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UMass Amherst Libraries


Guide for Library Research in Anthropology

Background Information

What are reference resources?

Reference resources, which include encyclopedias, provide:

  • Reliable and concise background information
  • Direction to other important information

Encyclopedias are one of the most common types of reference resources. In addition to general knowledge encyclopedias such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, there are specialized ones for disciplines such as anthropology.

Dictionaries contain entries on a topic that are usually listed in alphabetical order. They are similar to encyclopedias, but entries are usually more concise, making them a useful tool for quickly familiarizing yourself with a topic.

Bibliographies are lists of sources on a topic that can be useful because they gather relevant books, articles, and other sources in one place.

How do I find reference resources?

You can search for anthropology reference resources in Discovery Search using subject headings

What if I don't know what what subject headings are or need a refresher?

You'll want to conduct a subject search with two pieces. The second piece will be the type of reference resource (ex. 'Encyclopedias' or 'Dictionaries'). The first piece will change depending on what the topic that you're interested in. For example:

Anthropology -- Encyclopedias
Archaeology -- Encyclopedias
Indians of North America -- Encyclopedias
Anthropology -- Dictionaries

Sociolinguistics -- Dictionaries
Anthropology -- Bibliography
Physical anthropology -- Bibliography

What if I don't get any results back from my subject search?

It can be tricky to know what the standardized subject heading for a concept is unless you refer to the Library of Congress' documents. An alternative is to do a keyword search. When you get results back, you'll be able to look at the subject headings on those records and use those for future subject searches.