Reference Collection

Primary emphasis is on English; materials in other languages are acquired as necessary to support university programs and general reference work.
The reference collection supports the verification, location, research and information needs of the McMaster University community. It includes basic academic reference works plus in-depth resources in the humanities and social sciences. Responsibility for the selection of resources is primarily assumed by reference librarians who select for designated areas. Some electronic reference resources are selected by the University Library Digital Content Committee, with input from reference librarians. Items not ordered by reference but which fit into the Reference collection policy are set aside on a decision shelf which is reviewed regularly by the appropriate reference librarian for a location decision. As a general rule, only the latest edition of a work is kept in the reference area.
The purpose of the Internet reference collection on the library's website is to provide access to relevant reference metasites, quality academic search engines, and ready reference sources such as almanacs, directories, handbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and university calendars.
Primary emphasis is on Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Materials from other areas are acquired as necessary to support university programs and general reference work.

The emphasis is on currently published materials.

Materials are collected in a variety of formats:
  • Books
  • Periodicals
  • Microform (microfiche and microfilm)
  • Electronic (e.g. Internet, CD-ROM)

This policy should be looked at in conjunction with those of the other reference departments on campus (Innis, Thode, Health Sciences) and with the departmental policies written by faculty in the Social Sciences and Humanities. ,

General Reference Works (A)

Almanacs Handbooks and Yearbooks

Canadian, British and American are emphasized. The current edition is held in Reference; earlier editions are shelved in the general stacks. Encyclopedia yearbooks are kept in Reference.


 The bulk of atlases are kept in the Map Collection, therefore only a small collection is maintained for basic reference work.


Subject bibliographies are collected in support of the curriculum and general reference work. National bibliographies are purchased for Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Zimbabwe in paper; others are consulted on the Internet. Books in print are purchased for Canada, US and Britain; others are consulted on the Internet.


University and college calendars are readily available on the Internet. A small collection of current Canadian university and college calendars is maintained in paper Current McMaster calendars are kept at the reference desk; back issues are in the Bookstacks.


Language dictionaries and translation dictionaries are maintained for courses that require them (e.g. language, literature, religion, history, indigenous studies). Subject dictionaries are purchased in selected areas.


The collection includes current editions of a range of Canadian, American, British and international directories covering: libraries, museums, scholarly societies, postsecondary educational programs, publishers and associations. City directories are purchased for Hamilton and suburban Hamilton/Burlington and a criss-cross directory is purchased for Hamilton (includes Burlington).


 English language publications are purchased on a five-year cycle to ensure that one current set is available. The Canadian Encyclopedia is available online and earlier print editions are kept in Reference. Subject encyclopedias are purchased in some areas.

Periodical Indexes & Abstracts

Canadian, British and American publications are purchased in relation to courses taught and for general reference. Backfiles are maintained in Reference. The preferred format is electronic.

Style Guides

 Current editions of the style guides used in academic writing are maintained.

Specific Subject Areas

For areas ranked "A" most types of relevant reference sources (Encyclopedias, dictionaries, periodical indexes & abstracts, bibliographies, directories, handbooks, biographical sources) are collected. Lower rankings necessitate more selectivity in the types and quantity of resources selected.

Anthropology (A)

      Emphasis is on social and cultural anthropology with a focus on ethnology and ethnography, medical anthropology and the cross-cultural study of religion.

Art and Art History (C)

      A research collection for use with undergraduate courses in British, European, Asian and North American art and film is maintained. Ancient to modern time periods are covered. The language is primarily English, with some French, German and Italian publications.

Biography (B)

      Major universal and national biographical sources are maintained. Collective biographies are purchased for the reference collection; individual biographies are selected by departmental representatives.

Business (E)

      The Innis Library is the main source of business information but a small collection of business publications including some dictionaries and directories (e.g. Scott's) is available at Mills

Comparative Literature (C)

      A core collection is maintained with an emphasis on European literature for graduate and undergraduate courses. Publications are primarily in English, with some reliance on French and German.

Drama (C)

      The collection features theatre history and criticism for undergraduate programs covering North American, British and European works.

Economics (A)

      Emphasis is on Canadian and American materials in the areas of monetary, international and labour economics.

Education (C)

      Materials are collected to support the Graduate Students Training Program, and to support basic reference work.

English Literature (A)

      British and North American literature is emphasized to serve graduate level courses to the PhD level. The time period covered is from 1600 to the present

Film (C)

      The collection features film history and criticism for undergraduate programs covering North American, British and European works.

