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Information Literacy: Reference information

This guide will help you understand information literacy concepts and direct your research process. Use the guide tabs to help locate specific information and other related information.

Why use reference sources?

Reference sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauri, directories, and other materials providing general information about a variety of subjects.  When you need the "backstory" on a subject, reference sources are the main source for who, what, when, where and why questions.  Search the library catalog or the reference section of the library databases to find and locate resources for you writing assignment. 

The reference collection is found on the first floor of Accokeek Hall Library. 

 

Your professor has given you a writing assignment. This is one of the many writing assignments you will do while attending college. But you’re wondering, why do I need to learn how to write?  I want to be a nurse; lawyer; physician; or professional athlete. Did you know that world class athletes do crunches, run five miles a day, and lift barbells so that they can be in the best shape to play sports? Similarly, writing a research paper (crunches) develops skills that help you succeed not only in college but in your life. Therefore; it is important to get this skill under your belt. 

You wonder, where do I begin?

First, read the assignment completely and highlight the requirements: What is the topic? How many pages or words must the paper be? When is the paper due? What citation style is acceptable?

Once you’ve decided on a topic, then you need to do some background reading. This will help you understand the topic more deeply. Moreover; it will give you some insight into how you want to approach the topic. 

Ask yourself, what context do I want to consider this topic through? For example, you may want to consider culture, society, history, health or a specific discipline?  This will help you FRAME the topic and make it more meaningful. 

  

Once you’ve answered the questions, then you will need to do some background searching in general reference materials in order to find and locate information about your topic. If you do that then you will find resources that provide:

  • A broad overview of the topic
  • Definitions of the topic
  • Introduction to key issues or ideas
  • Names of individuals, organizations or that are experts in the subject field
  • Major dates and events
  • Keyword and subject specific vocabulary terms that can be used in a database
  • Bibliographies that lead to additional resources

Now that you understand the significance of doing background research, you ask yourself, where do I begin searching? The answer is in the GENERAL REFERENCE MATERIALS. But what are they?

General and Subject Encyclopedias and Dictionaries are important sources to consider when initially researching a topic.

Specifically, CREDO REFERENCE is an excellent database compilation of encyclopedias, dictionaries as well as subject encyclopedias.    

So, you understand General Reference Materials, but what other authoritative sources are good for background reading?

Newspapers are reliable sources that give you up to date historical information on a variety of topics, events and issues.

You can search and locate the most recent premium U.S. news content in the NEWSTAND database.

Finally, depending on your professor, you may use factual and authoritative websites that help provide background information. 

Typically, informational websites such as the Federal: www.usa.gov, Statewww.maryland.gov and Local government websites provide a wealth of authoritative data and information on many topics.

Educational websites like Prince Georges Community College: www.pgcc.edu

Associations and Organizations provide useful information on topics of special interest. Mothers against Drunk Drivers (MADD) www.madd.org is one such organization. 

Remember the more background information you gather, the better able you will be to write a thorough and well written paper. 

Reference Sources

Meta-cognitive Awareness Inventory

Meta-cognitive Awareness Inventory


Library Terms

Library Terms


It's important to understand library terms in order for you to do your research. If you have questions about the terminology used in the tutorial you can check this Glossary of Library Terms.

Abstract:  A summary or brief description of the content of another long work. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work.

Annotated bibliography: a bibliography in which a brief explanatory or evaluate note is added to each reference or citation. An annotation can be helpful to the researcher in evaluating whether the source is relevant to a given topic or line of inquiry.

Archives: 1. A space which houses historical or public records. 2. The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, Ephemera, etc.

 

Article: A brief work—generally between 1 and 35 pages in length—on a topic. Often published as part of a journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Author: The person(s) or organization(s) that wrote or compiled a document. Looking for information under its author's name is one option in searching.

Bibliography: A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. See also Reference.

Book: A relatively lengthy work, often on a single topic. May be in print or electronic.

Boolean operator: A word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches.

Call number: A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents.

Catalog: A database (either online or on paper cards) listing and describing the books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. Various search terms allow you to look for items in the catalog.

Check-out: To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen to, or view it. Check-out periods vary by library. Items are checked out at the circulation desk.

Circulation: The place in the library, often a desk, where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also place a hold, report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there.

Citation: A reference to a book, magazine or journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication.

Controlled vocabulary: Standardized terms used in searching a specific database.

Course reserve: Select books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course. These materials are usually kept in one area of the library and circulate for only a short period of time. See also Electronic reserve.

Descriptor: A word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases.

Dissertation: An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate.

DOI: Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object.

E-book (or Electronic book): An electronic version of a book that can be read on a computer or mobile device.

Editor: A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under the editor's name is one option in searching.

