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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498C: A Queer United States

A guide to library sources for your research paper. Also reviews some basic library research concepts that should have been covered in your History 200 course.

What are Reference Sources?

Libraries collect and preserve the graphic records of human experience.1 However, not every experience is documented, and not every documented experience is collected and preserved, and you can easily imagine how much more this is true of groups that have been historically persecuted. How, then, can you know what part of the historical record remains for you to study? Reference sources are your map to the graphic records of human experience.

Even if every human experience hasn't been documented, and every document hasn't been preserved, there remains a plethora of sources available for the historian to study. Here at the University of Illinois Library, you have access to over 14 million printed books, 9 million microforms, 120,000 periodicals, 148,000 sound recordings, 1 million audiovisual resources, 280,000 e-books, 29,000 cubic feet of archival records, 3 terabytes of electronic records, and 650,000 maps—over 24 million sources.


Encyclopedias attempt to summarize the state of knowledge in a field of inquiry. A good encyclopedia can be a valuable starting point for your research.

Three online reference collections that students often find useful are:

Bibliographies, Catalogs, and Guides

A bibliography is, in its most literal sense, a list of books. Many students are familiar with bibliographies from writing research papers, where a list of works cited is sometimes called a bibliography. In libraries, bibliographies serve an additional, important function in helping patrons identify books, journal articles, and other library resources. These bibliographies are usually centered on sources about a particular subject, and are often book-length themselves. Some bibliographies run to several volumes. For more information on bibliographies, please see our guide to Bibliography and Historical Research:

A catalog is similar to a bibliography with the difference being that a catalog lists books and other resources available for use or purchase at a specific place, or from a specific person or organization. Examples are library catalogs, catalogs of private collections, and booksellers' catalogs. Some libraries focus on collecting in a specific subject or for specific patrons, and even if you cannot borrow from those libraries you can use their catalogs to identify sources.

Additional bibliographies, catalogs, and guides:

Bookseller's Catalogs

Booksellers' catalogs have long been recognized as an important primary source by historians of early modern Europe, but are less commonly used by historians of modern America. They are valuable as sources in the history of reading, collecting, and print culture in general. They are also useful for identifying primary sources (the books listed in them being potential sources of evidence to the historian).2

Other famous gay and lesbian bookstores that issued catalogues include Elysian Fields in Elmhurst (New York), A Different Light in Los Angeles, Chosen Books in Detroit, and Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in New York.3

Readers' Advisory Guides

Readers' advisory is a traditional library service (originating in the nineteenth-century), the purpose of which is to assist library patrons with choosing "the best books suited to their interests, needs, and reading level."4 The service often focuses on areas flooded with a mixture of reliable and unreliable information. In the case of patrons seeking information about homosexuality, or fictional works thematizing homosexuality, librarians were also responding to a need for literature that treated homosexuality as something other than a mental illness or a moral abomination.

As with the booksellers' catalogs, therefore, readers' advisory guides were produced in response to the problem of getting information and reading matter to LGBTQ readers. In the case of readers' advisory guides, they were usually created by librarians for other librarians to use in working with patrons.


Almanacs and Chronologies

Listed here are sources of factual information, which can include almanacs, chronologies, factbooks, statistical compendia, and directories. Directories especially can be interesting as historical sources as they tend to be published serially (usually annually), and therefore provide a snapshot of the world during the year covered.


Public Opinion Polls


1. Jesse H. Shera, The Foundations of Education for Librarianship (New York: Becker and Hayes, 1972), 193.

2. David McKitterick, "Book Catalogues: Their Varieties and Uses," in The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth Century Bibliography, ed. Peter Davison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 161-175.

3. Wayne R. Dynes, Homosexuality: A Research Guide (New York: Garland, 1987), 3.

4. Charles A. Bunge and Richard E. Bopp, "History and Varieties of Reference Services," in Reference and Information Services: An Introduction, 3rd ed., ed. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith (Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2001), 12.