In this topic, we will look at the actual tools which TLs use to find information for their users in the school community and not just how these tools are used in the school library, but also why they are used.
In a traditional, print-based library, it was easy to distinguish what librarians referred to as reference material. This was a collection of material which could be referred to in the library but could not be borrowed, and most school libraries will still have a reference section although it will be diminishing in size each year due to the availability of so much material on the web. However, when we consider the availability of information on the web, the picture is much less clear. The world of school libraries and publishing has moved away from such concepts and, in terms of material on the web, the term reference work is now redundant.
Despite this, there remain some categories of both digital and print materials which we can identify as sources that we would encourage students and staff to use in the school library or at home. This material includes encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, biographical works, directories and bibliographies. These can be used to define key terms or find introductory material but used as quick reference or general sources but not topic specific resources such as comprehensive websites.
Should we abandon the idea of reference material altogether? Or should the term be kept only for non-borrowable print resources in the library?
Yes, the term reference should still be retained and used to identify printed material such as encyclopedias that are only used within a library environment. As long as they are still available and useful for reference information the term of reference is still applicable and viable. Once the information becomes out-dated or unreliable the term reference will then become redundant and excluded from library terminology.
Despite the redundancy of the term reference work, there are some categories of material, both in digital and print form, which can be used by students and staff in schools. Encyclopedias fall into this category and many school libraries will still have print versions of encyclopedias such as World Book or Encyclopaedia Britannica, but the availability of online versions of these works means that it is increasingly unlikely that a TL will buy a set of encyclopaedia volumes for the school library.
Online encyclopedias include a number of free encyclopedias on the web including Britannica. There is a good list of free encyclopedias at Library Spot.