Sherratt Library

Reference Sources

Finding background information on your topic can be a good way to start your research project. Background sources will help you to learn more about the topic and possibly discover subjects that you can research. Print or online encyclopedias and other reference books can help you get a basic understanding of your topic. Background sources can also help you with terminology, discovering subcategories of your topic which you can explore, learning of arguments and issues on the topic, finding authorities on the topic, and locating bibliographies and lists of references you can use to further explore your topic.

Reference Books

sports encyclopediasA good place to find background information is the Reference Collection area of the library, located on the first floor. These books are located near the Reference Desk, where you can ask for help with your research. The books in the Reference Collection are shelved using the Library of Congress classification system, the same system used in most areas of the library. Since other students and faculty may need immediate access to these reference books, they cannot be checked out of the library.

In the Reference Collection you'll find English and foreign language dictionaries, encyclopedias like World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, and specialized encyclopedias such as the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Note that for college level writing, most instructors DO NOT accept encyclopedia articles as research sources for scholarly papers. Encyclopedias are best used to find topics or look for background information.

Search the Library Catalog for Reference Sources

Reference sources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries can be searched using the library catalog. From the library hompage, select Research, then Catalog:

  1. In Quick Search enter the keyword encyclopedia followed by your topic keyword, e.g., encyclopedia psychology
  2. Click Search only Electronic Books if you want to limit your results to only e-books
  3. Click the Search Everything button.
  1. This search found a list of e-books which you can browse or search for possible research topics.
Encyclopedia search

The following Find Reference Sources video (1:33 min) demonstrates searching the catalog for reference sources. Quick Search, Advanced Search, and e-book searching are illustrated. Click the CC button on the controller below the video to view text: