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Humanities - Faculty Libguide: Reference Sources

Reference works

Reference works are the tools of your trade. They cannot be taken out as they are heavily used and should be available for users at all times. They consist of dictionaries, encyclopaedias, yearbooks, atlases, and bibliographies. In the APK library they are found on the low shelves on each floor. There they can be consulted. 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. Encyclopaedias will given you added information which will help you to 'get the picture better'.



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) s considered 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 and in the other half of the dictionary Afrikaans-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.

Pharos Woordeboeke/Dictionaries will be helpful to you as they are available electronically on our Database list.

Subject specific dictionaries:

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


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.

They may not be borrowed from the library as they are considered to be reference works. They are important and useful tools in the hands of any researcher.



General and Subject specific encyclopaedias exist.

Use General Encyclopaedias to read up about general subjects in order to broaden your understanding of a topic. Examples are Encyclopaedia Britannica, (its online edition which will say that the connection is not secure: Brittanica Academic Edition, - then click on Advanced, scroll down and click on Add Exception,  - World book, Encyclopedia Americana, etc.

Consult Subject Specific encyclopaedias 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.

If in a subject like Classical Culture more information about Zeus is needed, find an encyclopaedia which deals with the ancient gods. Look at all related encyclopeadias to obtain the necessary understanding and facts surrounding the topic. Links to related material can also be used.

If, in Literature the Romantic poetry in Britain has to be studied, try to find a literary encyclopaedia in the library which will explain the Romantic movement and its poetry.

If a study on Bulimia has to be undertaken, read about it in a Psychological encyclopaedia first. There it will be stated clearly that it forms part of Eating disorders. By reading both the entries on Bulimia and on Eating disorders, a better understanding of the topic will be obtained.

The facts surrounding the Second World War will definitely be covered in a historical encyclopaedia, This condensed 'description' will help you to understand what happened then and what the reasons for its outbreak were. It will also describe the outcome of it. After reading the entry on it, you will  have a better understanding of it and will know what information you still lack.

After using the subject specific encyclopeadia(s) you will know what information to look for in books and journal articles. The additional knowledge will substantiate your opions on the topic.

Encyclopaedias cannot be taken out as they are considered to be Reference Works which should be available at all times for usage.