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Why use background (reference) sources?
Mostly because reference sources can greatly improve the quality and the efficiency of your research. Specifically, these sources can:
- Help you get a background on a topic, allowing you to discover some of what has already been said, and how the thinking on the topic may have changed over time. This may help you figure out the argument that you want to make.
- Generate additional ideas for research topics. Your background reading on a topic can serve as a catalyst for creative engagement with that topic, fostering new approaches to it, or connecting ideas that hadn't been previously connected.
- Find additional primary and secondary resources (for more information on what constitutes "primary" versus "secondary" resources, look here). Often, reference sources will include bibliographies or suggestions for further readings, leading you directly into your research on a given topic.
Reference Sources in Print
Following is a brief listing of some key background sources found in Shain LIbrary's first-floor Reference Collection. But there are many, many more such sources! To access more in the reference collection, you can browse the stacks. Check out the call number range from PN1993 to PN1998, along with Z5784. For reference works specifically on national cinemas (African, Australian, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, etc.), browse the stacks at the PN1993.5 call number.
Also, you can search the library's OneSearch for sources on more specific topics. After you do your initial search (e.g., "film noir"), find the filters on the right-hand side of the screen. Click the filter that says "Reference," and the search results will display only reference materials. For more help with searching for books, go to the Searching for Articles and Books page of this guide, or schedule a consultation with the film studies liaison librarian.
Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film
This four-volume encyclopedia offers lengthy treatments of many key concepts in film, along with easy-to-digest full-color photographs and illustrations and ample further reading. It's a good place to begin research on a lot of film-related topics. Call number: REF PN1993.45 G65 2007
Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts
Here is another good resource to gain a background, and it's a more theoretical/critical than the Schirmer encyclopedia. It includes some suggestions for further reading. Call number: REF PN1993.45 H36 2006
Film and Television: A Guide to the Reference Literature
A very helpful guide for starting out, this bibliography of reference works in film and television provides pointers on where to go for more information on many topics. It lists dictionaries and encyclopedias, filmographies, sources on national cinemas, and genres. Call number: REF Z5784.M9 E47 2006
New Biographical Dictionary of Film
Here you'll find a highly opinionated overview of personalities in film, along with filmographies; it was published in 2002. It is somewhat international in scope, although it is focused primarily on American actors and director. Call number: REF PN1998.2 .T49 2002
World Film Directors
This two-volume overview of film directors (covering 1890 to 1985) has lengthy treatments of filmmakers and is very international in scope. Call number: REF PN1998.2 W67 1987
Online Reference Sources
LION (Literature Online)
While most notable for its resources in literature, LION is also an excellent resource to use to search for film-related topics. It provides direct links to a key article database, the MLA Bibliography.