As you are starting to explore a new research topic, reference sources are a good way to gain background information on your topic. High quality, academic, multivolume sets, will often give you the beginnings of scholarly research on a subject by providing a short bibliography of important works on the subject.
Even with advanced subject knowledge of an area, you will run across unfamiliar people, places and events. Library reference sources will allow you to quickly fill in those gaps and improve your contextual knowledge with more reliability than a Wikipedia article.
There are a lot of different kind of reference books out there that can help you find different kinds of information. You can find a number of relevant sources in the E184-185s and the JV6400s of the reference section. Below are a few of the examples we discussed in class, some of which are electronic sources:
Electronic Reference Books