Reference Sources: Types of Reference Sources Explained

Reference Sources

Reference sources are meant to be consulted within the library for specific purposes. They include books and non-book materials. A reference book is designed to be consulted for specific information. A reference book is also a book that does not lend Itself to continuous reading because no library can be said to harbour within its walls all the needed reference materials.

Libraries acquire all sorts of reference books so long as these will be useful to
the clients. A standard reference book has the following characteristics.
1. It is meant for consultation when specific information is needed.
2. It is not meant for continuous reading. This is because it may treat various subjects, thus cannot be used from cover to cover.
3. Reference books are not loanable. As a result of this, usability is limited within the four walls of the library.
4. Reference books are kept differently from other information materials. This is to facilitate easy accessibility and usability.
5. Information in a reference book is always organized in an alphabetical order to make location of information easy.

Types of Reference Sources

types of reference Sources are identified as follows:


Dictionaries are among the most important reference sources. They provide meanings to words, spellings, pronunciations, usage, brief grammar, etymology (word origin), syllabication, capitalization, synonyms and antonyms. There are many types of dictionaries; some are general in nature while others
are subject specific.

Examples include Chambers Dictionary, Webster’s International Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary, Chambers Dictionary of Science and Technology, Harrod’s Librarian’s Glossary of Terms etc. Dictionaries can also be abridged or unabridged, historical, translator or etymological.


Encyclopedias are of two broad types: general encyclopedia and subject encyclopedia. They often provide general information on all subjects or one field of knowledge. The arrangement of encyclopedias is usually alphabetical. In some cases, an index is provided at the back of it which gives easy access to the bits of information contained therein. On a general basis, encyclopedias serve three main purposes namely; provision of answers to simple fact questions, such as What is the meaning of Kinetic energy? Provision of background information on certain subjects for the benefit of experts in that field or for lay persons, and providing access for further reading in the form of bibliographies.

Articles in encyclopedias are written by experts in that field. Examples include, New Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, The Columbia Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.


A directory is a list of persons, organizations, business centers, professions, industries and so on in a given geographical area. The list is systematically arranged either in alphabetical or classified order. It also gives addresses, officers, functions and similar data for organizations.

The purpose of a directory is to give the name, address and telephone number of individuals and organizations, to describe a manufacturer’s product, service, to give the name of the executive(s) of a particular firm, institution’s head
or a country’s leaders. Examples include, American Telephone Directory, World Directory of Multinational Enterprises, A Directory of Agencies in New York etc.


A year book is also known as annual. It contains information in descriptive or statistical form. The purpose is to cover activities and events within a year and also review the previous year. It gives information on date, events of current interest, government or an organization’s activities. For example, a user who is interested in events of 2002 or 2001 should consult a yearbook. Examples of yearbooks include the Statesman’s Yearbooks, American Yearbook, Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature etc.


As a reference source, almanacs are published annually. Like a yearbook, its contents include retrospective information. An almanac is usually general in nature. Example, The World Almanac and Book of Facts, Whitaker’s Almanac.

Handbooks and Manuals

Handbooks and Manuals are ready reference sources and are used synonymously. Their scope is narrow as they contain information on one special subject area like services, library and information etc. Graphs, tables, charts and symbols are often used to disseminate information in a particular field of knowledge.

While a manual is essentially concerned with teaching people how to do something, say cooking, (cooking manual), a handbook is usually concerned with one central theme or subject area. Hence, there are Handbook on African Writers, Handbook on Communication Science, and Handbook on World Salt Resources.


Bibliographies are generally concerned with a systematic listing of records of knowledge without distinction as to subject, language or place of publication. In other words, a bibliography is a systematic list of recorded knowledge, comprehensive within its limit and arranged in logical order. Bibliographies give full details of any document as to the author, subject, title, and publisher, place of publication, edition, year of publication, price, collation and sometimes originating institution.

Bibliography deals with the study of books as physical or material object. It involves subjecting. every aspect of the book to purely physical examination. Systematic or enumerative bibliography deals with ideas or knowledge contents of the book. There are also, national bibliographies which provide list of publications from a particular country. Examples of bibliographies include. British National Bibliography (BNB). National Bibliography of Nigeria (NBN), Ghana National Bibliography (GNB).


Abstracts usually contain short or summary commentaries of documents. They are usually used by patrons to have a quick idea of the general content of an information item report of findings, conference or committees. Although they are short, abstracts still contain the essential points in the document.

They can be published on their own or form part of a document. Abstracts enable the reader to quickly survey what has been published in his area of interest, without actually reading the primary. materials. For example, Library and Information. Science Abstracts (LISA), Chemical Abstracts, and Medical Abstracts etc.


An index is a reference source whose major concern is the analysis of documents by name and subject. An index usually contains access points -author, title or subject which the reference librarian uses to obtain information he wants from the document. Access points are location guides to the documents since most documents deal with a variety of subjects. For example, the New York Times Index, Newswatch Publications Index, National
Geographical Index, etc.


A gazetteer is basically an alphabetical listing of places, with adequate information to identify their location. It covers places like towns, villages, man-made units such as rivers, mountains, capes, and lakes. Gazetteers also provide information on historical, statistical and cultural background. Examples include Gazetteer of Place, Name on Maps of America, Bartholomew Gazetteer of Britain.

Non-Book Materials

These are non-paper based information carriers. They are also referred to as audio-visual materials because they require auditory and visual appreciation. The audio types appeal to the ears. They include disc recording, tape cartridge, radio and telephone. Its major demerit is that deaf people cannot use them.

The visual materials appeal to sight. Example of projected visuals include: slides, transparencies, film and film-strips, microforms. computer software and non-projected visuals such as pictures, charts, globe, maps, cartoon etc. These
cannot be used by the blind or the visually handicapped people. The audio-visual materials combine audio and visual, for example, televisions, computers, video tapes etc.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button