|Basic Library Research Skills||
Southern Utah University
Reference sources are especially important for . . .
A good place
to find background information is the Reference Collection area of the library. There
are also some
very good reference Web sites available on the Internet. This chapter
will introduce you to some standard and frequently used reference books
and Websites that you might find useful when starting your research.
The Sherratt Library Reference Collection is located on the first floor. These books are located near the Reference Desk, where you can ask for help with your research. The books in the Reference Collection are shelved using the Library of Congress classification system, the same system used in most areas of the library. Since other students and faculty may need immediate access to these reference books, they cannot be checked out of the library.
Almanacs are filled with up-to-date answers to all kinds of questions. Current information is collected by a government, publisher or organization and published every year. They are an excellent source for yearly data, funding, lists of literary prizes, sports records, calendars of dates and events, weather, and statistics. Some focus on the United States; others are world almanacs.
Since there does not seem to be any consistent arrangement of the material, you begin searching an almanac by using the index, which may be in the front and/or the back. Almanacs will not necessarily cover or duplicate the same information, so you may want to consult more than one.
You will find general and subject specific almanacs in the library. General almanacs are shelved in the Reference AY area. Subject almanacs are shelved by the subject call number. For example, an almanac of sport facts would be at the beginning of the GV
Some general almanacs you may find useful are . . .
The World Almanac and Book of Facts (Reference AY 67 .N5 W7) contains data on social, industrial, political, religious, and educational topics, as well as news stories of the year and information on organizations, countries, and people.
Time Almanac (Reference AY64 .I552) contains data and historical information about the United States, but does include areas of world-wide coverage including sports, motion pictures, theater and literary awards.
Factbooks and handbooks are similar types of reference books. Factbooks are books that collect useful facts and information on a subject, while handbooks are handy guides to a particular subject.
A factbook and a handbook that you may find useful are . . .
The World Factbook (Reference G 122 .U56), published by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), profiles countries of the world, and includes maps, politics, flags, weather, major cities, and economics.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (Reference HF 5381 .U62) is a source of career information from the U.S. Department of Labor. It describes what workers do on the job, working conditions, training and education needed, earnings, and job prospects.
Dictionaries are reference books which contain an alphabetical listing of words with their meanings or definitions. Also included is information on spelling, pronunciation, usage, and the source or history of words. There are several different types of dictionaries:
Encyclopedias are often the best source for finding basic background information for a topic. Preliminary reading of encyclopedia articles will help you clarify and limit or broaden your research. Encyclopedia articles may also include a bibliography that will lead to additional sources on your topic.
General encyclopedias include articles that cover all fields of knowledge. Articles are arranged alphabetically by subject. Some encyclopedias provide more in-depth information than others, and libraries will frequently have a range of encyclopedias from World Book to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Subject encyclopedias cover one field of study. If you are certain about the subject area from which youíll choose a topic, you may want to begin in a subject-specific encyclopedia. Examples of multi-volume subject encyclopedias are the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Subject encyclopedias in single volumes are also common. Examples are the Encyclopedia of African-American Education, Encyclopedia of Modern Mexico, and Encyclopedia of the Essay. Not all subject-specific reference works use the term “encyclopedia” in the title, but nonetheless provide background information like an encyclopedia.
For college level writing, most instructors DO NOT accept encyclopedia articles as research sources for scholarly papers. Encyclopedias are best used to find topics or look for background information.
While writing a research paper or speech, statistics can often be used to verify your position and to support your claims. Almanacs may supply some statistical information, but specialized statistical sources provide more complete and extensive coverage.
The standard summary of our nationís social, political, and economic statistics for over a hundred years is the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Reference HF 5381 .U62). Produced annually, it contains statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States, with selected international data. It contains data from the Census Bureau, other Federal agencies, and from some private organizations.
You can use the SUU Library Catalog to find books located in the Reference Collection:
The SUU Library subscribes to several very useful reference databases that can be accessed from the Library Web page.
To access the list of reference databases fromthe Library homepage (http://www.li.suu.edu):
Click Encyclopedias & Dictionaries, or
click Find Articles, then in the Databases by Subject list choose Encyclopedias & Dictionaries.
From this list you'll find a variety of encyclopedias and dictionaries that cover many general and specific topics. Just a sample of what you'll find:
Many useful and popular reference resources are now available on the Web. Some of these are free to anyone through the Internet, while some are available only to those who pay a subscription fee. The Sherratt Library Web site provides links to both types of electronic reference sources. You'll discover that some of the best free reference sources are available from U.S. government Web sites.
Following you'll find several free reference sources that could have background information for a library research assignment. These reference sources, and several others, are available on the Library Web site. Online Exercise 2 will show you how to access these online reference links from the library Web site:
Free online version of the Information Please Almanac, with an almanac, atlas, dictionary and encyclopedia.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Online source of career information from the U.S. Department of Labor, describing what workers do on the job, working conditions, training and education needed, earnings, and job prospects.
CIA World Factbook
Factbook from the Central Intelligence Agency that profiles countries of the world, including maps, politics, flags, weather, major cities, and economics.
Merriam-Websterís Dictionary and Thesaurus
Free online dictionary and thesaurus.
Free online encyclopedia, with articles taken from the Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia which are continuously updated.
Gateway to statistics from over 100 U.S. Federal agencies.
Statistical Abstract of the U.S.
Online version of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, with statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States, with selected international data. Due to copyright issues, some of the statistical tables in the print edition are not available online.
Finding background information is a good way to start your research because it helps you understand your topic better and provides useful concepts and keywords that you can use to search in other databases.
When you find a useful reference source, be sure to write down the author, title, and publication information and/or Internet URL. This will allow you to find the information again, and you'll have all the information you need to quote the source in your writing.