Reference Collection Management Policy

A. Purpose

The purpose of the general Reference Collection is to provide resources for answering reference questions posed by Library clientele at the University of Northern Iowa. The Reference Collection supports study, teaching, and research by University students, faculty, and staff. Secondarily, it may be used by other students, citizens, and organizations.

The International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science (Routledge, 2003) defines a reference source (print, electronic, or other media) as a resource "designed to be consulted for bits of information rather than to be read consecutively." A further test suggested by Bill Katz is whether the material is consistently useful for answering reference questions. The Library uses these definitions in selecting and deselecting materials for the Reference Collection.

The UNI general Reference Collection is the primary source of reference information for Rod Library. The Reference & Instructional Services (RIS) Department manages the Collection which includes the print reference book collection on the Library's main floor and reference materials located at the Reference Desk and the MultiService Center Desk. In addition, RIS is also responsible for the selection of electronic databases (Internet and CD-ROM) which serve indexing/abstracting or reference purposes and the print Index & Abstract collections.

The Reference Collection includes all classifications of the Library of Congress schedule, although most of the reference materials classified M and N are located in the Fine & Performing Arts Reference Collection, and other special materials are located with other special collections. Print, online, and electronic information is represented. Some of the microforms related to the Reference Collection, e.g., the statistical data that goes with American Public Opinion Index, are housed in the Reference area. Some Reference books come with attached CD-ROMs. These CD-ROMs are housed in the Reference Desk Cabinet. Reference items do not circulate outside the Library except by special authorization, and then for a limited time only.

Space on the Reference shelves is limited, therefore consistent weeding by RIS librarians is needed to maintain a stable level. With a few exceptions, the Reference Collection does not duplicate materials located elsewhere in the Library.

Related Collections in the Library

In Rod Library, atlases and related works are located in the Documents & Maps area; the Fine & Performing Arts Collection provides specific reference titles on art, music, and related fields; reference titles characteristically found in school libraries and those useful to adults studying children's literature are located in the Youth Collection; and Special Collections & University Archives hold resources specific to the University, including the University Archives, as well as a fiction collection, a linguistics collection, and other valuable materials. Some titles in these Collections are duplicated in Reference. Some Reference materials, for example style guides and the UNI Budget, are located at the MultiService Center, and RIS librarians are involved in collection decision making for these materials.
Other University Resources

There are a number of additional resources available at the University of Northern Iowa. The IRTS (Instructional Resources and Technology) curriculum laboratory, part of the College of Education, contains elementary and secondary school textbooks, curriculum guides, activity books and materials, software, professional monographs and reference titles, selected education journals, and a collection of standardized tests; Placement and Career Services has a collection of career related resources; the Departments of Earth Science and Geography maintain map collections for classroom use; and many departments provide student rooms equipped with reading materials and copies of professional journals. The video and film collection, formerly maintained by ITS (Information Technology Services), was transferred to Rod Library in late spring 1999. The campus as a whole is connected via Internet to national and international resources.

B. Organization and Procedures

The Reference Collection Coordinator, who is one of the RIS librarians, facilitates the selection and deselection of materials. After consultation, topics are assigned by the Coordinator to each of the RIS librarians who then assume responsibility for decision making in their areas. A dollar amount per title below which librarians place orders directly is set annually after group discussion. Materials more costly than the designated amount are decided upon by group discussion. All titles recommended for purchase are submitted to the Reference Collection Coordinator who in turn submits them to Collection Management for processing. Titles recommended for purchase can also be placed in an electronic file within YBP’s GOBI system. The Reference Collection Coordinator will review that file and then submit the orders electronically.

Bibliographers in the RIS Department circulate and mark copies of selection magazines, including all issues of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist. Catalogs and publishers' announcements are routed by the Coordinator, and Choice cards are distributed to individuals according to their assigned areas. In addition, American Reference Books Annual is received on standing order and bibliographers are encouraged to review appropriate sections. All Reference titles marked will be placed into the GOBI electronic Reference file for possible future ordering. The Reference Collection Coordinator will also periodically download new Reference titles from GOBI into the electronic Reference file.

