Nonfiction & Reference Resources for Children

Specific Types of Reference Materials

By their very name, reference materials are obviously those items most likely to be useful in answering reference questions. For this reason, they are often held by libraries as resources which are either non-circulating or circulated under strict limitations. In the case of some very useful or popular titles, the patron is best served when the library can own at least two copies to allow for a "reference" and a circulating copy. A brief outline of the most common types of reference materials is presented below.

Contain specific facts, statistical data, tables of comparative information, and organized lists of basis reference information related to people, places, events, etc. Usually cover broad periods of time, whereas Yearbooks will have the same time of information for a single year.
Example -- World Almanac and Book of Facts

Contain an organized group of physical, political, road, and/or thematic maps. Symbols, scales, and terms used in the atlas should be explained in an easy to understand and complete manner.
Example -- Atlas of American History

Contain one or more lists of resources and materials sharing some common attribute such as location, publishing date, subject, etc. A good bibliography should include all pertinent bibliographical data. Some will include descriptive or critical annotations.
Example -- Guide to Reference Books for School Media Centers

Biographical Resources
Contain information about individual people or locate (index) other works which provide this type of information. Collected biographies can cover a given subject, a stated time period, or other special groups of individuals.
Example -- Current Biography Yearbook

Contain words of a given language and other information such as their origins, pronunciations, and definitions. Unabridged dictionaries contain 250,000 words or more. Special dictionaries include picture dictionaries, foreign language dictionaries, synonym dictionaries, thesauri, etc.
Example -- Webster's School Dictionary

Contain an organized list of people and/or organizations of some type. Other information such as addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. are included for each entry.
Example -- Special Collections in Children's Literature

Encyclopedias, General
Contain an alphabetically organized listing of a broad range of subjects with basic information for each entry. General encyclopedias provide a good basis for the beginning stages of research. They are also helpful resources for ready reference questions.
Example -- World Book Encyclopedia

Encyclopedias, Subject
Contain the same type of information and organized like a general encyclopedia. The entries are limited to those that fall within the subject encyclopedia's scope of the coverage.
Example -- The Grolier Encyclopedia of Science and Technology

Contain an abundance of information related to one subject. This is one type of reference material which needs to be circulating in order to serve the patron well.
Example -- Famous First Facts

Contain information necessary for locating information in a given specific item or a type of resource. They help to locate information in periodicals, anthologies, newspapers, etc. Concordances and quotation dictionaries are specific types of indexes.
Example -- National Geographic Index

Three excellent sources of further information on reference resources are:

  • Guide to Reference Books for School Media Centers. 4th ed. Margaret Irby Nichols. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1992. ISBN#0-87287-833-3
  • Reference Books for Children. 4th ed. Carolyn Sue Peterson and Ann D. Fenton. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1992. ISBN#0-8108-2543-0
  • Reference Books for Children's Collections. 3rd ed. New York: New York Public Library, 1996. ISBN#0-87104-735-7
  • For a list of all resources used in the research of information for this web site see:
    Sources of Information & Credits

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    Janice Felker at

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