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Humanities - Social Work: Reference Sources

Reference works

Reference works  consist of dictionaries, encyclopedias, yearbooks, atlases, and bibliographies. They cannot be taken out as they are heavily used and should be available for users at all times. In the APK library they are found on the low shelves on each floor. If taken for photocopying, they should be returned to the floor from which they were taken. Knowing the reference collection of your subject(s) will help you to not only understand your subject better, but also to obtain better marks as your comprehension of your subject will increase.



Dictionaries can be general, bi- or multi-lingual or subject specific.

General  Dictionaries:

Dictionaries can be used to find the right explanation, use or definition of a word. In British English, the Oxford English Dictionary (abbreviated as OED) is regarded as the key source for English usage.

For Afrikaans use WAT - Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse taal.

Bi- or multi-lingual dictionaries:

These dictionaries usually consist of two languages; for example English-Afrikaans, English-Zulu and in the other half of the dictionary Afrikaans-English, Zulu-English.

Use such dictionaries when you are not a mother-tongue speaker in order to understand the meaning of every word. Also use a bilingual dictionary if you are studying a foreign language to look up the meaning of words. It will also help you if you are reading material in a foreign language.

Subject specific dictionaries:

They explain subject specific terms and phrases - also known as 'subject jargon'. They can help you to master your subject.

Collins dictionary of social work

The social work dictionary

Online dictionary of the Social Sciences:



Yearbooks are extremely helpful to students who require  information about a specific country or comparative information about countries. They consist of current, up-to-date, as well as historical information.

The Europa World Yearbook series can be seen as the most comprehensive source regarding global country information. They not only contain the history of a country, but also useful statistics about trade, industry, population, weather measurements, etc.  All information is annually updated. The newest edition is on the Reserve (short loan) shelf.

South Africa has its own local yearbook, called the South Africa yearbook (also available online).

South Africa Survey is available on the database of the Institute of Race Relations.


Atlases can be general or subject-specific.

General atlases usually consist of geographical maps of the world, a country or a region and even of a town or a city.

Subject-specific atlases exist in order to describe the geographical distribution of the use of words, pronunciations, population migration, etc. A subject specific atlas may also show the routes which pilgrims, crusade(r)s, adventurers, generals, armies or even individuals like Paul of the New Testament followed. In a visual way, atlases help to explain content, historical details and occurences. They may also be used to check historical facts as in land claims, claims made in autobiographies, etc.



General and Subject specific encyclopedias:

Use General Encyclopedias to read up about general subjects in order to broaden your understanding of a topic. Examples are Encyclopaedia BritannicaWorld book, Encyclopedia Americana, etc.

Consult Subject Specific Encyclopedias when confronted with a new topic, subject knowledge that has to be acquired in a condensed format or for improving your understanding of a topic.

The Blackwell encyclopaedia of social work