Reference Blog Entries

Happy Birthday OED!

Laura's picture

A certain member of the Reference Department turned 159 years old last week. No, it’s not one of the staff. It is the Oxford English Dictionary, familiarly known as the OED.  Volumes III through IX of the Oxford English Dictionary; dark blue bindings with gold lettering

The OED is well-known to authors, crossword puzzle fans, librarians, and college English majors. The second edition (1989) has been on our reference shelves for many years and feels almost like a member of the staff. 

If you are not a wordsmith you may never come into contact with it, however, a new movie is in production starring Sean Penn as one of the OED's major contributors and Mel Gibson as the editor of the first edition, Sir James A. H. Murray.  

The OED was formally proposed to members of the Philological Society of London on November 5, 1857. Those who made the proposal estimated that it would contain 6,400 words in four volumes and take ten years to complete. They underestimated. It took a team of hundreds of people studying words from any and all English-speaking countries forty years of work to produce the massive dictionary. It has approximately 600,000 words and 3 million quotations contained in twenty volumes – on thin pages with small print.

Why did the members of the philological society feel a new dictionary was necessary? They informed the society that the existing dictionaries (Johnson, Webster, Richardson and others) needed to be consolidated and that the proposed dictionary should contain not only current words, but also every word that had ever been used in English. It became the most authoritative dictionary of the English language. A major revision is in the works. 

You may peruse it in the print version in the reference department or online via the library's databases. If, for example you are curious about how the word “hassle” came into being, you can look it up and discover that it was first used in an American jazz magazine in 1945. Or you may want to read the book The Word Detective; Searching for the Meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary by John Simpson (2016) or The Professor and the Madman; a Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (1998).  

Logo for Gale Biography in Context database; rectangle with light blue background and a photo of President Barrack Obama.Logo for the Gale Artemis database; white rectangle with black lettering and orange lettering

NEW! 4 additions to our Virtual Reference Collection

Ann's picture

Take a peek at the latest resources added to our virtual reference “shelf.” Access our online reference volumes and databases 24/7! All you need is your UA Library card and PIN:

Cover image of book: Clothing and Fashion

  • Clothing and Fashion Examines the historical significance of fashion trends, revealing the social and cultural connections of clothing from precolonial years to the present. As seen through the lens of the clothes we wear–from the Native American moccasin to Manolo Blahnik's stiletto heels. Lots of color images!
  • America in the World, 1776 to the Present  A transnational view of US history, focusing on the role of the US, while also analyzing how the world has influenced our country. It discusses the increasingly important role of the US, from the early days of the republic to the present. Lots of images.
  • Encyclopedia of Modern Ethnic Conflicts Uses case studies to explore acts of violence between ethnic or national communities. An ideal reference to quickly gain an understanding of ethnic struggles across the globe.
  • Mental Health and Mental Disorders A comprehensive view of mental health that addresses both mental well-being and illness. Covering the full continuum of mental health, the set describes biology and neurology of the brain, emotions, and the traits and characteristics of mental well-being.

Also, America's Top-Rated Cities, America's Top-Rated Smaller Cities, and Comparative Guide to American Suburbs were updated.

To access these anytime:

  1. Go to
  2. Move the mouse over the heading ‘Research’ at the top of the page
  3. Select 'Databases' from the drop-down menu, and click on a database or eBook for access
  4. Enter the 10-digit number on the back of your library card, your PIN number, and click 'Log In.'

Take some time to explore the e-resources UA Library makes available through our website. In addition to our reference books and databases, we offer e-books, e-magazines, and movies and music downloads. Click Explore on the library’s home page!