Background reference sources: Encyclopedias

Inform and fine-tune your searching with an encyclopedia

Use encyclopedias to quickly get up to speed on a new topic, or as a starting point in your research process.

Hone your search terms and strategy

Before launching into more advanced searching in the Catalogue or databases, check a general or subject-specific encyclopedia for:

  • keywords and names of people you can use when searching other sources
  • established facts, an overview of the topic, and general information
  • links to related topics and even key resources in the field.

General encyclopedias

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.

Subject-specific encyclopedias

To find subject-specific encyclopedias: