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What are reference books (or reference sources)?

Reference (or background) sources: What they are and when to use them

Use reference books (also called reference or background sources, or resources) to get quick specific facts or information or an overview of a subject.

Some examples of reference sources are: dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, almanacs, directories, atlases, and handbooks. These can be online or in print.

Exploring a new subject? Starting a research project? We recommend reference resources as the first place to start when you are learning about a topic.

Print reference books

Print reference books are often shelved alongside other books on the same subjects in the Library stacks, or in Reference Collections near Library service desks.

Many -- but not all -- can be borrowed.

Online reference sources (background information)

For 24-hour access to reference resources on any subject and from any location, see Background reference sources.

For discipline-specific resources, search by subject via  the Library's research guides, then click on the "Background information" or "Facts and data" tab for recommendations from our subject expert librarians.