Science and Technology: Reference Sources

Although general reference resources are useful in some cases, there are many research projects that require subject-matter specific information sources.

Read Osorio, Nestor L. (2015). Electical engineering reference resoruces: a survey from LibGuides. Collection Building, 34(1), 6-12).

Read Temple, Norman J. & Fraser, Joy (March 2014). How accurate are Wikipedia article in health, nutrition, and medicine? Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 38(1), 37-52.

Besides the traditional reference materials, there are many innovative approaches that make use of technology. For instance, the Dynamic Periodic Table.

Some science references don't fall into traditional categories.

A pharmacopoeia is a reference book that contains directions for the identification of compound medicines. Published by a government, medical group, or pharmaceutical society, they provide pharmaceutical drug specification.

Watch What is a pharmacopoeia? from the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention from YouTube.

Science and Technology Reference Starting Points

read ipadReference sources can be found in both open access and subscription-based environments.

Google and Reference Questions

Google is a good place to start seeking answers to reference questions. However, be sure to double-check the results and evaluate the quality of the source.

Use Google Images to identify unfamiliar safety or chemical symbols. Drag an image of the symbol into Google Images.

Or, you might have a photograph of an insect or butterfly. Drag it into Google Images and it may be able to identify the origin of the photograph. However, be careful because this approach can backfire. You may end up with images that are similar, but not an accurate identification.

Subscription-based Reference Databases

Begin your exploration of reference works at the reference databases. Many of the reference materials listed below can be accessed using the major databases.

The Oxford Reference Online database contains useful reference sources across disciplines.

Try It!
Go to Oxford Reference Online. Available through IUPUI.
1) Choose the Reference Type pull-down menu and explore the English and bilingual dictionaries available.
2) Pull-down the Subject menu and choose Science and Technology.
3) Notice that some of the electronic references are available and others are restricted. Pick three unlocked or free resources to explore in-depth. Compare their contents and how they are organized.

Reference Databases

Reference databases are common in science and technology.


Open Access

Biographical Information

General biography resources can be very useful, but be sure to seek out biography materials within databases geared to your content area interest.


An astronomical catalog is a list of astronomical objects based on an astronomical survey. Both historical and current catalogs are available. A star catalog is an astronomical catalog focusing specifically on stars. Many of these are online. Use the Access to Astronomical Catalogues websites to search from nearly 15,000 catalogues.

Widely used astronomical catalogs include:

Star catalogs

Data Sets

Data and statistics information sources are particularly useful in the health area.

Go to Data Files from ACRL's Science and Technology Section

Dictionaries and other Word and Phrase Sources

Rather than general dictionaries, seek out discipline-specific dictionaries for specialized vocabulary.


Directories are common in the area of health care.


In the databases, browse by subject, general reference, and encyclopedias. In addition to encyclopedia, chronologies and other closely associated reference types are included. Encyclopedia can quickly become dated, so look for the newest electronic versions.

try itTry It!
Browse the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). This online resource contains many of the features of a traditional encyclopedia paired with social media elements. Compare this online resource with a traditional encyclopedia.

try itTry It!
Browse the Encyclopedia of Family Health from Martha Craft-Rosenberg & Shelley-Rae Pehler from SAGE Knowledge through IUPUI. How does this book reflect the characteristics of an encyclopedia? In what situations would an encyclopedia this this work well in addressing a reference question?

Field Guides

A field guide is a handbook used to identify flora and/or fauna. Often printed in a series focusing on different geographic areas or topics, the book is generally arranged alphabetically, by classification, or by other categories such as color. The book usually provides names, descriptions, photographs or sketches, maps, and suggestions for identification.

Handbooks, Guides, and Manuals

Handbooks, guides, and manuals are all found in the humanities. Many handbooks are available as ebooks through IUPUI's collection. These can be useful in providing information not found in general Google searches.

Sage Reference. Available through IUPUI.

ScienceDirect provides access to reference handbooks. Available through IUPUI.


Cassell, Kay Ann & Hiremath, Uma (2012). Reference and Information Services: An Introduction (3rd Edition). Available through IUPUI.

Reitz, Joan M. (2014). Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Libraries Unlimited. Available: http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_a.aspx.


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