The Reference Collection Coordinator is also responsible for reviewing new books in the Cataloging Department and identifying incoming purchases that would be desirable additions to the Reference Collection.

Decisions on the acquisition or cancellation of electronic databases (indexes/abstracts, reference sources) are usually made by group consensus.

C. Collection Guidelines

1. Scope of Coverage

The Reference Collection is composed of materials in all subject areas. Sufficient depth is generally provided to support UNI’s bachelors’ and masters' degree programs. Current materials are selected in preference to older resources with the exception of reprints to fill gaps in the Collection or to accommodate changes in the curriculum or in current research. In general, priority is given to Reference materials written in the English language.

Decisions to retain, withdraw, or transfer prior editions are made on a case-by-case basis. In general, the most recent editions of many annual publications are shelved in Reference and older editions are transferred to the Stacks or other Rod Library collections (e.g., Encyclopaedia Britannica). Titles of cumulative interest are retained entirely in Reference (e.g., Statistical Abstract of the United States). In other cases, the superseded volume is withdrawn from Reference. Policies for individual titles appear on the UNISTAR order record.

When there is a choice of binding, materials that will be retained for a number of years are ordered with hard covers. To meet cost efficiencies, paper bound books are frequently ordered. Volumes that will be used for a limited time are shelved without rebinding. Those expected to become permanent holdings usually are sent to the bindery for addition of a hard cover. Active loose-leaf services and notebook editions are also collected, as, for example, in the area of law.

2. Electronic Resources

Rod Library subscribes to about 200 electronic databases, covering a wide variety of subject areas. Most are indexes/abstracts; many also include full text of journal/magazine articles. RIS librarians are responsible for selecting electronic index/abstract and reference databases. This collection was greatly expanded during the last years, due in part to additional computer fee monies. Continued subscription to electronic databases must be re-evaluated during times of stagnant or reduced funding.

Regarding the duplication between print and electronic indexes/abstracts, the print subscription was usually canceled with the beginning of an electronic subscription, and the print backfile was in many cases withdrawn. A duplication of print and electronic versions of certain Reference sources is sometimes needed for efficient day to day Reference service (examples: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Statistical Abstract of the United States).

3. Types of Materials

Almanacs, annuals, and yearbooks
Current editions of major almanacs, annuals, and yearbooks are collected selectively for the United States and larger foreign countries. Many general and subject almanacs, such as World Almanac, are received on standing order. Current editions are kept in Reference and earlier editions are moved to the Stacks. More specialized topical almanacs are obtained in alternate years, or at less frequent intervals as appropriate, with the most recent edition shelved in Reference and previous editions in the Stacks.

Some annuals and yearbooks, e.g., State of the World, are obtained on standing order and only current volumes are kept in Reference. Many encyclopedic annuals are also on standing order but backsets remain in the Reference Collection. For other titles, location is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Yearbooks that are affiliated with encyclopedias are obtained on standing order and remain in Reference until the encyclopedia is revised. When the updated encyclopedia is added to the Reference Collection, the yearbooks are transferred to the Stacks.

Annual Reviews

Monographic annual reviews of developments and research in individual disciplines are generally kept in the Stacks. There are a few exceptions, such as Review of Research in Education which is shelved in Reference. The Library also has an online subscription to
Annual Reviews Atlases

In general, atlases are purchased with Documents & Maps funds, and the most recent editions of atlases are housed in the Documents & Maps Collection. The Map Reference Collection contains a representative collection of major comprehensive geographic and thematic world atlases including national atlases for all areas of the world and regional atlases for Iowa and nearby areas. In some cases, it might be decided that an atlas be housed in the Reference Collection, if it is of a size to fit into that collection, and if, for example, it contains a substantial amount of text and/or is similar to a reference book. One copy of a road atlas and one copy of a world atlas are housed on the Reference Desk shelves for Ready Reference purposes. A decision is made on a case by case basis whether a subject atlas will be housed in Documents & Maps, in Reference, or in Stacks.

The Documents & Maps Librarian, the Reference Collection Coordinator, and the appropriate Stacks Bibliographer will come to an agreement on these cases.


