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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 200C: Queer Sexualities

Introduces history majors to basic research library concepts, both for use in this course and in preparation for History 498. Provides both a broad overview of the source types collected by research libraries, as well as lists of specific sources relevant

What are Reference Sources?

As explained previously, 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 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—that's over 24 million potential primary sources for your research. Reference sources are your map to the Library's collections.


Encyclopedias attempt to summarize, as concisely as possible, the state of knowledge in a field of inquiry. Use encyclopedias to find background information on your topic, and to familiarize yourself with what is already known on the topic. A good encyclopedia can be a valuable starting point for your research, and often contains recommendations for additional reading.

Three online reference collections that students often find useful are:

Below is a list of encyclopedias relevant to research for this course:

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.

Bookseller's Catalogs

Booksellers' catalogs, of course, technically belong with the bibliographies and catalogs listed above, but I wanted to draw special attention to these interesting sources. While booksellers' catalogs have long been recognized as an important primary source by historians of early modern Europe, they are less commonly used by historians of the modern world. 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 catalogs 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

The following are not technically a bookseller's catalog, but intended for book collectors, and include information one is likely to find in nineteenth century booksellers' catalogs, such as format (e.g. quarto, octavo, duodecimo) and price, or else they take as part of their subject the trade in erotic books, and therefore focus in part on booksellers.

Readers' Advisory Guides

As with the booksellers' catalogs, I'm listing these readers' advisory guides separately just to draw special attention to them. 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.

Biographical Information

The most common reference sources for biographical information are biographical encyclopedias, and directories. Use the Library Catalog to find book-length biographies of individuals.

Almanacs and Chronologies

Listed here are sources of factual information, which can include almanacs, chronologies, factbooks, statistical compendia, and directories (directories that include personal information are included in the above section on biographies; directories listing places and businesses are listed separately below). 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.


Directories supply factual information, usually presented briefly, about people, places, or organizations. The directories listed in this section are primarily directories of places and organizations.

Public Opinion


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.