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Background Reference Resources

What Are Background Reference Sources?

picture of a row of encyclopedias on a shelf with green leather bindings and purple labels indicating the volume number

What are background reference resources? 

Background reference resources, or often just reference sources, are designed for quick retrieval of specific and authoritative information.

Use reference sources to:

  • Find definitions of words or concepts
  • Read an overview of a topic
  • Establish keywords for searching
  • Browse lists of sources on a topic

Types of Background Reference Resources

Which type of source is right for the job?

If you need:
Somewhere to start multipurpose
Meaning of a word or concept dictionary
Background information or summary of a topic encyclopedia
Practical information or comprehensive overview of a topic  handbook, manual, guide or companion
Information about a place map, atlas or gazetteer
Data, numbers or facts  statistics or government information
Collection of vetted sources on a topic bibliography
Information about a person biographical


Subject Specific Background Reference Resources

Subject specific reference sources are a great way to find specialized information in your discipline. 

Try searching the library catalogue by adding a type of reference source to your subject area. 

eg: psychology handbook; art dictionary; Shakespeare bibliography


Or check your discipline's Subject Guide for recommended sources