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Library Orientation: Reference Collection

Use this guide to learn more about Lightner Library and the services and resources that we offer.

Why Use a Reference Book?

Why use a reference book such as a dictionary or encyclopedia?

Reference books are a great place to begin your research.  They can:

  • Provide a good overview of a topic
  • Provide historical background
  • Help the user learn more about an unfamiliar subject
  • Familiarize the user with the terminology and vocabulary of the subject area

Our reference books in the library must stay in the library and remain available for anyone who uses the library in person.


Encyclopedias are an excellent place to begin your research project. They can provide a concise overview of a topic in language that is easy to read and understand.  This can be particularly useful if you are working in a subject area that you are not familiar with. 

  • General Encyclopedias provide information about a large number of subjects.  An example of a general encyclopedia is the BritannicaOnline.
  • Subject-Specific Encyclopedias focus on one particular subject area and provide information that is usually not covered by a general encyclopedia.  Examples of subject-specific encyclopedias include the Encyclopedia of Social Work or The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.

Online Reference Databases

Online Reference Databases

We have several reference databases which provide a similar function to our print reference collection, by supplying encyclopedia articles and/or reports on certain topics. The content in our reference database is different from what we hold in print, so we recommend using both the databases and the print collection for your research.

To see a complete list of our reference databases, go to Databases by Subject and select Reference Databases under "Database Type." 


Here are some of the reference databases we have available:


Print Reference Collection

Print Reference Collection

A good place to begin your research is with Lightner's print reference collection (located near the reference desk on the main level).  The resources in our print collection can help you answer many of your research questions and can provide you with background information on your research topic.  Reference sources include:

  • encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
  • collections of reports
  • almanacs
  • directories
  • bibliographies
  • statistical sources
  • atlases 

Library Director

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Linda Park
(315) 279-5208