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American Women: Resources from the General Collections

Reference Collections

Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Reading room of the Library of Congress's historic Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. [between 1980 and 2006]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Each Research Center at the Library of Congress allows researchers to request materials from the General Collections and has its own ready reference collection. These accessible collections contain works such as bibliographies, encyclopedias, biographical sources, dictionaries, and handbooks. An advantage to a reference collection is that you can go to the shelf in the reading room and retrieve works from it yourself.  These materials will help the researcher:

  • lead to other materials in the stacks
  • give background information
  • answer quick reference questions

The fifty-five-thousand-volume Main Reading Room Reference Collection contains numerous works to assist researchers of American women's history, and other research centers also hold volumes related to this subject. For women scientists or women-owned businesses, explore the reference collection in the Science and Business Reading Room; or for ship passenger lists go to the Local History and Genealogy resources in the Main Reading Room.  Duplicate copies of reference works are often held by specialized reading rooms (e.g., Music, Prints & Photographs, or Law)—for example, some books on women composers, photographers, or lawyers—are also shelved in the Main Reading Room. 

To determine whether a title is in a reference collection, examine the complete record in the online catalog.