INF 6120 - Access to Information

This guide includes helpful information for SIS students learning about reference services and resources!

Collection Strategy & Assessment Librarian

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Rachael Clark
425 Purdy/Kresge Library
(313) 577-6709

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Reference Desks

Undergraduate (UGL): 313-577-8852
Purdy/Kresge: 313-577-6423
Arthur Neef Law: 313-577-6180
Shiffman Medical: 313-577-1094

A reference book is often defined as "a book designed by the arrangement and treatment of its subject matter to be consulted for definite items of information rather than to be read consecutively," and a reference collection as a "collection of reference books and other materials in a library, useful for supplying authoritative information or identifying sources, kept together for convenience in providing information service, and generally not allowed to circulate." (ALA Glossary… 1998
This page contains definitions of and examples of different types of reference sources including:

Examples of reference books

Almanacs and Yearbooks

Almanacs are usually published annually.  Though they are not usually used for extensive research, they contain specific facts, statistics, tables and lists about people, places, events, countries, organizations, zip codes, and popular culture such as sports and entertainment. Generally, almanacs cover a broad period of time. Yearbooks contain similar information, but cover just a given year.
Examples include:


Atlases contain an organized group of pictorial or illustrated political, cultural, physical, road, and/or thematic maps. Atlases may be organized around a specific subject, theme, or geographic area.
Examples include:
Specialty Map Resource:


Directories contain an organized list of people and/or organizations, and help one to find information such as addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, etc. for the organizations or people included within the scope of that directory. 
Examples include:


Indexes are compilations on information, generally arranged either alphabetically or numerically, that indicate the location of related information either within or outside of the same resource.
Examples include:

Chronologies and Timelines

Chronologies and timelines summarize the advancement of an event or happening by supplying brief milestones in the progression of the event. The summaries will be presented day-by-day, year-by-year, or by another chronological breakdown. 
Examples include:


 A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary that includes brief descriptive, geographical, historical, and/or statistical information on specific places. Occasionally, a gazetteer may focus on a specific subject area.
Examples include:

Dictionaries and Thesauri

Standard dictionaries give an alphabetical list of words and their definitions, but there are several useful variations also classified as dictionaries. Thesauri contain synonyms and antonyms (opposites) but usually don't define the words.  There are also dialect and slang dictionaries, dictionaries of abbreviations and acronyms, dictionaries of quotations, and picture dictionaries. Dictionaries can be unabridged (general) or can be thematically organized in some way.
Examples include:


Encyclopedias contain full coverage of information about an area of knowledge. They can be general or can cover a specific subject, and contain alphabetically organized entries with varying detail. These are great starting points for fact-finding, getting background topic information, learning of key events and individuals, or starting a research project.
Examples include:


Bibliographies compile comprehensive lists of resources that share one or more common attributes about a particular subject, person, geographical area, etc. Some bibliographies also briefly describe the resources that are listed. One should consult a bibliography when they want citations that will guide them to specific resources.
Examples include:


Biographies contain information about people, both living and deceased - they can contain brief summaries of data about individuals, contain lists of citations of resources about a person, or be full length books detailing the life of one particular person. Biographies may cover general important figures, or may be organized thematically/geographically, etc. One would use a biography to look up facts or detailed information about a person or group of people. 
Examples include:

Handbooks and Manuals

A handbook contains facts about a specific subject or instructions that can be used to accomplish something. A handbook can come in several forms, such as a manual for completing tasks, or a guidebook providing information about a subject, region, etc. (such as a travel guidebook). Handbooks are often designed for quick consultation and easy portability. 
Examples include: