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Reference Materials

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Resource key

  • McGill users only
  • Open access resource
  • Free resource
  • In-library use
  • Catalogue record

Search Tips!

The Basic Search is the default search for the McGill Library WorldCat homepage.

  • To retrieve search results for a word with multiple endings, use the root with an asterix; for example, vote* will retrieve research related to vote, votes, and voting.
  • To search an exact phrase, use quotation marks; for example, "liberal party of canada".
  • To narrow a broad topic, use AND between keywords; for example, "elections" AND Canada.
  • To broaden a research topic, use OR to search for terms that denote similar concepts; for example, (voting OR elections AND Canada).

What are Reference Materials?

Reference materials are a great place to start your research. They provide a good overview of topics, help adjust the scope of your research and can lead you to additional sources. This guide includes online resources for general or background information as well as printed resources found in the library catalog. For reference materials in a specific field of study, make sure to browse our subject guides.

General Reference Guides

General reference guides provide an overview of general knowledge in one or more areas to researchers of all levels. This is especially helpful in locating authoritative facts, background materials and basic information at the start of your research.


A biography is the detailed description of an individual's life, highlighting the important events in a chronological order. A biography can include both brief or detailed events, such as childhood, education, vocation, death and historical significance.


Print Dictionaries

Print dictionaries are located in the course reserves room in the McLennan Library Building. They are 2-day loans and commonly used for exams, research, and coursework. 

Languages include:

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Chinese
  • Greek
  • Spanish
  • Hebrew
  • Latin
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Japanese

Online Dictionaries



Subject Specific Dictionaries

Additional subject specific resources are available in the main collection or in the subject guides.


Encyclopedias are summaries of knowledge from a variety of publications to present a topic in a comprehensive way. This is a great place to start your research and can help you find additional resources or keywords for searching. Additional subject specific resources are available in the main collection or in the subject guides.

Handbooks & Companions

Handbooks are comprehensive references which are used to find current developments, instructional content, or specific information on a topic. Companions elaborate on existing books and aim to provide a deeper understanding of themes, characters, place and ideas in the original work. 

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