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MEERL Program Library Guide

Research & Instruction Librarian

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Maggie Gordon
Douglas Library
Room 520
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Introduction to Reference Materials

Reference works are a great place to start your research as they provide quick, authoritative introductions to a topic. Common reference works include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, atlases, almanacs, and style manuals, and contain useful information such as descriptions, definitions, statistics, lists, quotes, properties, and standards.

Information from reference works is commonly used in the following two ways: 

  1. Context: If you want to know more about a topic that you are researching, or even a topic that is completely new to you, you can use a reference book. For example, if you use Wikipedia to look up general information about a topic or event, you are using Wikipedia as a reference tool. However, Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, so it is not necessarily the most authoritative or trustworthy source of information. The reference sources from the library have already been vetted for authority and quality so you know that the information contained within them is high-quality.

  2. Supporting Arguments: Reference materials can be used to support facts or other arguments that you make in a paper or assignment. Again, this information may be available on the web, but you would have to do some additional work to ensure that the source is reliable, whereas the reference materials in the library have already been vetted. 

Many of the library's reference materials are available online, so you can access them from anywhere and easily search for the information you need. We also have print materials in the Reference Section on the 5th Level of Douglas Library. If you have any questions about using reference materials, or would like a librarian to help you find the best sources, choose the "book a consultation" link on the left. 

Start Searching

Some examples of relevant reference items in Knovel include:

  • Environmental Analysis Laboratory Handbook
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Handbook: A Practical Guide for Planners, Developers, and Communities (3rd Edition)
  • Handbook of Research on Resource Management for Pollution and Waste Treatment
  • Industrial Environmental Management - Engineering, Science, and Policy
  • Predicting, Monitoring, and Assessing Forest Fire Dangers and Risks
  • Rain Loads - Guide to the Rain Load Provisions of ASCE 7-16

To start browsing in Knovel, refine the subject area by "Environment and Environmental Engineering," and then further refine by topic. You can also search Knovel by keyword using the search bar at the top of the screen. 

Some examples of Oxford Reference resources include:

  • A Dictionary of Energy Science
  • A Dictionary of Environment and Conservation
  • Encyclopedia of Global Change
  • The Oxford Companion to Global Change
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Agriculture and the Environment
  • The Oxford Companion to Global Change
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia Agriculture and the Environment
  • A Supplementary Dictionary of Renewable Energy and Sustainability
  • A Dictionary of Weather

To start browsing in Oxford Reference Online, refine the subject area by:
   +Science and technology
      +Environmental Studies AND/OR
      +Earth Sciences and Geography

Alternatively, you can use the search bar in Oxford Reference Online to look up definitions, overviews, and timelines of important concepts, methodologies, and theories. 

Some examples of Sage Online Reference resources include: 

  • Green Energy: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Politics: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Business: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Consumerism: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Cities: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Ethics and Philosophy: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Culture: An A-Z Guide
  • Green Issues and Debates: An A-Z Guide

You can browse by discipline, "Geography, Earth & Environmental Science," in Sage Online Reference or use the search bar at the top of the screen to keyword search. 

To start browsing in Wiley Online Library, choose the subject area "Earth, Space & Environmental Sciences" and then refine further depending on your topic or sub-topics. Once in your sub-topic, you can apply the filter "Reference Materials" on the left-hand side. Likewise, you can keyword search or use the advanced search function. 


Use Omni to search the library's catalogue for books, articles, videos, maps, government documents, music, data sets, open access materials, and more. You can discover materials that are not available at Queen's but that you can freely request either within Omni or through interlibrary loan.