General subject bibliographies on broad topics which support the University curricula are in the Reference Collection. Specific subject bibliographies are in the Stacks. The distinction is often difficult to determine and is often decided by the subject bibliographer. Some bibliographies which function like indexes or abstracts are housed in the Index & Abstract Collection. In general, there has been a trend in recent years to reduce the acquisition of bibliographies and to place most of those purchased in Stacks.

The print National Union Catalog has been moved to the Stacks to free up space in the Reference Collection.


Biographical encyclopedias, dictionaries, and serial publications containing information about contemporary and historical figures are purchased for the Reference Collection. Reference acquires major universal works; major national works for the United States and other significant countries; and current biographical works (who's who types) for the United States, selected regions in the United States, and other significant countries or world regions. Specialized compilations including those about individuals in particular occupations or particular groups (such as women or African-Americans) are purchased on a more selective basis. Biographies of individuals are not purchased for the Reference Collection. Biographical material in English is preferred. Earlier editions are retained in Reference if they are useful for historical purposes. Rod Library also maintains an online subscription to Biography & Genealogy Master Index and to Biography Resource Center.


The Reference Collection contains very few concordances. Concordances are added as need dictates. Types of concordances which are added include concordances to major writers such as Shakespeare and concordances to sacred writings.

Corporate Annual Reports

The RIS Department maintains a Corporate Annual Reports vertical file. This file contains print copies of the most recent annual reports of the Fortune 100 companies and twenty additional Iowa companies that are not on the Fortune 100 list.  Additional corporate annual reports are included in the Mergent Online database.

Dictionaries and Thesauri

An attempt is made to collect all important English language dictionaries including works covering etymology, idioms, and slang. Rod Library also maintains a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary online. A good collection of English language thesauri and collegiate desk dictionaries is maintained for ready reference use. Some of the desk dictionaries are located on the dictionary stands throughout the library.

Bilingual, monolingual, and polyglot dictionaries are collected for all foreign languages taught at UNI (Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese). Bilingual dictionaries are acquired for as many other foreign languages as needed to support research or instruction, or to meet the needs of international students or faculty. In general, Reference only acquires English-foreign language dictionaries and avoids purchasing foreign-to-foreign language dictionaries (e.g. Spanish-French).

A variety of current, authoritative subject terminology dictionaries are maintained for all fields of instruction (e.g., social sciences, sciences, humanities, education, technology).
Except for some historical dictionaries, only the most current editions of dictionaries and thesauri are kept in the Reference Collection. Superseded editions and many older works are kept in the Stacks.


The Reference Collection includes a collection of directories in various subject areas in order to meet the demand for addresses, names, telephone numbers, and referral contacts.

Reference collects directories in categories including the following:

1. Companies--state, national, international, industry, trade, etc.
2. Organizations
3. Governmental bodies
4. Educational--schools, colleges, etc.
City directories are collected only for Waterloo and Cedar Falls, however.

In most cases only the latest edition of a directory is kept in the Reference Collection. Retention of earlier editions in Reference, or in the Stacks, is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Some directories are also available through online databases to which the Library subscribes or they are available publicly on the Internet without a charge. The Library maintains a subscription to Reference USA, a residential and business telephone directory.


The Reference Collection includes many of the major general encyclopedias, such as Britannica and Americana. These sets are kept up to date through a three year rotation purchasing schedule which insures currency. Superseded editions are transferred to other locations within the Library or are withdrawn. Rod Library also subscribes to Britannica Online. The Collection also features general encyclopedias in Russian, Spanish, Italian, French, and German.

The Collection has specialized encyclopedias on many subjects. These one or multi-volume sets are selected on the basis of perceived need, strong reviews, and available funds. Responsibility for maintaining and weeding such titles falls to the appropriate RIS subject bibliographers.

Gazetteers and Place Name Dictionaries

Major, authoritative gazetteers and place name dictionaries for the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and the world at large are purchased for the Reference Collection. Gazetteers and place name dictionaries for Iowa are purchased as well. Coverage of both contemporary and historical place names is sought. Earlier editions of gazetteers and place name dictionaries are retained in Reference if they are useful for historical purposes.

