Reference textbooks

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Reference Textbook


The reference textbook is a text consulted for information. It is a source of information that is taken to be reliable and factual. The reference book is not a book one simply reads through as one would read a piece of fiction, but a text used for bits and pieces of information. The information in reference books has the following qualities: it defines the concept, reveals knowledge of the reference process, has a list of publishers of reference textbooks, relates to the generic book, and cross-references other reference sources.




The reference book is said to originate from human kind’s tendencies to create records. Records come from simple drawings to assist human memory to recorded observations of natural seasons such as floods. There were many different sources of information: maps, almanacs, biographies, genealogical charts, and the reference book is a compilation of the sources of information to create a bibliographic system that is easier to access than to search the difference subjects book by book.


Functions of Reference Books


Reference books have three major functions: information, instruction, and guidance. In the informative function, the reference book gives citation information, database information, or any other information related to the concept one is researching. The instructive function teaches the user how to use the materials available, and the guidance function relates to the instructive function but expands to include consulting information.


Types of Reference Books


There are many different types of reference books, the primary being a book on reference sources such as Fundamental Reference Sources by James H. Sweetland. The following is a list and summation of the types of reference books available:


Bibliographies – The bibliography describes the book. The description includes but is not limited to the “author of the book, the title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, size, number of pages, illustrations.... and the series” (Sweetland 25).


Dictionaries – Dictionaries are references to the meanings of words in language, and may include the etymologies of words. These texts also refer to the usage of words in society.


Encyclopedias – The encyclopedia is a reference and a reflection of the human “desire to bring order to existing knowledge” (Sweetland 334). This reference organizes and classifies information to make information more accessible.


Biographical Sources – As a reference, biographical sources depict the era of which they were written as well as biographical data. The information generally contains the date of birth, death, and any personal information that was deemed important at the time the biography was written.


Indexes – Indexes are confused with bibliographies and catalogs, but the main difference is the abstracts. Indexes provide an abstract whose layout differs according to text media (periodical, book, etc).


Directories – Directories include handbooks (instructional books), and is a listing with information. The information may be a personal listing with classifications of hobbies, geographical location, and/or place of birth, or it could be a listing of institutions, organizations, and places.


Statistical Sources – Statistical sources include hard data as well as means of interpreting such data. Sources include the national census or other gathered data.


Geographic Information - Geographic information include maps, atlases, and other information pertaining to geographic location.




Kent, Allen; Lancour, Harold; Daily Jay E. (1978). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Marcel Dekker, 25. 136-202.


Sweetland, James H. (2001). Fundamental Reference Sources, Third Edition. Chicago: ALA.



Esther Cho