General works covered in this section include general fact sources, almanacs, directories, encyclopedias, and periodical indexes. Tools of this type, especially fact books and almanacs, are invaluable reference sources in answering fact type questions. Encyclopedias are basic reference tools as well as springboards to further investigation when researching a topic. Periodical indexes, especially those with full-text materials included, are important sources on topics of current interest. They, of course, also are valuable for retrospective data.

General Fact Sources

This section includes fact books that are general in nature. These types of reference tools are numerous and many are extremely useful as ready reference tools, especially those published by reputable firms. Some fact books focus on data related to one broad area such as science, history, or sports; a number are listed in this guide with their subject areas.

A1. Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates. 10th ed. Gordon Carruth. Facts on File, 1997. 1,104p. (5)

Although this work could have been placed in the history section, it is listed here because of its broad coverage. Its contents span more than 1,000 years of American history and popular culture, beginning with Norse exploration in 986 and ending in the late 20th century. Information is arranged in four chronologically arranged columns with the following headings: (1) politics and government, war, disasters, and vital statistics; (2) books, paintings, drama, architecture and sculpture; (3) science industry, economics, education, religion, and philosophy; and (4) sports, fashion, popular entertainment, folklore, and society. An extensive index provides easy access to specific information.

A2. Famous First Facts. Joseph Nathan Kane, et al. H.W. Wilson, 1998. 1,122. (10)

Although expensive, this classic reference source contains thousands of facts useful in reference services. The focus is on first happenings in American history and culture—inventions, discoveries, events, etc.—covering a wide range of subject areas including science, sports, entertainment, and education. Indexing by subject, day, year, name, and location is provided. An Electronic Edition also is available on CD-ROM for Windows and on WilsonWeb (call publisher for price information) as well as print volumes on specific topics—sports, American politics, and the environment. Since the cost of the paper edition is beyond the range of small libraries, it might be suggested to prospective donors as a special gift or memorial.

A3. Guinness World Records. Annual. Bantam Books. (1pa)

This well-known publication focuses on records and feats of human endeavor in areas such as science, sports, business, politics, entertainment, and everyday life. The annuals are divided into broad sections, supported by photographs, many in color, and a thorough index. Guinness also is available online at www.guinnessworldrecords.com; the site is free, but registration is required.

A4. New York Public Library Desk Reference. 4th ed. Hungry Minds, 1995. (1)

This useful desk reference, covering a wide range of topics, is divided into 26 basic subject areas, e.g., dates, animal world, etiquette, and religion. The first edition was criticized for its lack of accuracy, but subsequent editions appears to have made many corrections.


Almanacs are among the most valuable ready-reference sources on any library’s reference shelves. These works place an emphasis on statistical information that is generally obtained from either government sources or professional organizations, making the data highly reliable. Factual information covers a wide range of topics. Although in many instances the titles include the current year, coverage is for the previous year.

Since value in almanacs is primarily for relatively recent information, earlier issues need not be kept for more than two or three years. The Texas Almanac, however, includes special information in each biennial that is not repeated, making them subject to retention. Examples of these special materials include a report on items excavated from the sunken ship La Belle, brought to the Texas coast over 300 year ago, and an article on the Buffalo Soldiers.

A5. Texas Almanac. The Dallas Morning News, 1857 to date. Biennial. (2pa)

This is an essential reference source for Texas libraries and should be purchased each time a biennial edition appears. The almanac provides extensive coverage of Texas government, economic and social statistics, and historical data. Among its many features are: an outline of Texas history; basic directory and statistical data for each Texas county; a listing of boards and commissions, with addresses and names of key personnel; information about state government, finance, agriculture, and many other topics; and a copy of the Texas Constitution, with its own index. Texas Almanac also is available through TexShare.

A6. The World Almanac and Book of Facts. World Almanac, 1868 to date. Annual. (1, 1pa, 2 large print)

This indispensable quick-reference source is an essential reference tool for any library. A new edition should be purchased as soon as it appears in the fall. The annual offers factual and statistical data on educational, governmental, political, economic, social, religious, historical, industrial, and agricultural topics. Specific topics include: disasters, associations and societies, weights and measures, awards and prized, arts and media, Social Security, and sports. Among its useful features are a chronology of the previous year’s events, major actions of the Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, basic information on each of the countries of the world, and obituaries of recently deceased notables. The work is extensively indexed, making the contents easily accessible. World Almanac also is available on TexShare.

