Reference experts announce 2021 Outstanding Reference Sources List for adults

CHICAGO – The most noteworthy reference titles published in 2020 have been named to the 2021 Outstanding References Sources List, an annual list selected by experts of the Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of ALA. The list was announced Thursday at the Book & Media Awards Virtual Ceremony.

The Outstanding Reference Sources Committee was established in 1958 to recommend the most outstanding reference publications published the previous year for small and medium-sized public and academic libraries. The selected titles are valuable reference resources and are highly recommended for inclusion in any library’s reference collections.

The winners are:

Voting and Political Representation in America: issues and trends

This two-volume encyclopedia set explores many important questions about voting laws and representation, including ideas of the Electoral College and demographic representation. There is a list of all entries to help explore the topics such as certain campaigns, legal cases, and caucuses at the beginning of each volume. Author/Publisher: Mark P. Jones (editor)/ ABC-CLIO

Darfur Genocide: the Essential Reference Guide

This text provides an early excursion into the Darfur Genocide that occurred in Sudan in the early 21st century, illustrating complex and often non-linear paths these events often take. It includes several primary documents, as well as encyclopedic entries on various topics. It also includes a series of perspective essays. Author/Publisher: Alexis Herr (Editor) / ABC-CLIO

Horror Fiction in the 20th Century: Exploring literature’s most chilling genre

This reference splits the 20th century into three time periods to educate readers about the important points and players. In each section, chapters cover different elements of that era, thereby breaking the entire century into bite-sized horror chunks, including authors, countries, and subgenres, for the learner.  Author/Publisher: Jess Nevins / Praeger and imprint of ABC-CLIO

Encyclopedia of the World’s Biomes

This in-depth look at Earth’s biomes provides an important snapshot of how they stand now as well as related science and threats and the outlook for their future. The five volumes cover islands and atolls, mountains, deserts, ice sheets, polar deserts, forests, grasslands, shrublands, freshwater, oceans, and anthromes (human biomes). Author/Publisher: Michael Goldstein Dominick DellaSala / Elsevier

2021 Night Sky Guide: A Month-by-Month Guide to North America’s Skies from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

One of the few safe activities still available during COVID is watching the night sky. This compact guide provides information on using a telescope or binoculars, observing the moon, the planets, eclipses, the Northern Lights, and more. The language here is accessible to teens as well as adults. Author/Publisher: Nicole Mortillaro / Firefly Books

Serving Teens and Adults on the Autism Spectrum: A Guide for Libraries

There is much available to study about the experiences of those with autism, though less on how best to serve them in libraries. This work fills a gap, delving into how to accommodate these patrons in brief interactions, involve them in programming, connect them with services and meaningful work, and more. Author/Publisher: Carrie Rogers-Whitehead / Libraries Unlimited

Racism in America: a reference handbook

This award-winning reference demonstrates the systemic nature of racial discrimination by situating race not as interpersonal prejudice but instead was a sophisticated and planned system. It includes profiles of prominent figures and organizations, history, data, and essays on a variety of topics to deepen the readers’ understanding.  Author/Publisher: Steven L. Foy

Plagues, Pandemics and Viruses: From the Plague of Athens to Covid 19

The COVID pandemic, which has wreaked havoc through the world, is far from the first. These sweeping illnesses have wrecked societies for millenia. Plagues have left their mark on the world, loom from their hiding places, and show our resilience. This text shares that history, from thousands of years ago to today. Author/Publisher: Heather E Quinlan / Visible Ink Press

The American Women’s Almanac: 500 Years of Making History

A woman just got voted into the Vice President’s office, do you know some other hurdles that happened along the way? This book tells those stories, covering from the passage of the XIX Amendment to stories of women both famous and not. Includes pictures and a bibliography. Author/Publisher: Deborah G Felder / Visible Ink Press

From Silence to Sound: Beethoven’s Beginnings

If you’ve heard any classical music, chances are you’ve heard some of Beethoven’s music. He filled his music with drama, and this text takes a new look at it. Including comparing elements to other classical musicians, the book also examines how our brains receive the music. Must read for musicians. Author/Publisher: Jeremy Yudkin / Boydell and Brewer Limited

The Outstanding Reference Sources selection committee consists of Henrietta Verma (Credo Learning Tools, Co-Chair); Valerie Freeman (Johnson & Wales University, Co-Chair); Barbara Ghilardi (Fairfield University); David Greene (Contra Costa County Library)

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Learn more at

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