Outstanding Reference Sources

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.

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. 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.
  7. New editions will be listed only where there is evidence of major revisions or important supplements to the earlier work.
  8. 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.
  9. Pamphlets will be omitted.
  10. Reference works of purely local scope will be omitted.
  11. Highly specialized and foreign language publications will be omitted.
  12. 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.
  13. "How to do it" publications should be included only if of wide scope and exceptionally fine character.
  14. Important and separate indexes to an individual periodical or to groups of periodicals shall be included.
  15. Spin-offs, derived from larger related works, whether in book, micrographic, or computerized form, will be considered if appropriate.
  16. 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.)

  17. 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.
  18. The reference source, in whatever format, shall be generally available to small and medium-sized public and college libraries.
  19. 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.
  20. Source should be publicly available.
  21. CD-ROM discs and other optical media products should meet widely accepted technical standards.
  22. Initial costs should not preclude use by a small to medium-sized library.

* Prepared by the RASD Publications Committee, 1/31/81; Revised by the Reference Sources Committee, June 1988; Approved by the RASD Board, 1988 Conference

Schedule of Work

February - Mid-October

Each 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.


Committee Chair requests a tentative list of "Recommended Titles" from members. This list should include full bibliographic information and copies of all reviews found for the individual titles. Lists should be arranged by title and in the format used by American Libraries in the committee's May articles. The "Recommended Titles" list should be divided into two parts: the "Recommended & Examined" and "Recommended & Not Examined". The goal of members is to place almost all titles in the "Recommended & Examined" list before the Midwinter Meeting. A committee member should notify the chair as soon as a title has been withdrawn from nomination. The chair will forward the information to the committee and the current list of nominations will reflect the changes.


The chair is responsible for compiling the list of recommended titles and making photocopies of the reviews to mail to the members. The list and reviews will be color coded by subject areas to help organize them for easy access. Committee members are responsible for examining all recommended titles. Members may need to visit other libraries to locate titles. During this time members need to begin to decide how they are going to vote on the recommended titles. The RUSA Office will obtain copies of the recommended titles and have them available at the Midwinter Meeting.


The chair will ask for additional recommendations, corresponding reviews, and withdrawals. The chair will let the committee know the titles that will be supplied by the RUSA Office. Committee members may need to make arrangements to bring titles to the Midwinter Meeting or make arrangements with publishers to supply titles from the exhibits. Members may add or withdraw titles right up to the Midwinter Meeting.

Midwinter Meeting

The committee has traditionally met on Friday through Monday. At the first meeting, the chair will give out the meeting agenda, discuss the criteria, and the committee will decide on the order of the presentations. Committee members present their recommended titles and the committee will vote on including the source in the final "Outstanding" list. It is helpful to write out or outline the presentation in advance tor ensure that all points have been covered. Presentations should emphasize: content, uniqueness, authority, completeness, and documentation. Other considerations may be elements such as appropriateness, arrangement, and illustrations. After each title is presented, committee members have the opportunity to ask questions or make comments. After the discussion of the merits of each source a vote is taken. Ties are decided by the chair. If members have last minute recommendations for the list, they should plan on bringing those titles to the meeting so everyone has the opportunity to examine them.

After the Midwinter Meeting

Each title selected for the final list must be annotated for the RUSA Web site and for the article which appears in the May issue of American Libraries. All members share in this work and the assignments are made before concluding the Midwinter Meeting.