Note: Since almanacs are inexpensive and often contain unique information, many libraries buy several titles annually. Other almanacs of note include Time Almanac with Information Please, formerly Information Please Almanac (Time Life [1pa]), and Old Farmer’s Almanac (Vielerd [1pa]), well known for its long range weather forecasts.


A7. City directories.

In towns large enough to warrant their publication, local city directories are a standard purchase. Libraries holding these reference tools should set policies in two problem areas: (1) responses to requests for criss-cross information (“near-bys,” or information about former neighbors of persons being sought for unpaid bills); and (2) requests for genealogical information contained in older city directories. Libraries vary in their treatment of these types of requests, but most do not provide criss-cross information and place genealogical searches on a “when time permits” status. Needless to say, superceded city directories are invaluable sources for future genealogists and should be retained.

A8. National Five Digit ZIP Code and Post Office Directory. U.S. Postal Service, 1974 to date. Annual. (3, 3pa) Current issue available for purchase at main post offices; superceded issue often available free when new editions appear.

Annuals provide a comprehensive listing of ZIP code information for all post offices and street addresses in the United States and for APO’s and FPO’s. The arrangement by states is broken down by cities and towns and then by street addresses. The directory also includes mailing information and current postal regulations. ZIP code information is available on the Internet at www.usps.com/.

A9. Telephone directories.

Telephone directories are useful reference tools and can provide information in areas beyond their primary purpose, e.g. the technical and common names for medical specialties found in the Yellow Pages. Libraries should, of course, obtain the local telephone directory as well as those for nearby cities and metropolitan areas in the region. Telephone companies vary in their willingness to provide free directories to libraries. They respond best to a formal written request. An Internet index of links to online telephone directories is available at www.infobel.com/teldir (new as of January 2003).

A10. Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Division of Vial Statistics. Government Printing Office. (1pa)

This source contains information on obtaining the types of important documents named in the subtitle—where to write, cost, and other pertinent information—for all states and territories. The same information can be obtained on the Internet at www.vitalrec.com.


Electronic format has to some extent replaced print editions of encyclopedias, but the print editions remain important acquisitions. So long as they are obtainable, small libraries should make them available to their patrons. They also should make an effort to replace basic sets on a regular basis, at least every five to six years.

Most encyclopedias in CD-ROM format, as well as several on the Internet, are multimedia sets in that they rely on both sight and sound to convey information. Video clips offer hours of sound, animation, and maps, adding to their educational value and making them more fun to use. Being able to hear the music of Mozart or see an animated projection on building the pyramids is informative and educational. The CD-ROM and electronic versions also are “user friendly” and have added search advantages. By entering a single word or phrase, the entire set—text, subject entries, and index—will be searched. Boolean searching (using “and,” “or,” and “not”) also may be possible. Not only do CD-ROM products have important search advantages, they also are very reasonably priced, most selling for less than $100, while print sets are considerably more: ca. $700 for World Book and over $1,000 for Americana.

Most publishers of major sets of encyclopedias now offer Internet subscriptions, which average $8 per month in cost. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission through its TexShare program makes several sets available free to Texas public libraries.

A11. Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corp.

Encarta, which is offered on line and in CD-ROM format, contains text, audio and video clips, photographs, illustrations, 3D visual tours, and interactive maps. Microsoft pioneered the CD-ROM format, available currently at $67.94. There are two online versions, Encarta Standard at $24.95 and Encarta Deluxe at $44.95. The difference in the latter two is primarily in the amount of text available—60,000 articles in the Deluxe version and 38,000 in the Standard version, and the amount of other media offered. Both versions provide editorially selected Web links to additional material.

A12. Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier. 30 vols. (Contact publisher for price information)

This reliable, authoritative, and objective set is suitable for adults and students from junior high school through college. Coverage is international, but information about United States history, biography, and geography is more detailed. Articles in the publication are essentially specific topic (narrow topic) in approach, averaging 600 words in length, but some are lengthy, covering as many as 200 pages. Reading lists support all major articles and many shorter entries. The clearly written text is enhanced by appropriate illustrations, charts, diagrams, and multicolored maps. An analytical index containing 353,000 entries provides access to the 52,000 articles. Encyclopedia Americana is available online through TexShare.

