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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more My Favorite Reference Book
To round out this Reference Showcase issue, I thought it would be fun to find out what our Booklist reference reviewers consider to be their all-time favorite reference books. Their enthusiastic responses are below. (Not surprisingly, The World Almanac won by a landslide.) If you’d like to share your favorite with me, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although I am sure that they have an online product, I constantly refer to the print National Trade and Professional Associations Directory. I give it to people who are seeking career or job information in different fields and recently used it with a patron who was trying to identify major associations in human services and related areas. It is very well indexed and has good info. —Cathy Ahern
Like many librarians, I have many eclectic interests, and browsing through The Encyclopedia of Associations has always been a delightful, informative, and fun way for me to explore the remarkable world of organizations serving some, well, er, quirky interests. Where else can one find out about a philatelic organization that collects postage stamps depicting efforts to eradicate malaria? Or the Association for People with Dogs Named Marty? Unlike the paper edition, which is so much fun to browse, the online version doesn’t easily offer the rich opportunity to serendipitously find a quirky organization. May the print edition long endure! —Donald Altschiller
It would have to be The World Book Encyclopedia for me. It is so useful for providing quick answers as well as a starting point for in-depth research on a wide variety of topics. As an example, I have had patrons who requested a photo of Jesus and a photo of the Garden of Eden—works of art would not do. I used The World Book to show them when the camera was invented, when Jesus lived, and when the Garden of Eden existed. (They finally got the concept, but they were very disappointed.) —Barbara Bibel
Through most of my career as a librarian, books were the only source of reference, and my favorite was the The World Almanac. I reviewed it twice for Booklist, and a quotation from each review was prominently displayed for years on the almanac. Now that I am retired, my favorite reference source is Google, and my most recent World Almanac on my shelf is from 2006! —Christine Bulson
My favorite reference book is The Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860–2009. I’ve used it to help kids with school assignments, and one time I even used it to help a student try to guesstimate how much they might have made working as a teacher in the 1980s. It’s the one reference book I still turn to instead of the Internet. —Blaise Dierks
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, gets my vote. It’s easy to use but difficult to do without when you need to find a map of an imaginary place, such as the lands of Oz or Narnia or places I never knew existed. I don’t use it often because I might get lost in it at the reference desk—so I have my own copy at home. It is the one book (other than some Scout emergency manual) that I would take with me if I were on Survivor or lost on some remote island. —Dona Helmer
My favorite reference work is the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition. The high level of writing by persons who are known historically makes this something to savor as well as a historical treasure. Although modern resources, especially online, allow for manipulation of data, an old-fashioned set of encyclopedias evokes another time, provides the answers, and reminds one of what reference can be: a search for an answer in which the journey is far better than the arrival at the destination (the answer). —Patricia Hogan
My favorite is a database, not a book—I simply love the BusinessDecision database from Gale. The “Tapestry Profiles” slay me. Census data from every zip code in America is collected and given a slick moniker (such as “Metro Renters,” “Urban Villages,” and “Milk and Cookies”). The profiles tell a story about the neighborhood, who lives there, and what the neighbors are into (Whole Foods or Stop and Save? Talk radio or urban contemporary grooves? Newspaper or magazine readers?) and describes the demographic in a particular area, without judgment—in about four neat paragraphs. A great resource not only for small-business owners but also for libraries in the process of forming marketing plans and programming— it helps when searching for the answer to the questions: Who are we serving, and how best to reach them where they are? —Joslyn Jones
My favorite reference book is The World Almanac. It is full of dates, facts, bios, award winners, sports statistics, etc. It ranges from serious subjects, such as world politics, to new words. It is a great resource to write quiz-bowl questions. —Abbie Landry
I would say my favorite reference book is the Columbia Gazetteer of the World. I don’t use it in my current job, but it was a favorite during my many moons in university libraries. This source does more than simply tell one how to pronounce a place-name and give its location, population, and elevation. It chronicles how changes in the political order, manufacturing, agriculture, and the economy affect geographic locations. It’s indispensable! —Christopher McConnell
I spent most of my career in telephone reference, where the collection included a number of reference books I count among my favorites. One book, however, was so beloved by staff that it was referred to by the author’s first name, Lois. The Standard Handbook for Secretaries, by Lois Irene Hutchinson, was the go-to source for answering grammar and punctuation questions. Its index was so comprehensive that the answers to even the most specific queries could be located quickly and easily. —Carolyn Mulac
I think my favorite is the Oxford English Dictionary. I love knowing what words mean, and how their usage has changed over time. I also like the shades of meaning that the OED conveys. I even submitted a possible first usage for the next edition of the dictionary. —Jack O’Gorman
I keep coming back to the reference source that I use most—not a book, but WorldCat. As a retired reference librarian, I get asked questions by the naturalists on the various electronic discussion groups to which I belong. Along with the electronic periodical databases, I go to WorldCat—a meta-reference—to have a list of resources to suggest and sometimes to use to answer specific questions. —Linda Scarth
I have two: The World Almanac, because it’s so extremely versatile! Great for teaching research across the curriculum, which is important when implementing Common Core State Standards. And CultureGrams. Combined with The World Almanac and geography-focused reference materials, it has helped wean students from copying word-for-word from the encyclopedia. Students who use it feel comfortable with the resource and suddenly find research a lot less intimidating. —Esther Sinofsky
I always keep The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea handy for its unusual commentary on marine issues. For author facts, I get home-style slants from The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. Newsy descriptions of neighborhoods record what Jack London raised in California and how far John James Audubon traveled down the Mississippi River. It also notes unexpected friendships, such as Hartford residents Twain, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable. —Mary Ellen Snodgrass
In my pre-Internet period, I swore by—and not at—three reference titles: The World Almanac, Merriam-Webster’s Desk Dictionary, and Harbrace College Handbook, all for the same reasons: they were concise, easy to use, and accurate. —Kathleen Stipek
My favorite reference books aren’t in use much in public libraries, but I still love them. The Statistical Abstract of the United States (currently a ProQuest publication after it was ruthlessly cut by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012) compiles annual data from various federal agencies and is full of fascinating information about how and where people live; who they are; and what they do, buy, and throw away. The two-volume bicentennial Historical Statistics of the United States, from Colonial Times to 1970, is especially great and is one of the only sources of accurate demographic data from the founding of the country. Simply wonderful tools for researchers. —Magan Szwarek
The Dictionary of the History of Ideas could keep me entranced if I were stranded on a desert island or stuck in an elevator for months, if not years. Students exploring big questions jump from what makes life worth living (“Theories of Beauty”) to what makes something funny (“Sense of the Comic”). —Christine Whittington
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