EnglishGeneralLibrary Science

Reference Book

Introduction

Samuel Johnson once remarked that “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find the information on it”. It is in this context, the present study is basically based on the latter part of the quotation where information is found in the form of published literature. Not only has there been millions of micro or macro level documents in different disciplines, there has also been a large number of secondary and tertiary publications to which Dr. Ranganathan has named as “Approach Materials”. These materials though do not contain original information, indicate about the availability of these sources. These are consulted before undertaking any research project in order to have an over view of the subject. It is thus, these materials have prior value. They serve as the mirror of information and gateway of knowledge.

For the purpose of the proposed study, these sources are otherwise called as reference tools/reference materials/reference sources/ information sources and reference works are inter-changeably used in this thesis. Thus, reference tool in ordinary sense, is a piece of work, which directs the user to a source of information when needed.

Reference Books – Definition :

Before discussing the nature, structure and purpose of reference books, it is worthwhile and interesting to know the fundamental difference between an ordinary book and a reference book, so that a clear cut idea could be formed.

On the basis of the use, books are generally, divided into two broad groups such as ordinary books and reference books. Prior to defining reference books, it would be very much clear, if an understanding is made about the ordinary book. The books which are meant for information, education and entertainment are called ordinary books. They generally cover a fairly broad subject area, designed with a view to impart education. The whole range of subjects are structured either on the basis of a prescribed syllabus of an academic institution or keeping in view a general outlook on the subject. The characterization and paragraphs are conveniently arranged from broader aspect to specific one. The user usually reads such type of books from cover to cover to gain basic knowledge on the subject. These type of materials are generally issued out of the library premises for home reading.

Whereas to quote Ranganathan, “…it (a reference book) is characterized internally by an ensemble of disjointed entries of short, through varying, lengths. The sequence of entries is not determined, strictly by intimate thought sequence. It is determined by the scheme of arrangement chosen. It is often alphabetical in the main. It is occasionally systematic. Even the connection between the consecutive entries is not as compelling and continuous or as free from jerks as between the paragraphs in an ordinary book, or, a reference book may consist mostly of formulae, statistics, diagrams, tables, maps or lists including lists of documents with or without abstracts, annotations, and other features.1

Gates says that “the word ‘reference’ comes from the verb, refer, which means to turn to for aid or information. Thus, any person or thing referred to for these purposes is a reference. A book which is consulted for aid or information on a topic, a theme, an event, a person, a date, a place or a word is a reference book” 2.

Further, he defines that ‘reference book’ has come to mean a specific kind of publication which has been planned and written to be consulted for items of information, rather than to read throughout. It contains facts that have been brought together from many sources and organized for quick and easy use, either in an alphabetical or chronological arrangement or by use of detailed indexes and numerous cross references” 3.

Types and Classes of Reference Book :

All the reference books are classed into two broad groups, namely, General and Special. Those which contain the needed information, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, biographical sources, atlases and gazetteers are referred to as general reference books and those which tell the user where the information can be found, such as indexes, abstracts, bibliographies and directories are specialized or subject reference material.

While general reference books are broad in scope, not limited to any single subject but useful for all, subject reference books are devoted to specific subject areas such as literature, art, history, etc..

Reference Books are Restricted to Use:

The use of these materials is restricted to the library. Answers to the questions may be found completely from these sources in the reference collection. Further, a given source may sometimes only indicate other books and materials from where, the seeker may get the full answer to his question if it is consulted. Though theoretically a given reference source does the specific function, it is planned to do better than , any other reference book can do them. Thus, it should be consulted first for the kind of information it covers even though other reference sources may include source of the same information.

Varieties of Reference Books, their purpose and function:

On the basis of the questions put by the users or inquirers, and the answers found in different categories of reference sources, reference books may be designed into different varieties as given below:

Table-1:

Varieties of Reference Books with their Informative Value

Varieties Class of question Function and usefulness
1. Dictionary Language Definition, spelling, pronunciation, usage, etymology and parts of speech, etc..
2. Encyclopaedia Background Over-view of the subject and self education
3. Biographical dictionary People Notables, specialists and life sketch of individuals
4. Bibliography/ catalogue/ index Subject literature Reviews, best books and articles in periodicals
5. Gazetteers, maps, atlases and guide books Places Locations, description, distances
6. Directory Organisation Address and products
7. Handbooks and manuals Facts and activities Curiosities, statistics, events, formulae, how to do, how to make, etc..
8. Yearbook and Almanacs Trend Current events, past years developments, recent happenings

Role of Reference Tools in Library Service:

Keeping the objectives and services in view,every library has designed a number of tools based on well-thought out techniques for providing help and assistance to users. In this respect Ranganathan’s five laws of Library Science give directional guidance in organizing and offering reference service. Library and Information Science, in the context of reference service is an empirical field. It studies the relation between the knowledge seeking behavior of the individual and the knowledge content in the document. Here user’s information need are matched with the information embodied in the document. Books are for use as enunciated implies the function of bringing together documents and the expressed thoughts embodied in them and users. Further, the term, ‘use’ is interpreted to mean intellectual use for productive purpose. In the context of the other 3 laws, the term ‘use’ is defined to spell out reference service from the angle of users. Every category of users has to serve with equal attention and their information needs have
to be met according to their levels and standard. The reference staff must be well-versed with knowledge of the world of books and documents and the information needs of users to match the two. All the reference tools used in the library are primarily time-saving devices. Fifth Law of Library Science reminds us that documents; readers and library service grow not in number and volume but it show the response to the multi-dimensional growth of reference literature, so need their evaluation.


Original Reference Article:

  • Padhi, P. (1992). Development of reference tools in oriya from 19th century A D a technical study. Utkal University, India.
Tags

Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close