Using Library Reference Sources: A General Guide


As the map is necessary to a sailor as a guide in his voyage, so are the reference sources important to library clientele, staff, students and researchers e.g. dictionary, encyclopedia, almanacs etc. Any library patron who desires prompt access to and retrieval of information, not ready to grope in the sea of books and journals must acquaint himself with these guides.

 If you require to use a book in the library, you must know where and how to find it. If you require to look up the meaning of a word or its spelling, you should know that it is a dictionary you need--not a journal; if it is a concept, dictionaries do not treat concepts, rather encyclopedia does.

 Also, where and how to find it must be known to you. All these are the prerequisite knowledge a user requires to successfully navigate independently through the collection of a large university library.


There are different categories of reference materials, the first category is subject encyclopedia e.g. encyclopedia of social sciences, encyclopedia of library and information science etc. These can be read from cover to cover for information, education or inspiration, and the ones which are meant to be consulted or referred to for a definite piece of information are not to be read from cover to cover. The dividing line between the two however is thin.

The second type is called reference book which includes Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks, Tables, Manuals, Directories, Year Books, Almanacs, Abstract, Bibliographies, Biographies, Gazettes etc.



Encyclopedia are generally informative in nature. There are two types of encyclopedia: the general and special subject-based encyclopedia. The general encyclopedia discusses all aspects of knowledge, while the subject-bascd encyclopedia discusses topics based on one subject area. Examples of general and special subject-bascd encyclopaedia are issued below:

(a) General Encyclopedia

(i) Encyclopedia Americana
(ii) Encyclopedia Britannica
(iii) Collier’s Encyclopedia
(iv) Chamber’s Encyclopcdia
(v) World Book Encyclopedia etc

(b) Special Subject-based Encyclopedia

(i) lntemational Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in Seventeen Volumes
(ii) Encyclopedia of Library and Information science
(iii) McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology
(iv) Encyclopedia of world Art in fifteen volumes.
(v) Encyclopedia of philosophy in eight volumes etc.


A dictionary is a book which deals with words of a language or of some special subjects, author etc. Thus, a dictionary is a word book. Although a dictionary is supposed to deal in words, but often it may go beyond this.

According to Nwokocha (2004), a dictionary is a book containing words. It is, generally speaking, expected to provide the following information about words:

(a) Meaning
(b) Spelling
(c) Pronunciation
(d) Etymology (word origin)
(e) Use (usage)
(f) Dialect
(g) Abbreviations
(h) Acronyms
(i) Synonyms
(i) Antonyms
(k) Homonyms etc.

As there are different types of Encyclopedia, so also are there different types of Dictionaries, e.g. General Dictionary, Special Subject-based Dictionaries and "Encyclopedic" Dictionary.

(a) General Dictionaries:

These dictionaries, as the name implies, deal with words and terms in all aspect of knowledge e.g. Advanced Learners Dictionary, Random House School Dictionary and Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.

(b) Special subject-based Dictionary:

Also deals with-words, terms and phrases in a particular subject held e.g. Dictionary of Physical Sciences, the Macmillan Dictionary of Sports and Games, a Dictionary of Psychology, Dictionary of Business Management etc.

(c) Special purpose dictionaries:

Dictionary of this type deals with words, terms and phrases of special nature e.g. quotations, slangs, synonyms, antonyms abbreviations etc.

Examples of such dictionaries are:

(a) Webster’s New Dictionary of synonyms
(b) Dictionary of American Slangs
(c) A Dictionary of slang and Unconventional English
(d) The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

 Examples of encyclopedic dictionary are, Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles, Poona Deccan College Post-graduate and Research Institute, 1976, Vol.1


A Handbook is a compilation of miscellaneous information in a compact and handy form. It contains data, procedures, principles etc. It may also contain tables, graph, diagrams and illustration. Example is the University of Benin Student Handbook, which serves as a guide to Students on do’s and don’ts within the University Campus.


In common practice, a manual is an instruction book, which gives instruction on how to do something by means of specific and clear directions. For example, if you purchase a piece of electronic equipment like a Television Set, a manual will come with it which will give you instruction on how to operate it.


A treatise is a long and comprehensive compilation or summary of information on a subject. A treatise on a subject provides enough information to a person to acquire basic knowledge, so essential for carrying out advanced research. It also provides facts, along with discussion.

The facts may include physical methods of preparation and purification of compounds, etc. Examples of Treatise are: Treatise on the Calculus of Finite Differences, 4th ed., New York, Chelsea, 1960.


A monograph is a long and serious piece of writing on a specific subject usually in the form of a short book. A monograph and a treatise serve the same purposes with the difference that a monograph is an attempt on a limited scale. Sometimes a monograph can be brought out as a part of a series.


A Directory is a list of names and addresses of persons, organizations, manufacturers, or periodicals. It may list information in a way which best serves the requirement of its users so as to enable them to get the required information readily e.g. a Telephone Directory showing names of persons, their addresses, occupation etc.


An Abstract is a brief statement or summary or the key points in an essay. It gives the reader an overview of the content of the material with the relevant highlights. It is a summary of a publication, an article accompanied by adequate description to enable the publication or article to be traced.


  This is an alphabetical list of topics, names of persons, places, etc. mentioned in a book or series of books, indicating at what place they appear in the source document, usually by page number (sometimes with an additional symbol denoting a position on a page), and sometimes by section or entry number.

   Again, an Index in contemporary usage can mean a finding-aid to the position of materials in a Library collection. Index in modern usage is used more as a synonym for Catalogue.

Nwokocha (2004) gives a list of some indexes as follows:

(a) Index Medicis
Published monthly since 1879 by the United States National Library of Medicine. It indexes over 3,000 Biomedical Journals by subject and title.

(b) Psychological Index
Since 1894, it indexes over 3,000 titles by providing extensive coverage of literature in Psychology and related fields. Examples are the Social Science Index, Business Periodicals Index, Humanities Index, Applied Science and Technology Index, Social Science Citation Index, Dissertation Abstracts International etc.


As index refers to an alphabetical list of topics, indexing refers to analysing the content of a document (book, pamphlet, audiovisual or machine-readable item, etc). When a document is so well analyzed and the result of the analysis is translated into terms for use in order to allow easy location and quick retrieval of information, the act is called indexing.


Bibliographies are of two types. The first is a list of Books or Journal titles that a Researcher or an Author consulted in the course of carrying out a research. This is usually published as part of the work or research. It is usually compiled in alphabetical order of names of author of the books or journals consulted and put at the end of each chapter or at the end of the entire work.

The second is a list of books and journal titles on a particular subject held, or person which is published separately. This type of bibliography is called Enumerative Bibliography.

There are three types of enumerative bibliography which are commonly differentiated:

(a) Author Bibliographies
(b) Subject Bibliographies
(c) National Bibliographies

Author and subject bibliography are easy to understand. National Bibliography is a record of the publications of a country, typically published by its National Library.


A Gazette is an Official Government Document containing lists of decisions and policies such as Laws, Decrees. Acts, Promotions, Appointments and Public pronouncements.


A Library Periodicals/Serials collection consists of major magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers. Periodical or Senals are publications that are issued periodically e.g. weekly. monthly or bi-monthiy, quarterly or annually etc. This is a section or unit of its own.

 Materials in this section by their nature are usually in closed access, i.e. they are not given out on loan. Permission can be sought to make a photocopy of such materials or to be read within the library through the service point.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.