A large part of the literature of reference consists of works that contain information about people, else known as the biographical sources. Their abundance can be explained simply by the fact that people are interested in people. Besides, all significant social, cultural and political events involve personalities and the reference librarians are called upon to provide biographical information about them all the time. For example, when a new President of India occupies office everyone becomes interested in knowing all about him, or if somebody receives some kind of difference in science, arts or literature we all are keen to know more about that person. All such queries are best answered through the biographical sources.
Biographical questions can be classified as follows:
- Notables (both living and dead), which comprises of statesmen, artists, religious leaders, scientists, soldiers, athletes, philosophers, etc.
- Specialists, in science, social sciences, humanities; professionals from medicine, law, engineering, teaching community; persons in business, trade, and industry.
- Socialites, from nobility, royalty, first families, social clubs.
- Persons from all walks of life, from a country, from a region, in the news recently, in advertisements, etc.
In order to answer queries about the categories of persons mentioned above, three kinds of sources have been designed:
- Universal and National Biographical Dictionaries
- Retrospective Biographical Dictionaries
- Current Biographical Dictionaries also called Who's Who
These sources take care of diverse inquiries about a person, living or dead, with regard to his date and place of birth, nationality, educational background, professional achievements, significant contributions in life, writings and works, important landmarks in life and brief sketch of personal life.
In addition to the biographical sources, this information is also available in other publications, for example, encyclopedias, yearbooks, newspapers, and dictionaries or at times, in directories.