Government Documents

The Library is a selective U.S. and full Iowa state documents depository. Most of the federal publications are housed in the Documents & Maps area as are microforms published by the State of Iowa. State documents in paper format are generally located in Reference or Stacks. The decision to add federal or state government publications to the Reference Collection is limited to those materials of significant reference value (usually latest edition only). Government publications for states other than Iowa are acquired only when of significant reference value. Many federal and state documents are now available on the Internet.

Reference also collects key publications from various types of international bodies, such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Some of these international documents are also available on the Internet.

Guidebooks to Natural History Resources

Current and authoritative guidebooks which identify and give the distribution of natural resources are in the Reference Collection. Materials to support the University curriculum, faculty research, and general interest in specific species and their locations are selected for Reference. Most materials designed for use in the field are located in the Stacks.

Handbooks, Manuals, and Companions

Reference maintains a selective collection of current and authoritative handbooks, manuals, and companions in most subject areas. Included are the major works of this type which present essential information for practitioners of and researchers in the discipline. Those that are more specialized may be acquired for Stacks rather than for Reference.
Indexes and Abstracts

Rod Library supports subscriptions to a large number of electronic (online) indexes and abstracts. Basic, general index/abstract databases include Academic OneFile, Academic Search Elite, and Readers Guide. Subject specific databases include ERIC, PsycInfo, and ABI/Inform. Many of these databases include the full text of some or all of the articles indexed in that database. Access to these databases is provided from the Library’s home page.

Rod Library still subscribes to some print indexes/abstracts because of cost savings (e.g., Social Sciences Citation Index). These are housed in the Index/Abstract Area.
Legal Material

Although a law degree is not offered by the University, several academic disciplines offer courses and pursue research that require the use of legal materials. Among the disciplines using these materials are business, education, political science, mass communications, history, and social work. To support the curriculum and research, authoritative compilations of the laws of the United States and the State of Iowa are collected. Included are case decisions of the appellate courts, legislation, and administrative rulings. Authoritative legal compilations for states other than Iowa or countries other than the United States are not collected in print, although some legal services in areas of special interest, e.g., school, environmental, and labor law, include materials for all states. Rod Library currently subscribes to Lexis/Nexis via the Internet. This services provides comprehensive access to legislation and case law at the federal and state levels, covering all states. Municipal ordinances for the cities of Cedar Falls and Waterloo are collected and kept current.

Selective general reference materials to support legal research are collected, including legal encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, digests, citators, indexes, and legal research guides. Specialized codes, such as building and fire codes, are selected as needed. Loose-leaf legal services are collected very selectively and only for subjects of consistently high use. Currently received loose-leaf services are shelved in Reference.

Most treatises and hornbooks are in the general circulating collection rather than in Reference. All but the most frequently used case reporters are shelved in the Stacks because of their large physical volume and rapid growth rate. Some materials published by the Federal government, such as U.S. Statutes at Large, the Code of Federal Regulations, and the rulings and decisions of specialized agencies, are housed in the Reference Collection.

Literary Criticism and Plot Summaries

Reference maintains a fairly comprehensive collection of criticism of world literature, with emphasis on literature written in the English language. The preferred language for works of literary criticism is English. Standing orders have been established for Gale's Literary Criticism series and Dictionary of Literary Biography, for Magill's Critical Survey of... series, as well as for other similar works.

A good collection of world literature plot summaries also is maintained. The library collects the Magill Masterplots series. A set of Cliff's Notes is available at the MultiService Center Desk.

Microforms and Printed Guides to Microforms

Printed or electronic reference materials generally are preferred except under some circumstances that make microform desirable. Those circumstances include, but are not limited to, the availability of shelving space, cost considerations, and theft and mutilation considerations. The availability of extensive microform collections that otherwise would be expensive and difficult to assemble is an important consideration also. Specific publications that are consulted frequently, such as heavily used indexes and directories, are collected in electronic or print formats.

Typical reference resources, such as directories and dictionaries, that are acquired on microfiche are shelved in a cabinet near the Reference Desk. Large collections of materials in microform, such as ERIC documents, are shelved in the general microforms collection.

Guides that list the availability of materials in microformat or which list library holdings of various publications in microformat are collected as needed for research and collection building.