Folklore (C)

French Language & Literature (B)

      The emphasis is on language and literature for Canada, France and Africa from the medieval period to the present. Graduate programs at the masters level are supported.

Geography (A)

      Emphasis is on social geography, particularly urban, economic, behavioural studies, medical, applied geography and regional planning. Thode Library collects in the area of physical geography.

Gerontology (C)

      Emphasis is on the social aspects of gerontology.

Hebrew and Sanskrit (E)

      A core collection is maintained to serve undergraduate courses in Religious Studies.

History - Ancient (B)

      Emphasis is on dictionaries and other reference guides to ancient Roman and Greek history.

History - Asia (C)

      Works on Islamic and Arabic countries, South Asia and the Far East, including China and Japan are collected.

History - Canada, Britain, United States and Europe (A)

      Emphasis is on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Canadian urban and regional history is emphasized. Social, political and military topics are stressed for the United States. The focus for Europe is on the major nation states of France, Italy, Germany and Russia as well as the medieval, Renaissance and Reformation periods of Western and Central Europe.

History - Latin America (C)

      The relationship with American history is stressed.

History - Military and Diplomatic (A)

      Emphasis is on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with a particular focus on the periods of the two World Wars. The diplomatic history of Europe and the United States is a secondary focus.

Related Policy - Reference: Military and Naval Science.

Kinesiology (B)

      Emphasis is on both the academic and professional aspects of such subjects as physiology of exercise, biomechanics, sports medicine, motor development and sociology of sport.

Labour Studies (A)

      Emphasis is on Canadian, American and, to a lesser extent British, materials dealing with the history and theory of the labour movement, current labour issues, women and trade unions.

Law (C)

      Statute citators and legal encyclopedias are purchased to supplement official statutes and regulations; Canadian case law series are purchased; law directories and popular guides to legal issues are collected. The emphasis is on providing material for reference work and for undergraduate course assignments.
Related policy - Government Publications.

Linguistics (C)

      Reference works are selected to support an undergraduate program covering the beginning of known language to the present time. There are no language or geographical restrictions.

Military and Naval Science (C)

      Acquisitions are made to support the courses of study relating to military history and warfare, with less emphasis on naval science.

Modern Languages: Italian, Japanese, German, Polish Russian and Spanish (C)

      The emphasis is to support undergraduate courses in language and literature.

Music - 1st Floor (A/B)

      Music Criticism (A) / History of Music; Theory of Music; Music Education (B)

      The main music reference collection is housed in the music area on the 1st floor. It contains encyclopedias, dictionaries, periodical indexes & abstracts, bibliographies, directories, handbooks, biographical sources, song indexes, tune indexes, music title indexes, thematic catalogues and discographies.

Music - 2nd Floor (E)

      The purpose of this collection is to support basic reference work. It contains a subset of the main collection (duplicate titles) and some superceded titles from the main collection.

Philosophy (A)

      Emphasis is on several aspects of western philosophy including empiricism, philosophy of science, eighteenth century philosophy and the philosophy of Bertrand Russell.

Political Science (B)

      Emphasis is on political theory and methodology, Canadian politics, comparative politics, international politics, public policy and administration.

Psychology (A)

      Emphasis is primarily the experimental and theoretical aspects of psychology: social psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, the psychology of aging and personality psychology. The Thode and Health Sciences Libraries collect psychology materials in other areas.

Religious Studies (A)

      Emphasis is on Biblical studies, classical and modern western religious thought and Asian religions.

Sciences (E)

      Very little collecting is done in this area as the Thode and Health Sciences library collect the major reference tools in the sciences. The Mills collection contains materials which are purchased in order to answer questions related to the social sciences and, to a lesser extent, the humanities.

Social Work (B)

      Emphasis is on social policy as it relates to Canada and the U.S; service methods and service delivery and, to a lesser extent, social problems and service activity areas such as aging and the aged, crime and delinquency and family violence.

Sociology (A)

      Several areas of sociology are supported including: class and stratification, deviance, education, family, health care, methodology and theory, political sociology, race and ethnic relations, the sociology of religion, and the sociology of women.

Technology (C)

      Materials are collected on the social aspects of technology and to support the undergraduate multimedia program.

Women's Studies (C)

      The collection reflects the interdisciplinary and multicultural nature of Women's Studies, with emphasis on feminist theory, local women's studies and developing country perspectives (particularly India).


  • Admission Test Study Guides (e.g. LSAT)
  • Biographies of individuals
  • Travel Guides
  • Individual author bibliographies
  • Telephone directories