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Dictionaries & Encyclopedias: How to use reference tools

Dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, statistics and other reference tools.

Reference Books FAQ

Why use reference books?

  • To get facts and numbers
  • To get an overview of a topic
  • To learn the specialized vocabulary

      Are reference books scholarly sources? Can I cite reference books in my paper?

      Reference books are only a starting point for research. They are not meant to be the actual sources on which you base your paper. Reference books survey and summarize the works of other scholars rather than presenting original research. They are valuable as an aid to understanding, but what you cite in your paper should be mostly scholarly journal articles and monographs (aka scholarly books.)

      Subject Guide

      Heather Shalhoub's picture
      Heather Shalhoub
      (800) 847-3000 x2222

      Normal Hours

      Sun: 1 p.m. - 9 p.m.
      Mon-Thu: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.
      Fri: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

      Summer Hours


      Sun: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
      Mon-Thu: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
      Fri: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

      July - August:

      Mon-Thu: 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.

      Please note: Ask a Librarian is closed during the Spring, Summer and Winter breaks. Academic librarians from the Ask Us 24/7 consortium are available to help any time via chat when Ask a Librarian is closed.

      Please note: If you need to request accommodations with content linked to on this guide, on the basis of a disability, please contact Disability Services by emailing them at  Requests for accommodations should be submitted as early as possible to allow for sufficient planning. If you have questions, please visit the disability services website