3.2 Reference Books

Reference books provide background information through short and long articles.  They are good sources to consult when selecting a research topic or starting your research assignment.  You will not find full coverage and detailed analyses of topics in reference books but they often suggest titles for further research.  Reference books are also go to sources for facts, definitions, statistics, brief biographies, and quotations. 

Reference books are found in the library's Reference Collection located on the 3rd floor behind the Reference Desk.  Reference books are for library use only and cannot be taken outside the library.

There are several types of reference books which you should know about:


General encyclopedias

These works cover a wide range of subject areas and disciplines. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is an example of a general encyclopedia that covers all branches of human knowledge.  The library has both print and electronic access to this encyclopedia.

Subject encyclopedias

Also known as specialized encyclopedias, subject encyclopedias are more limited in scope, focusing on a specific branch of knowledge or specific subject area. 

Search Tip:  The term encyclopedia is often included as part of the title of encyclopedias.  A quick way to search for specialized encyclopedias in the library is to go to the library's online catalog, Hawaii Voyager, and enter the keyword encyclopedia along with any topic keywords. 


Dictionaries also come in both general and specialized types.

General dictionaries

A standard dictionary provides the correct spelling of English-language words, meanings, and pronunciations.  Typical examples include the print Random House Webster's College Dictionary and online Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged.  

Specialized dictionaries

These dictionaries provide short definitions and summaries about concepts, issues, people, and places.  They can focus on specific subjects and historical time periods.  

The library contains hundreds of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference books in print and electronically.  Printed reference books can be found in the library's Ready Reference and Reference collections.  Due to their specific purpose and design reference books are library use only. 

Search Tip:  As with encyclopedias you can search for dictionaries in the Leeward CC Library using the Hawaii Voyager online catalog.  Type the keyword dictionary and a topic keyword in the search window. 

Other Types 

Besides encyclopedias and dictionaries, there are other types of reference books available in the library.  Several of the common types will be briefly described here:
  • Almanacs are reference books that compile facts and figures on many different topics, people, and places.  Almanacs are published annually and are a great source for quick answers to simple questions.  The Leeward CC Library has many almanacs including the
    The World Almanac and Book of Facts
    and The Time Almanac.
  • Atlases are reference books that include maps and geographic information.  You should use them to find current or historical information about places you want to learn more about.  Atlases range from a general collection of maps of the world such as the Atlas of the World, to historical atlases such as A Historical Atlas of South Asia, to subject specific atlases like the Atlas of the Environment.
  • Statistical Data Books are books that compile statistics from many years into tables and graphs for easy referral.  Statistics are especially useful when you need numeric evidence to back up your argument in a paper.  The best known source of statistics for the United States is published by the U.S. Federal Government and is called the Statistical Abstract of the United StatesThe local equivalent for Hawaii statistics is The State of Hawaii Data Book:  A Statistical Abstract

Next you will learn about a different type of source that provides more current, up-to-date information than can be found in books.