The Outstanding Reference Sources Committee was established in 1958 to recommend the most outstanding reference publications for small and medium-sized libraries. An annotated list of these outstanding reference works is published annually in the May issue of American Libraries. The list is also included in Reference & User Services Quarterly and published on the RUSA Web site.
The contents of the list should adhere close to titles that comply with the conventional definition of a reference source: a work compiled specifically to supply information on a certain subject or group of subjects in a form which will facilitate its easy use; or, as the ALA Glossary states it, "any source used to obtain authoritative information in a reference transaction."
- The list is directed toward small and medium-sized college and public libraries, although large secondary school libraries may also find the list useful.
- The contents will consist of adult publications, although important reference works in the juvenile field that fit the definition in (1) above can be considered.
- The contents will be arranged by broad topics, grouping comparable titles as far as possible. The bibliographic data will conform to
American Libraries' recommendations for the annual list. Dates should be included for all entries.
- Brief annotations of 75-125 words will be written for each title.
- Annuals, yearbooks, new printings of encyclopedias, etc., will be omitted unless the first issues appear during the year, or unless they have truly important revisions or changes in editorial and publication policy.
- New editions will be listed only where there is evidence of major revisions or important supplements to the earlier work.
- The new volumes of incomplete sets whose publications began in earlier years will generally be omitted in the annual list, although a note of the completion of such a set might be given.
- Pamphlets will be omitted.
- Reference works of purely local scope will be omitted.
- Highly specialized and foreign language publications will be omitted.
- Sources from the current year should be emphasized. Titles from the previous year should be included only when necessitated by oversight or late publications dates.
- "How to do it" publications should be included only if of wide scope and exceptionally fine character.
- Important and separate indexes to an individual periodical or to groups of periodicals shall be included.
- Spin-offs, derived from larger related works, whether in book, micrographic, or computerized form, will be considered if appropriate.
- Items must have been physically examined by at least three members of the committee before consideration for inclusion.
The following criteria refer to nonprint reference sources, such as microforms, online databases and optical media. (Note: with the advent of the MARS list of Best Reference Web Sites, the committee agreed to avoid duplicating that work and so the following does not apply to Web sites.)
- A reference source in any nonprint format may be considered as long as it meets the above-stated criteria used in selecting sources for inclusion. No source will be excluded from consideration by virtue of format alone.
- The reference source, in whatever format, shall be generally available to small and medium-sized public and college libraries.
- The source shall be (a) uniquely available in a nonprint format; or (b) the nonprint version shall in some way provide access to or present the information in a form otherwise unavailable.
- Source should be publicly available.
- CD-ROM discs and other optical media products should meet widely accepted technical standards.
- Initial costs should not preclude use by a small to medium-sized library.
Schedule of Work
February - Mid-OctoberEach committee member is assigned subject areas in which to monitor new reference sources. Titles may be identified from reviews, publisher announcements, or by browsing new books in libraries and bookstores.
Before a source is recommended to the Committee for final consideration, the nominator must have examined the source. A source may be rejected from further consideration without a member examining the source. If there is a negative review, or a review characterizing the source as specialized and aimed at a narrow audience, it is probably a candidate for a member's "Not Nominated" list.
Each member should keep a brief record of why a title is on their "Not Nominated" list. Members will bring copies of their "Not Nominated" list to the Midwinter Meeting, and other Committee members will have the opportunity to ask why particular sources are not on the list of recommended titles. Throughout the year members may also discover titles outside of their assigned subject areas which they find outstanding and forward suggestions to the appropriate Committee member.