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What's in the Library: Books: Reference

Using Reference Books

Can I cite from REFERENCE books in a research paper?

Any source used to research an academic paper should be included in the Works Cited List/Bibliography. Be aware, however, that:

  • some instructors will not accept encyclopedias entries as works to be cited in an academic paper as they only offer a cursory overview of topics and not original, primary research.

So, instead, it's best to use reference books as a guide to your topic for sourcing:

  • key writers, theorist, critics, or authors who are experts on your topic, then search these people as authors in a library catalogue to access their own primary sources
  • keywords or subjects that you can use to search for books or peer-reviewed journal articles supporting these concepts

In general, think of reference books as a "road map" to your topic and not the final destination! The primary or secondary sources found in books or journal articles are the materials that should be used to build a research paper; a reference book helps you decide which of these publications you need to complete your research journey.

What is a Reference Book?


A REFERENCE book provides:

  • a starting point for researchers
  • multipurpose reference sources (such as Encyclopedias )
  • the meaning of a word or idea and sometimes its historical usage (Dictionaries)
  • practical information or instruction on a topic (Handbooks, Manuals, Guides, etc.)
  • information about a person or group of people (Biographical sources)
  • Information about a geographic locations (Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers)
  • data, numbers, or facts on a topic (Statistics, Almanacs, and Yearbooks)
  • recommendations for further reading or other types of information (Bibliographies, Bio-bibliographical Indexes)

What is the benefit of REFERENCE books?

  • to inform or educate the general public independently
  • to provide perspective, interpretations, and analysis of historical time periods, movements, or people
  • to provide rigorously vetted fact-checking to avoid propagation of false information or facts
  • to offer the authorized, canonical viewpoint of historical time periods or movements
  • to help researchers become cognizant of key themes, concept, or ideas shaping historical time periods or movements and the people involved in these epochs
  • to source an authoritative bibliography of works by people profiled in the reference resource, or to find the names of central writers, theorists, or critics who specialize in researching historical time periods, movements, or people
  • to assist students and researchers in formulating a hypothesis about a topic based on prior, recognized research;  commonly accepted ideas described in reference books oftentimes help researchers to critique, challenge, or expand upon these canonical viewpoints


  • scholars, researchers, historians, critics who are recognized as experts in their field of inquiry


  • university presses OR
  • private, commercial companies OR
  • non-profit organizations


Print Reference Books at OCAD U

How to Find Print Reference Books

Probably the easiest, most efficient way to access the OCAD U Library's collection of useful encyclopedias, guides, handbooks, atlases, etc. is to:

  • Browse the collection in its location immediately beside the front doors of the library

There are reference books on most every subject taught at OCAD University, so just look for the call number range associated with your subject of interest, then see if any are of interest. Popular titles include: