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Reference books are good starting points and will help you refine your topic. They offer an overview of a subject, give background information, and introduce a researcher to the vocabulary of that subject, and the key thinkers in that discipline. Many reference books also help you to identify core titles for the subject by providing references to key works. Use reference books when you need an overview or background information, when you need fast facts and statistics, and when you need definitions.
You have access to some full-text reference books online through Gale Virtual Reference Library and Credo Reference (under the eResources tab on the Library's homepage). You will find a much wider array of information available in the Library's print collection.
Books are good for stable information or information that does not change frequently such as the function and purpose of the pancreas or the developmental stages of a 2-year-old. They are also good when you need a broad look at a subject, such as a historical perspective on an event or a person or a literary analysis of a work.
Books are not good if you need the latest information on a topic. It takes about a year (or longer) for a book to get published, so by the time you have the book in your hand, the information in that book is at least a year out of date. For current information, you need to use periodical databases or the Web.