A13. TexShare encyclopedia sources. (www.texshare.edu/)

In addition to Encyclopedia Americana, there are several other sets available through TexShare: New Encyclopedia Britannica for high school students and adults; Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, which containing some 25,000 articles designed to meet the needs of elementary, middle, and high school students: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, designed for ages 12 through adult: and New Book of Knowledge for young children. Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre en Linea, for the Spanish-speaking user, includes 15,000 articles supplemented by 6,000 photographs with content presented from a Latin American viewpoint.

A14. World Book Encyclopedia. 22 vols. World Book (Contact publisher for price information.)

This outstanding set is appropriate for upper elementary grades through high school and for adults seeking basic information. Entries, written in a lively and interesting style, address the group most likely to read them, thus making the set useful to a wide range of readers. Articles on subjects of interest to various age groups begin with basic information and progress to more advanced data. Bibliographies are appended to major articles, and there also is an annotated list of materials covering more than 2,000 topics in the index volume. The set is extensively and appropriately illustrated with 29,000 illustrations and over 2,000 maps. There are numerous how-to-do-it articles, pronunciations of unusual or unfamiliar names, lists of specialized terms, and numerous other special features. The set is heavily cross-referenced and well indexed. World Book also is available online on a subscription basis at $9.95 per month or $49.95 per year.

Note concerning Encyclopedia Yearbooks: With the availability of electronic versions of encyclopedias that tend to be relatively current, the purchase of encyclopedia yearbooks seems unwarranted. These annuals, moreover, do not keep the set up to date. A library holding a six-year-old set plus all the yearbooks since the publication date does not have a current article on a rapidly changing area such as computers. The purpose of the yearbooks is to provide a survey of the year, which is mostly information that will not appear in future editions of the set. Since encyclopedia annuals from different companies contain similar information, librarians who feel that these surveys are needed should purchase those published by only one of the print sets held locally.

Online Periodical Indexes

In the past, the print version of Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature or its abridged version was the smaller libraries’ primary tool for identifying useful information contained in popular periodicals. These types of printed sources are a secondary aid in that they provide a bibliographic citation to the material but not the material itself. The searcher must either seek out the cited articles in the local library or acquire them through interlibrary loan services. Since subscription lists in smaller libraries are generally limited, the latter has been a popular option. With the advent of electronic formats, especially those including the full-text of some or all articles cited, the situation is drastically changed. Libraries can still subscribe to Readers’ Guide or its abridged version, but at a hefty price, $310/yr for the main index or $165 for the shorter version. The electronic services listed below are available free to public libraries available through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

A15. Electric Library (eLibrary Classic – Big Chalk) Available through TexShare.

Even though this database provides information from many sources other than periodicals, it is used in much the same way as periodical indexes with full-text information. This broadly based site providing a wealth of information from such diverse areas as books, television shows, magazines, newspapers, maps, and photography collections. There are full-text articles from Frommer’s travel guides, American history textbooks, World Almanac, World Encyclopedia, and various international business textbooks. Newspapers and magazines are from the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe. There also are transcripts from popular television programs such as 20/20, 60 Minutes, and Nightline. For each source cited, there is a rating it is relevancy to the topic, and its reading level and source type.

A16. EBSCO (all EBSCO). Available through TexShare.

This massive database offers periodical and book articles in many fields—business, education, health and wellness, history, science and technology, social sciences, and the humanities. Most databases offer full-text and/or abstracts and indexing. EBSCO databases pertaining to a specific area are listed in appropriate sections of this guide.

A17. Also available through TexShare.

MAS FullTEXT Ultra: School Edition.

Full-text articles from general periodicals in the fields of business, consumer health, general science, and multiculture comprise this database. There also are over 5,000 Magill’s Book Reviews, 140 Macmillan books, 88,000 biographies, 60,000 primary documents sources, 92,000 photographs, plus more.

MasterFILE Premium.

In addition to offering full-text articles for over 1,900 popular periodicals, including Consumer Reports and Business Week, this database provides indexing and abstracts for an additional 2,510 journals. There also is full-text coverage for 5,000 Magill’s Book Review, 20 reference books, Essential Documents in American History, and 1.7 million company records from Dun & Bradstreet.

MAS Ultra – School Edition.

This site provides full-text for over 500 general interest and current events magazines.

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