The staff at Reference Help Desk can also help you finding appropriate sources for background information. You are also welcome to contact a Subject Librarian for assistance:
Subject Librarians, alphabetical listing
Subject Librarians, subject listing
As you begin your research, learning more about fields of study relevant to your focus will help you create more effective searches. The Washington University Library system owns many general and specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries that provide this background information.
Background information from general encyclopedias such as Encyclopaedia Britannica Online and Oxford Reference Online will provide quick summaries establishing the context, vocabulary, and key people in many different fields. You also have access to many other reference sources both online and in print. Print resources reside in the Olin Library Reference Collection, in the Olin Stacks, and in the reference areas of the other departmental and school libraries.
After gaining basic background from a general encyclopedia, consider looking for more in depth background information in specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias. Reading relevant entries from a subject-specific encyclopedia will provide more sophisticated context, concepts, and vocabulary in given fields, thus helping you expand and refine your search terms.
Look up subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries in the Libraries' Catalog by adding the word "encyclopedias" or "dictionaries" to your keyword search. For example, to find a psychology encyclopedia you could perform the following search in the catalog: