When I was growing up, I loved to read the World Book Encyclopedia.  I suppose you could say I was a word nerd.  It was not unusual for me climb up onto the desk to pull down two or three of the hefty, green and white volumes off the shelf, then go back and forth looking up different topics just for fun.  I might look for a picture of a particular city, or read about the climate of South America, or find the article about the moon.  It wasn’t as easy as following links and falling down rabbit holes in Wikipedia, but even in those hefty encyclopedias it was possible to hop from topic to topic out of sheer curiosity.

In high school, I learned that World Book wasn’t the only encyclopedia—there was also Encyclopedia Americana and Encyclopedia Britannica.  And then in college, I learned about an encyclopedia with 29 volumes entirely devoted to music—even larger than the World Book set I grew up with, and all on a single subject!  (We librarian-types call books like that a “subject encyclopedia.”)

You might be thinking this is where I will turn nostalgic, and tell how much I miss turning the pages of those old encyclopedias.  No way!  Encyclopedias—actually, reference books in general—and the internet were made for each other!  Think about it; the whole point of a reference book is to refer to it for a specific bit of information.  These books are not intended to be read cover to cover.  And who wants to lug around a 35-pound book in your backpack?  No!  You find the information you’re looking for, then move on.

Just to be clear, I still prefer to do long-form reading in print. (By the way, have you looked at the Bell Library’s Popular Reading collection lately?)  But when it comes to reference works, I’ll take a keyword search box over flipping back and forth between an index and the articles any time.  And it is much easier and faster to click a link and open a related article in a new browser tab than it is to open another volume of the print encyclopedia and flip through the pages to find that related article.

Hopefully you won’t be surprised to learn that the library has your online reference needs covered!  Here are a few pro tips.

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Bell Library subscribes to this standard encyclopedia for all TAMU-CC students and employees.

Oxford English Dictionary – The go-to for in-depth definitions and etymologies.

Credo Reference – A collection of over 1,000 subject encyclopedias that can all be searched at once. Hundreds more subject encyclopedias can be found in the library’s subscriptions to the Gale Virtual Reference Library and Oxford Reference Online databases.

Library Research Guides – Many of the library’s subject-based research guides include links to encyclopedias and other reference works specific to that subject.

Quick Search – The search box on the library’s home page searches simultaneously across most of the library’s books, journals, and other resources. To limit your results to items from reference works, you can use the Content Type filter (=Reference), along with the Subject Area filter. You might also try using More Search Options, then put your subject area in the first search box and “encyclopedias” in the second box (for example, this search for geology subject encyclopedias).

The image at the top of this post illustrates that even from the early days of books, people have wanted to be able to hop from book to book looking up related bits of information.  Reference books in an online environment, with links to other text within the book or to external works, meet that need beautifully.  So whether you’re rotating through books on a mechanical device, climbing onto a desk to reach an old World Book Encyclopedia, or clicking through links in the Encyclopedia Britannica, I hope you have fun exploring the world!