Making the Most of Your Library

Part 3 -- Encyclopedias

Copyright 1991, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

Originally appeared in SF&FW Newsletter #125, February 1992

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This article originally appeared in Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter

In the last article I made the point that many subject dictionaries are almost encyclopedic in their treatment of their chosen subject. This brings us of course to the question of what exactly is an encyclopedia.

Almost everybody is familiar with the general encyclopedia such as the World Book or the Encyclopedia Brittanica. In fact the latter must be quite familiar with readers and writers of science fiction, since its title is the inspiration for the Encyclopedia Galactica which is a fixture of so many galactic-empire type stories from Asimov's "Foundation" to Addams' "Hitchhiker" series. General encyclopedias strive to provide basic information about all areas of human endeavor. As such they are the first place to turn for basic information about a broad subject, or to get an overview of an unfamiliar subject area before consulting more specialized sources.

Similarly, subject encyclopedias seek to provide basic information about all areas of their subject specialty. For instance the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology gives in-depth treatment of subjects related to science and technology, with far more development and specificity than a general encyclopedia would provide. Similarly there are subject encyclopedias in many other fields. In a large research library a person can find a specialized encyclopedia on almost every area of human endeavor. And even a medium-sized public library should have encyclopedias for some of the more broadly-defined subject areas.

Whether general or subject-specific, encyclopedias are an excellent source of basic information on a topic. They are also the best starting point for gaining a general understanding of a topic before launching an in-depth research project.

Copyright 1990, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

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