of the Propedia (green), Micropedia (red), Macropedia, and 2-volume Index (blue)

A reference work is useful to its users if they attribute some degree of trust.

Reference bookEdit

In contrast to books that are loaned, a reference book or reference-only book in a library is one that may only be used in the library and may not be borrowed from the library. Many such books are reference works (in the first sense), which are, usually, used briefly or photocopied from, and therefore, do not need to be borrowed. Keeping reference books in the library assures that they will always be available for use on demand. Some reference-only books are too valuable to permit borrowers to take them out. Reference-only items may be shelved in a reference collection located separately from circulating items. Some libraries consist entirely, or to a large extent, of books which may not be borrowed.

Types of reference workEdit

These are the main types and categories of reference work:

Abstracting journal -a published summary of articles, theses, reviews, conference proceedings etc. arranged systematically

Almanac - an annual publication listing a set of current, general or specific, information about one or multiple subjects

Annals - concise historical record in which events are arranged chronologically

Atlas - a collection of maps traditionally been bound into book form

Bibliography - a systematic list of books and other works such as journal articles on a given subject or which satisfy particular criteria

Biographical dictionary - an encyclopedic dictionary limited to biographical information

Books of Quotations – collections of quotations satisfying particular criteria ,arranged systematically

Chronicle/[Chronology]] - a historical account of events arranged in chronological order

Compendium - a concise collection of information pertaining to a body of knowledge

Concordance - an alphabetical list of the principal words used in a book or body of work

Dictionary – a list of words from one or more languages, systematically arranged and giving meanings etymologies etc.

Digest – a summary of information on a particular subject

Directory]] – a systematically arranged list of names, addresses, products, etc.

Encyclopaedia -a compendium providing summaries of knowledge either from all branches or from a particular field or discipline

Gazetteer - a geographical dictionary or directory used to provide systematic access to a map or atlas

Glossary - an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms

Handbook - a small or portable book intended to provide ready reference

Index – a publication giving systematic access to a body of knowledge

Lexicon a synonym for a dictionary or encyclopaedic dictionary

List – a published enumeration of a set of items

Manual – a handbook providing instructions in the use of a particular product

Phrase book - a collection of ready-made phrases, arranged systematically, usually for a foreign language together with a translation

Ready reckoner - a printed book or table containing pre-calculated values

Thematic catalogue - an index used to identify musical compositions through the citation of the opening notes

Thesaurus - a reference work for finding synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words

Timetable – a published list of schedules giving times for transportation or other events

Yearbook – a compendium containing events relating to a specific year

Electronic resourcesEdit

An electronic resource is a computer program or data that is stored electronically, which is usually found on a computer, including information that is available on the Internet.[3] Libraries offer numerous types of electronic resources including electronic texts such as electronic books and electronic journals, bibliographic databases, institutional repositories, websites, and software applications.[3]


  1. ^ "Reference". The Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  2. ^ Reitz, Joan M. (10 January 2013). "Reference book". Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b Reitz, Joan M. (10 January 2013). "Electronic resource". Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Retrieved 29 November 2019.

Further readingEdit

Guides to reference works