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UMass Amherst Libraries

German 697 CE - Central European Cinema

Find Reference Works

What are reference works?

Reference works can provide important contextual information and point you in the direction of additional resources. Reference sources include encyclopedias, bibliographies, filmographies, and more, each of which may be more or less well-suited to your research needs. For example, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and companions are useful for familiarizing yourself with key concepts or figures, while bibliographies are most useful when looking for resources related to a topic.

Which reference works are available through the Five College Libraries?

Reference Guides

References guides organize different types of reference sources, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, indexes and more, into lists designed for consultation. If you are looking for a bird’s eye view of reference sources on a topic, a reference guide can be a useful tool.


Encyclopedias contain detailed information on topics that are usually listed aphetically. Consulting an encyclopedia is an effective way to familiarize yourself with key topics at the start of the research process or to clarify an unfamiliar topic you encounter.


Dictionaries contain entries on a topic that are usually listed in alphabetical order. They are similar to encyclopedias, but entries are usually more concise, making them a useful tool for quickly familiarizing yourself with a topic.


Companions are similar to dictionaries and the two terms are often used interchangeably. They contain concise entries and can help you quickly familiarize yourself with a topic.


Bibliographies are lists of sources on a topic that can be useful because they gather relevant books, articles, and other sources in one place. Short bibliographies often include key works on a topic, while long bibliographies may aim to be exhaustive.