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Information Sources: Books

This guide will assist you in choosing the best sources for your information needs.


The Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) is a member of the Novanet consortium. NSCC students, faculty and staff can borrow books, ebooks, and DVDs from the 13 NSCC campus libraries, as well as 10 university libraries located across Nova Scotia. This service is free and materials usually arrive within three business days.  Access to the Novanet catalogue is located under the Books, eBooks, and more tab on the library website. Typically, libraries do not lend their reference materials. Check with your campus library staff for more information.

Monographs (Scholarly Books)

Definition: Monographs contain scholarly research on a topic. They may address a whole subject rather than just a piece of it. They are especially important in the humanities.

CurrencyInformation may be two or three years old. Look for the most recent reference cited in the bibliography. This will give you an idea when the author(s) were researching and writing. Experimental/observational data that the author(s) gathered may be a year or two older than that.

Where to Find: Monographs are primarily available through academic libraries. Some are available in print, and some are e-books.

(SUNY Empire State College, 2017)

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

There are three types of sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  It is important to understand these types and to know what type is appropriate for your coursework prior to searching for information.

Primary sources

Primary sources are original documents that were created during the studied period of time. They vary a lot from one field of study to another:

  • Humanities: birth or death registries, censuses, correspondences, historic treaties, interviews, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, notarial acts, novels, paintings, period artifacts, photographs, poems, sculptures, statistics, surveys, testimonies, videos, etc.
  • Sciences: articles or theses detailing an original study, case notes or observations, clinical exams, conferences, experimental protocols, industrial drawings, lab notes, patents, the periodic table, raw data sets or results, technical reports or forms, etc.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources (also called academic sources or scientific sources) are analytical documents that interpret primary sources. Among other things, they include books, electronic resources, memoirs, monographs, peer-reviewed articles, and theses.

Peer-reviewed publications are more reliable than Internet sources (especially when they do not have authors). In fact, Internet sources should be avoided, except for government websites, websites of reputable associations or websites approved by the instructor.

Tertiary sources

Tertiary sources are descriptive documents that compile or index primary and secondary sources. Among other things, they include bibliographies, encyclopaedic articles, indexes and registers, library catalogues, and specialized databases. Generally speaking, tertiary sources aid in the identification of sources rather than the evaluation of their content. (University of Ottawa, 2016)

Reference Materials

Definition: Reference materials such as encyclopedias, handbooks, dictionaries and almanacs contain a summary and synthesis of what is known about a topic. Materials to be referred to; for example, facts and figures, dates, names, measurements, statistics, quotations, instructions, equations, formulae, definitions, explanations, charts, graphs, diagrams, maps. 

Currency: Print reference resources often have annual updates, so the information in them should be only about a year old. Online reference resources may be updated continuously. Many statistical resources have older data because it takes a long time to organize it all. Historical resources summarize and synthesize established knowledge, rather than keeping up with the newest findings. The important thing is that reference resources usually tell you how old their information is. 

Where to Find: Traditionally, reference resources are available as books or series of books. They can be found in the reference sections of public and academic libraries. Not all print reference sources are books; for example, there are also maps. More and more reference resources are available in online format, and as they go online, they become less and less linear, taking advantage of the ability to link and include multimedia. Online reference resources are available through specialized library databases, and there are also many of them on the web.

(SUNY Empire State College, 2017)

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Suffolk County Community College Library. (2012, June 5). Primary, secondary, & tertiary sources [Video file]. Retrieved from