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Background reference sources: Encyclopedias

Use encyclopedias to find background information about your topic. Encyclopedias may be general, covering a wide range of topics, or subject-specific, focusing on a particular subject area in detail. They are an excellent place to start research if you have a broad topic in mind or want to become familiar with the basics of a subject area.


Gale Virtual Reference Library

Gale Virtual Reference Library
Try this first if you are unsure where to search. Contains over 600 reference sources across a wide range of topics.

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford Reference Online
Contains over 250 reference sources. Includes languages, science and medicine, humanities and social sciences, and business and professional topics.

Sage Knowledge

Sage Knowledge
Contains over 250 reference sources. Particularly strong for Criminology, Sociology, and Communications.

Encyclopaedia Brittanica

Encyclopaedia Britannica
Excellent general encyclopedia, with almost 100,000 articles written by experts.

Canadian Encyclopedia

The Canadian Encyclopedia
Great encyclopedia for Canadian topics. Easy to search and browse.

Encyclopedia of British Columbia

Encyclopedia of British Columbia
Portal for information on British Columbia.


Wikipedia is great for everyday use and can be a good starting point for academic research. However, it must be used cautiously and always supported by scholarly sources.

To learn more about using Wikipedia in an academic setting, watch Using Wikipedia for Academic Research or see Cornell's Using Wikipedia guide.


To find subject-specific encyclopedias, enter a keyword search for encyclopedia + your topic in the library catalogue.