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Specialized Reference Sources: Definitions

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What is a Reference Book and Why Should I Use Them?

What is a reference book?

A reference book is a source that provides facts &/or finite pieces of information; this can be general (Encyclopedia Britannica) or more subject focused (Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball). They are sources designed not to be read cover to cover but to be used to get key facts about a topic (think dictionary or almanac). These materials don’t circulate (they have to be used in the Library) so that everyone can use the material. Reference books are a great place to start your research, find general history/background information as well as important people, dates &/or terms related to your topic.

Reference books are usually organized alphabetically (think encyclopedia or dictionary) but using the Index (the back section of a book or group of books that alphabetically lists the headings including people, places and subjects with corresponding page numbers) can be a quick way to find the information you need.

In our library reference books are located in the first eleven moving shelves and are marked with “reference collection” marked on a red sign on the end of the shelves. They are marked USC Upstate Reference in the catalog and have REF on the top of the spine label.

Reference books give you:

  • A quick introduction to your subject by covering a lot of points briefly
  • In-depth background on some of the major people &/or key elements of your topic
  • Vocabulary to use for searches in other resources 
  • Ideas for additional resources (check the reference list)

Search the Catalog

When searching for Reference materials add "REF AND " to your search to see what Reference materials we have in our collection. For example search "REF AND Atlas" to see what Atlas' are in our collection.

Online Reference

Specialized Reference Sources


The definitions on this page were compiled from the following sources:

  • Fayetville State University
  • New Mexico State University 
  • Bolner, Myrtle & Gayle Poirier. The Research Process Books and Beyond. page 125  Kendall Hunt Pub, 1997.

A to Z List

A | B | C | D | EG | H | IMQ | T | Y

This is a list of various types of reference sources that can be found on the shelves or electronically at USC Upstate.  If you know of a type of source that is not on the list and would like it to be added, please contact the librarian associated with this guide to make the suggestion.

"A" Terms

"B" Terms

"C" Terms

"D" Terms

"E" Terms

"G" Terms

"H" Terms

"I" Terms

  • Index - An index lists citations to periodical articles, books, and proceedings and indicates where those resources can be found.

"M" Terms

  • Manual - A manual explains how to do something, such as the manner in which something operates or the way in which an organization operates. (Nursing diagnosis reference manual)
    • Style Guide - is a book with a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization, or field. (MLA handbook)

"Q" Terms

  • Quotation Dictionary - a book listing common quotations often by subject and or author. (The Yale book of quotations)

"S" Terms

"T" Terms

  • Thesaurus -  A book of synonyms, often including related and contrasting words and antonyms. (Roget's international thesaurus)

"U" Terms

  • Unabridged Dictionary - This source provides a comprehensive listing of words and terms along with definitions and helps to identify synonyms and antonyms.

"Y" Terms

  • Yearbook - A yearbook covers the trends and events of a specific year. It may be general in coverage or limited to a specific subject or geographical area. (Mental Measures Yearbook)