Reference collection development policy

Last updated: July 1, 2009


Reference works are publications that are referred to or consulted briefly, rather than read in their entirety. There are two main types:

  • Informational: e.g., almanacs, yearbooks, atlases, dictionaries/encyclopaedias, directories, handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • Bibliographical: e.g., bibliographies, indexes and abstracts, library catalogues


  • The Library maintains a core collection of standard academic reference sources.
  • Specialized reference resources may be collected to support advanced research.
  • Many non-core, peripheral or narrowly focussed books that would have been placed traditionally in Reference may go directly into the circulating collection.


  • Collections librarians are responsible for identifying core items in their areas of subject responsibility and maintaining these areas.
  • Collections librarians are responsible for overall management and recommendations for purchase of general reference sources to the Information Resources Committee.

Relationship with other TUG libraries

  • This policy adheres to the TUG Annex Last-Copy Agreement.
  • When selecting reference books, especially specialized sources, librarians should also take into account the holdings of the other TUG libraries. For some materials a common policy of one-copy only is desirable (e.g., union catalogues, pre-1956 imprints).
  • Laurier Library's policy of lending reference works to its TUG partners is permissive, although requests for such items are decided on a case-by-case basis. Laurier will encourage the same approach for Guelph and Waterloo. Collections librarians will be asked to decide such requests.


  • Reference works are acquired in print and/or electronic formats.
  • This policy recognizes the changing patterns of library use, whereby users often prefer to work remotely rather than near print reference tools. Therefore, the print reference collection should be a smaller entity of basic core materials for quick reference or of sets that are large (in size or in number of volumes) and don’t lend themselves easily to circulation.
  • Preference is made to purchase electronic formats of bibliographical sources, when available.
  • In the case of multiple formats of reference works, electronic ones with perpetual ownership are preferred to their print equivalents.
  • Reference works in print format are normally non-circulating, since any one user should not need them for long periods of time, and other users are deprived of access to the same or different information found in them.
  • Print Reference works need not necessarily be shelved in a single location. Parts of the collection may be split off as distinct entities – e.g. book review indexes, biography, music – and be located elsewhere. Particularly low-use sections might be relocated, if space constraints dictate, without undue confusion to the end user.

Guidelines for choosing print versus electronic formats

Many reference sources are now offered in both print and electronic formats. The following guidelines should be considered when deciding which format to purchase:

Potential use

  • audience - general vs. specific interest; core item vs. narrowly specialized one; anticipated numbers of potential users
  • convenience to the user – usability of electronic interfaces vs. print as to material content
  • searchability of print versus electronic
  • Is this a tool that can be used by librarians for chat reference or by multiple Laurier libraries
  • limits on simultaneous users
  • ability to print or download vs. photocopying


  • are the two formats identical in content
  • coverage (many electronic resources contain most recent information only)
  • online automatic updating versus purchasing revisions of print editions
  • duplication of information (overlapping coverage by similar publications)

Cost and ownership

  • online subscription access that may be lost if not renewed vs. perpetual ownership of print and some electronic resources
  • one-time versus ongoing costs
  • physical space considerations

Print review and weeding criteria

Criteria considered in making retention decisions for print reference works will vary according to discipline, but should include:

  • Significance of the work
  • Age and currency
  • Availability of later editions
  • Physical condition of the item
  • Duplication of content in other works
  • Past and anticipated use
  • Relevance to campus teaching and research
  • Completeness of holdings, if a set or run
  • Availability in other formats (e.g. electronic)
  • Accuracy of information
  • Availability in other TUG locations (Universities of Guelph or Waterloo, Annex)

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