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FYSEM 110PS: Self-Portraiture

Why background information?

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference resources help you to discover basic information—names, dates, definitions, summaries, etc. These are good places to start when beginning research on an unfamiliar subject, and when choosing or narrowing a paper topic.


Come across a word that is new to you and can't quite figure out what it means based on the context of what you're reading? It's easy to look it up! Some dictionaries and definition sources that can help:

General reference

Reference collections

Collections of subject-specific reference works that you can search all at once:


Biographical reference works

Interviews and profiles

For more recent individuals who are less famous or have yet to make it into reference works or other books, newspapers and magazines are a possible source of information. Some news databases even allow you to limit your search to interviews and biographical information.


Reading a story, memoir, or essay that's set in a country that's unfamiliar to you? Reference works can help you quickly learn enough about a country's recent (or even older) history to help you better understand the context of the text you're reading.



Literary Terms and Concepts

How to find more reference works

There are a couple of ways to find more reference works in the library collection:

  • Do an Advanced search in the Five College Library Catalog on terms that describe your topic (e.g., comics or graphic novels) and the terms encyclopedia or dictionary or handbook or companion.
  • In the Five College Catalog, restrict your search to just Mount Holyoke, click into the Advanced search form, enter the terms for your topic (e.g., history science) and use the Location drop down menu to select MH Reference:
Springshare's information on Accessibility in Libguides - - MHC Accessibility Barriers Form