Outstanding Reference Sources

About the Outstanding Reference Sources
The Outstanding Reference Sources list was established in 1958 to recommend the best reference publications for small and medium-sized libraries. Past and current winners can be found here: https://www.rusaupdate.org/awards/outstanding-reference-sources/.

Administered by:

Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) logo

Award and Frequency

This award is given out on an annual basis.


  1. 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.
  2. "How to do it" publications should be included only if of wide scope and exceptionally fine character.
  3. Important and separate indexes to an individual periodical or to groups of periodicals shall be included.
  4. Spin-offs, derived from larger related works, whether in book, micrographic, or computerized form, will be considered if appropriate.
  5. 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.
  6. Pamphlets will be omitted.
  7. Reference works of purely local scope will be omitted.
  8. Highly specialized and foreign language publications will be omitted.
  9. New editions will be listed only where there is evidence of major revisions or important supplements to the earlier work.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.


Application Instructions

Publishers are welcome to send books as they see fit if they believe they meet the eligibility and criteria. For more information, please contact the committee chair listed on the committee roster page.

Contact Information

Rebecca Freeman (Chair, February 1, 2024, to January 31, 2025)
Ninah Moore (Staff Liaison, October 1, 2018, to December 31, 2099) - nmoore@ala.org
Work Phone: 312-280-4398
American Library Association
225 N Michigan Ave Ste 1300
Chicago, IL 60601-7616

Shuntai Sykes (Staff Liaison, October 1, 2018, to December 31, 2099) - ssykes@ala.org
American Library Association
225 N Michigan Ave Ste 1300
Chicago, IL 60601-7616

Melissa Vanyek (Staff Liaison, October 1, 2018, to December 31, 2099) -
American Library Association
225 N Michigan Ave Ste 1300
Chicago, IL 60601-7616

Displaying active committee roster as of 04/13/2024. Last retrieved on 04/13/2024. Members can log in and refresh page to view full contact information for committee members.

Selection Criteria

  1. 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."
  2. The list is directed toward small and medium-sized college and public libraries, although large secondary school libraries may also find the list useful.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Brief annotations of 75-125 words will be written for each title.
  6. 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.)
  • 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.