This guide represents an extensive revision of the third edition, compiled for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in 1999. The first edition was published in 1986, the second in 1993. All earlier editions were distributed to libraries throughout Texas and to many library agencies outside the state. The purpose remains the same as that of the first three editions: to assist libraries in providing quality reference service and in the selection, acquisition, and use of a core-reference collection. The third edition was the first to include CD-ROMs and Internet sites. This edition places even greater emphasis on electronic sources, listing worthwhile databases available either through the Internet, the Texas State Library’s TexShare program, or on CD-ROMs, along with those for print materials.

A “core-reference collection” is identified here as a small number of print sources that will meet the basic needs of libraries of all sizes. Although electronic materials have had a tremendous impact on reference services, print sources remain essential in providing quality service to the public. The electronic sources, however, can often serve as updates or supplements to print materials or can be utilized in place of print for less popular topics.

Large libraries with a higher level of funding available to them will supplement this core list with additional materials selected to meet the needs of their patrons. Because of limited funding, however, small libraries must choose only the most essential reference works. About one-fourth of Texas public libraries serve a population of less than 5,000. For these small libraries, local support combined with allocations from other sources such as one of the 10 regional library systems probably amounts to between $6,000 and $7,000 annually for collection development. If 10% to 15% of that amount is spent on reference tools (the percentage suggested), only an average of between $600 and $700 is available each year for developing the reference collection. This guide is designed specifically to help these small libraries determine which reference books are most likely to meet their basic needs.

For many subject areas, especially those that are not in heavy use, libraries may decide that the Internet will meet their need for information on the topic and that purchasing a source is unnecessary. That is, of course, a decision governed by local demands. Despite the availability of Internet sources, in some instances print materials are still recommended. Maps, for instance, are available in abundance on the Internet, but libraries still need a good atlas and maps of local areas—plats, city, county, state, etc. A number of dictionaries are available online, but most users prefer to relay on print editions.

Using the Guide

Section I: The Reference Process

This section is divided into two parts: “Reference Services” and “Using Reference Books.” “Reference Services” consists of essays in which various aspects of service are discussed—the service per se, reference questions, the reference interview, finding the answer, service guidelines, and types of reference sources. “Using Reference Books” contains discussions and exercises in using four basic types of reference works—almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and quotation sources. The aim of the exercises is to improve search skills and to demonstrate the special value of these types of reference works.

Section II: Priority Ranking of Sources

This section of the guide is designed to help small libraries in the selection and acquisition processes. Some works should be bought on a regular basis—annually, biennially, or every two to five years (Groups A1-A4). Other titles are divided into five groups (Groups B1-B5) in order of estimated reference value in libraries generally. The titles in Group B1 are recommended as first purchases, followed by those in each of the remaining groups, Group B2 before Group B3, etc. It is important that the selector take these rankings as suggestions, not as a rigid selection plan.

Section III: Sources

Reference materials in this section are of two types, print sources and electronic sources. Print works included have met the usual selection criteria: authority, accuracy, currency, and convenience of arrangement. With these criteria in mind, cost has remained an important factor in recommending sources. Most reference books listed are priced at less than $45, with many costing less than $15. Since print sources are sometimes more convenient to use than Internet sites, libraries may opt to purchase as many print works as their budgets allow. In cases where a reference book is available in both trade (hardback) edition and in paperback, price information for both editions is provided. If a reference source is not likely to have heavy use, the less expensive paperback edition is recommended as a first choice. All works listed were in print at the time of compilation.

Electronic sources that have been incorporated into the listings—the Internet, TexShare databases available through the Texas State Library & Archives Commission, and CD-ROMs—have been carefully screened for quality and reliability. For a few topics, only Web sites are given for the area. Examples include: abbreviations, parenting, anatomy, and nutrition. For these topics there were either no acceptable print materials or the materials were too expensive to recommend. All Internet addresses were accurate as of July 31, 2003.

The arrangement of recommended sources is in 17 sections beginning with “General Works.” Sources are then arranged in sections either by type (biography) or by subject area (literature). The previous edition included “Politics and Law” in one section, while this edition divides the two areas. Comments concerning the subject area and many topics are included throughout this section of the guide.

The number of print and electronic sources includes 202 entries. Of the total number of entries, 122 are for book sources plus 36 additional books cited in annotations or notes, compared to 134 entries and 48 additional sources cited in notes in the previous edition. Entries include 87 electronic sources plus 40 cited in annotations or chapter introductions. Forty-seven of the books cited are new to this edition; in some instances they represent better sources than those included in the last edition, while in other instances they replace out-of-print works. Seventy-five entries are repeat listings from the previous guide with updating for editions and costs. In the previous guide, electronic sites were included either in the annotation or in shaded boxes. In this edition, the majority are listed in numbered, annotated entries along with books, while others are included in annotations for books.

Information for cited print sources includes bibliographic information and approximate cost utilizing a code (see explanation of code below). ISBN’s are not included. Frequent changes by the publisher are the reasons for these omissions. Costs tend to fluctuate and library discounts vary. ISBN’s are often changed with a new printing when only minor updates are made. In both instances, information becomes quickly dated. Exact cost and ISBNs can be obtained from the Books in Print database available through TexShare. The price code is listed below and appears at the bottom of each page in Section III. The coded price appears in parentheses in the bibliographic entry for print sources; a number alone refers to the trade (hardback) edition. A coded price followed by the abbreviation “pa” refers to the paperback edition.

  • (1) under $15
  • (2) $15-$25
  • (3) $26-$35
  • (4) $36-$45
  • (5) $46-$55
  • (6) $56-$65
  • (7) $66-$75
  • (8) $76-$85
  • (9) $86-$95
  • (10) over $96

Entries for Internet sites include the address (URL) or indicate that the database is available through TexShare, a resource sharing program made available to the state’s public and academic libraries through the Texas State Library.

Section IV: Indexes

The guide concludes with separate title and subject indexes. Electronic sites are differentiated from books with a star in both the title subject indexes.

Margaret Irby Nichols


Denton, Texas August 31, 2002

Page last modified: March 2, 2011