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Library Research Tutorial: Find Reference Sources

Learn how to research at the UCC Library!

What are reference sources?

Reference sources are sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, manuals, handbooks, or atlases that are meant to be referred to for background information about a topic. Instead of reading them all the way through, usually you read a small section of them to find information. 

Reference sources, such as encyclopedias, are great sources for background reading because they can provide you with an overview of your topic. Because they provide general information, they aren't meant to be used as sources in your research papers (you will find more in-depth, current information to use for your research papers from sources such as academic articles, books, and credible websites). Instead, reference sources are meant to help you learn about your topic so that you can learn what is important or interesting about it and then decide how to focus your research question. You can often learn key vocabulary, issues, and subtopics from reading reference sources.

An example of a reference source is this encyclopedia entry on "Climate Change and Global Warming" from the Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science

Pan, Z. (2020). Climate change and global warming. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science.  

Online Reference Sources at UCC

How to find reference sources using the UCC Library Search Box

Using the UCC Library Search Box, you can find:

  • "Research Starters"
    • These show at the top of your search results and are usually an encyclopedia entry related to your search terms.
  • Reference sources in the form of ebooks
    • For example, an encyclopedia or dictionary in the form of an ebook.
  • Reference sources available in print at the UCC Library or in the Douglas County Library System
    • For an example, a paper encyclopedia or dictionary.
    • You can also find print reference sources by browsing the shelves of the library.
  • You can also find the citation for each reference source that you find using the library search box.

Search by Keyword

Search Terms for Reference Sources

  • When looking for reference works on a specific subject, use very simple keywords. Examples: social psychology, solar system origin.
    • The keyword phrase women's rights would bring more results than women's rights in the 19th century in Oregon.
  • Use as few words as possible to sum up your general topic. If you do not get many search results, reduce the number of words you are using in your search terms.
  • Do NOT write sentences or ask questions (natural language) as you would in Google.


If I were searching for reference sources about net neutrality, I could try some of the following search terms:

  • net neutrality
  • internet neutrality
  • open internet

Search by Title

If you know the specific title of a reference book, you can do a title search in the UCC Library Search Box to get the call number.  

  • For example, I am looking for the ICD-10 (The international Classification of Diseases - 10th edition), I could enter part of the title, icd, in the search box and click Search.

  • I find that this book is available as a print book at UCC. The call number for its location at UCC is 651.961 I. This is the book's location on the shelves at UCC. The library staff at the front desk of the library are always happy to help you find the location of a book.

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