Quotations and Proverbs

Current editions of English-language dictionaries of quotations and proverbs which provide a variety of access points to the statements are purchased for the Reference Collection. Specialized quotation or proverb books, including those focusing on a particular subject (such as politics or religion) or those containing statements made by individuals from particular populations (such as women or African-Americans), are acquired on a more selective basis. Foreign-language or polyglot dictionaries of quotations or proverbs are acquired on a highly selective basis. Previous editions of key quotation books (such as those by Bartlett) are retained in Reference.

Research Guides

Current guides for conducting research in academic disciplines are located in the Reference Collection. This includes sources of both reference material and the literature of the subject. Guides covering singular or highly specific topics are located in the Stacks.
A selected assortment of basic tools for genealogical research are also part of the Reference Collection.

Sacred Books

The only sacred book presently in the Reference Collection is the Bible, of which several of the major translations are represented. Sacred books of other religious traditions may be located in Stacks. They could be located in Reference if necessary, though the patterns of reference inquiry have not yet indicated such a need.

Statistical Sources

The Collection includes a wide variety of current and historical statistical documents published by various organizations in areas of general interest as well as specialized areas tied to the curriculum and known research interests. Reference attempts to collect major comprehensive statistical compendia for most states, major regions of the world, and larger countries and countries of particular local interest. In most cases, only the latest editions of statistical yearbooks are kept in the Reference Collection and earlier editions are transferred to the Stacks. 

Style Manuals

The Reference Collection contains an extensive collection of style manuals, including titles by USGPO, Associated Press, UPI, Websters, University of Chicago, New York Times, MLA, McGraw-Hill, American Medical Association, American Institute of Physics, and Council of Biology Editors. The Reference Collection also holds The Bluebook (for citing legal materials) (Reference Desk Cabinet) and the Complete Guide to Citing Government Documents (Reference). Copies of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association are located in the Reference Desk Cabinet and at the Reserve Desk.

Wherever it is deemed necessary, the library owns duplicate copies of style manuals. Thus, Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers are located at the Reference Desk Cabinet and at Reserve.

Telephone Directories

The Library maintains a subscription to the electronic database Reference USA, a directory of business and residential telephone numbers in the United States. In addition, a collection of print telephone directories is maintained. This collection covers selected cities in Iowa and a small selection of major cities in surrounding states.

Travel Sources

Travel guidebooks and directories are selected for the Reference Collection both to meet the general travel needs of the University community and to provide geographical, economic, and other descriptive information useful to researchers. The Reference Collection does not include personal narratives or strictly pictorial works. Major guidebooks are purchased for states or regions in the U.S. as well as other countries and world regions. Travel books for the United States, Canada, and Great Britain are collected in greater depth. Specialized travel guides for the United States are purchased including hotel and motel guides, bed and breakfast directories, campground directories, and directories of special attractions (such as skiing facilities). Travel guidebooks for types of travelers, such as disabled individuals, are acquired as well.

Fodor's guides to most foreign countries or world regions are received through standing order on an every two-to-three-year basis. Guides to states and major cities in the United States are acquired.

D. ALA Collecting Level Codes

Generally, Reference 3b.

E. Strengths and Weaknesses of Collection

The Reference Collection adequately provides resources in all fields of knowledge to meet general information requirements and to support the curriculum and research needs of the University. Its strengths are in providing collections to generally support the curricula for education and business as well as a traditional liberal arts program. In recent years Rod Library has been able to greatly expand and enhance access to online databases and full text journal articles.

The weaknesses of the collection are most evident in specialized subject areas, especially in technology and the sciences. The collection lacks some very specialized and generally expensive resources used for in-depth research as well as resources published in countries other than the United States. The currency of information in some areas is of some concern. Researchers generally want the most up-to-date information available, yet the library may not be able to afford every new edition or the supplements issued between editions. Due to stagnant and reduced funding, the library has only a limited number of subscriptions to electronic (online) Reference sources. An expansion in this area is sorely needed to keep up with 21st century information demands.

Reference & Instructional Services Department

June 1992 (gq), rev. March 2000 (ba), rev May 2003 (ba, jm), rev. July 2009 (ba)

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