Encyclopedias are great for:
locating authoritative, peer-reviewed, high quality information
choosing a topic
educating yourself quickly
gaining background information easily (major ideas, theories, events, people)
identifying variant spellings, vocabulary, terminology
finding a bibliography (important, selected references for further reading)
Library guides exist for many subjects and classes. Most of them include selected background sources or subject encyclopedias for each topic area.
Library catalogs can be searched with keyword 'encyclopedia' combined with a subject such as 'urban' or 'sociology' or 'women.'
Reference staff can also provide helpful suggestions!
Wikipedia can be very helpful in providing information about all kinds of topics. The footnotes and lists of external links provided at the end of many articles may lead to useful scholarly material.
CAUTION: The text of each article is not always accurate or authoritative. Look for a Talk tab at the top of an article for postings regarding quality.
Articles often reflect personal opinion and controversial interpretations of events and issues. Authors might not have a strong academic background in the subject matter of the articles they contribute.