Electronic reserve (or E-reserve): An electronic version of a course reserve that is read on a computer display screen. See also Course reserve.

Encyclopedia: A work containing information on all branches of knowledge or treating comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge (such as history or chemistry). Often has entries or articles arranged alphabetically.

Hold: A request to have an item saved (put aside) to be picked up later. Holds can generally, be placed on any regularly circulating library material in-person or online.

Holdings: The materials owned by a library.

Index: 1. A list of names or topics—usually found at the end of a publication—that directs you to the pages where those names or topics are discussed within the publication. 2. A printed or electronic publication that provides references to periodical articles or books by their subject, author, or other search terms.

Interlibrary services/loan: A service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library. See also Document delivery.

Journal: A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports. See also Periodical.

Limits/limiters: Options used in searching that restrict your results to only information resources meeting certain other, non-subject-related, criteria. Limiting options vary by database, but common options include limiting results to materials available full-text in the database, to scholarly publications, to materials written in a particular language, to materials available in a particular location, or to materials published at a specific time. 

Magazine: A publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Microform: A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer.

Newspaper: A publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter (i.e. business, culture, education). Often published daily.

Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC): A computerized database that can be searched in various ways— such as by keyword, author, title, subject, or call number— to find out what resources a library owns. OPAC’s will supply listings of the title, call number, author, location, and description of any items matching one's search. Also referred to as “library catalog ” or “online catalog.”

PDF: A file format developed by Adobe Acrobat® that allows files to be transmitted from one computer to another while retaining their original appearance both on-screen and when printed. An acronym for Portable Document Format.

Peer-reviewed journal: Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source. A peer-reviewed journal is also called a refereed journal or scholarly journal.

Periodical: An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. See also Serial.

Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source.

Primary source: An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation.

Print: The written symbols of a language as portrayed on paper. Information sources may be either print or electronic.

Publisher: An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.

Recall: A request for the return of library material before the due date.

Refereed journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Reference: 1. A service that helps people find needed information. 2. Sometimes "reference" refers to reference collections, such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. 3. A citation to a work is also known as a reference.

Renewal: An extension of the loan period for library materials.

Reserve: 1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to course-related materials (book or article readings, lecture notes, sample tests) or to other materials (CD-ROMs, audio-visual materials, current newspapers or magazines). 2. Also the
physical location—often a service desk or room—within a library where materials on reserve are kept. Materials can also be made available electronically. See also Course reserve, Electronic reserve.

Scholarly journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Search statement/Search Query: Words entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information. Words relating to an information source's author, editor, title, subject heading or keyword serve as search terms. Search terms can be combined by using Boolean operators and can also be used with limits/limiters.

Secondary sources: Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs.

Serial: Publications such as journals, magazines, and newspapers that are generally published multiple times per year, month, or week. Serials usually have number volumes and issues.

Stacks: Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. May be referred to as “book stacks.”

Style manual: An information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. A style manual outlines specific formats for arranging research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing the paper.

Subject heading: Descriptions of an information source’s content assigned to make finding information easier. See also Controlled vocabulary, Descriptors.

Title: The name of a book, article, or other information sources. Upload: To transfer information from a computer system or a personal computer to another computer system or a larger computer system.

Virtual reference: A service allowing library users to ask questions through email, text message, or live-chat as opposed to coming to the reference desk at the library and asking a question in person. Also referred to as “online reference” or “e-reference.”

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users - Definitions

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users


If English is not your first language, then this resource will help you navigate the definitions of library terms in the following languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)


Assistive Technologies

Accessibility Masterlist


This MasterList, edited by Gregg Vanderheiden Ph.D., is designed to serve as a resource for researchers, developers, students, and others interested in understanding or developing products that incorporate one or more of these features.

Each feature or approach is then listed below along with applicable disabilities to each feature are marked with the following icons:

  • B - Blindness (For our purposes, blindness is defined as no or very low vision - such that text cannot be read at any magnification)
  • LV - Low Vision
  • CLL - Cognitive, Language, and Learning Disabilities (including low literacy)
  • PHY - Physical Disabilities
  • D/HOH - Deaf and Hard of Hearing


American Sign Language Dictionary


Search and compare thousands of words and phrases in American Sign Language (ASL). The largest collection of free video signs online.

Braille Translator 


Brailletranslator.org is a simple way to convert text to braille notation. This supports nearly all Grade Two braille contractions.

Voyant Tools (Corpus Analysis)


Voyant Tools is an open-source, web-based application for performing text analysis. It supports scholarly reading and interpretation of texts or corpus, particularly by scholars in the digital humanities, but also by students and the general public. It can be used to analyze online texts or ones uploaded by users. (Source: Wikipedia)