Reference resources cannot be checked out of the library, but really, you'd rarely want to do so anyhow. These types of resources provide quick information on a person, place or thing and are often a great starting point for research.
In many instances, you'll only be interested in a paragraph or page or two of information; this can be photocopied while on the premises.
General encyclopedias provide information about nearly every topic. Using an encyclopedia is an effective way to quickly get a broad overview of a subject. Some encyclopedias will provide more in-depth information than others; however, any general encyclopedia is a good source to consult for background information of your chosen subject area. Most encyclopedias provide the following:
Subject Specific Encyclopedias
Subject-specific encyclopedias are important background sources for information. Unlike general encyclopedias which cover a wide range of topics, subject-specific encyclopedias focus their information in one particular subject area. Some features of subject-specific encyclopedias include:
Why is it that so many Professors frown upon the use of Wikipedia?
Although some people within the Wikipedia community fastidiously monitor and fact check various subject areas, by and large anyone can add content. This is problematic because the information - even if it is both factual and credible - in many cases cannot be verified by the Professor.
The American Journalism Review states:
"...the primary knock against Wikipedia is that its authors and editors are also its users — an unpaid, partially anonymous army, some of whom insert jokes, exaggeration and even outright lies in their material. About one-fifth of the editing is done by anonymous users, but a tight-knit community of 600 to 1,000 volunteers does the bulk of the work, according to Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales. Members of this group can delete material or, in extreme cases, even lock particularly outrageous entries while they are massaged"
So while the controversy rages on, the best piece of advice is DO NOT CITE Wikipedia articles in your research; however, Wikipedia (much like Google) is often a great place to gather basic information as well as offers fertile ground for acquiring keywords to use in vetted subscription databases.