Library Blog

Oxford Reference Online

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Library provides members with access to a variety of electronic resources—magazines, historical newspapers, scholarly journals, e-books, audiobook downloads, and more—and in the coming months, we will be using the blog to periodically highlight the digital riches available from our website. To explore what we offer, click the Electronic Resources tab on our home page. If you have any questions, ask at the reference desk or email To use our electronic resources, you will need your Library login. If you don’t have one, email the help desk:

Oxford Reference Online is a virtual ready-reference shelf with 272 full-text Oxford University Press dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other works containing, over 1,460,000 entries and accessible anywhere with your Library login credentials. Frequently overlooked among the flashier digital content we offer, Oxford Reference Online is easy to use and can be counted on for a wide range of current, authoritative information. Articles are signed, peer-reviewed, and written by specialists in the field. Sources are provided. The language tends to be accessible and jargon-free, and entries are generally concise. ORO is not useful for a deep dive into a subject, but if you need a definition, quotation, date confirmation, fact-check, brief overview, etc. in in a variety of subject fields, it is an excellent resource. Wikipedia can be useful, but consulting signed articles published by Oxford University Press inspires more confidence. 

To use Oxford Reference Online:

  • Login to the Library’s website (left side of screen under marginalia)
  • Click the Electronic Resources tab on top of the web page.
  • Click the link for Oxford Reference Online, which you will find under “General Reference.” You will then be sent to our online catalog. 
  • Click the appropriate "In Library" or "Outside Library" link, and you will be sent to the Oxford Reference Online site. You will know you are logged in as a Library member when you see “New York Society Library” in the green box on the left side of the screen.

To get an idea of what you have access to via the Library’s subscription, click “show books in my subscription” on the ORO landing page. The first book on the list, A-Z of Plastic Surgery, may not be useful to most of us, but scroll and click your way through and you will see reference works on art, mythology, law, science, literature, history, philosophy, quotation dictionaries, and much more.

Searching the Oxford Reference Online platform is straightforward and user-friendly. For most purposes, the best way to search is to use the general keyword field on top of the screen. If your search yields too many results, you can add focus by using the options under “Narrow Your Choices” in the light blue box on the left side of the page. Here, pull-down menus provide ways to refine search terms. Another useful search tool is “By Availability,” where you can check a box that limits search results to what is “unlocked”—i.e., what you have access to via the Society Library’s subscription. Scroll down to see further refinements, including type of reference book (dictionary, subject reference, quotation, etc.), and subject.

Search results that include a green padlock icon in the unlocked position are available to Society Library users. After clicking on search results to view entries, use the icons on the top right of the screen to print and email text. You may also download a citation in APA, MLA, or Chicago format. Users can create their own personal profile for ORO (see “Personal Profile: Sign in or Create” on top right), and save results for future reference. Other useful resources include the historic timelines for various subjects, which can be found under “Free Research Tools” in the light blue bar running down the left side of the screen, or by clicking one of the subject fields in the “Explore by Subject” area in the middle of the page.

The Library also subscribes to a host of other esteemed Oxford resources in digital form, including the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Music Online, The Dictionary of National Biography, and Oxford Art Online. Stop by the Reference Desk if you would like more information.

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