Before you start your research and writing, you may need to gather more background information about the text or author you are studying in order to understand the text and its context. This kind of information is often found in what are called reference sources, like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks. Below are instructions on how to to find these kind of reference sources using the Gale Literature database and the Hunter College Libraries' OneSearch tool.
Be aware: while scholarly reference sources are considered a reliable source of information, they are often not the kind of sources you are being asked to engage with in your paper. Instead, they can be useful at the beginning of the research process to help you understand basic information about the text or author, or to explore potential research topics. They can also point you in the direction of academic books, book chapters, and journal articles that contain literary criticism: these are often listed in a section labeled "bibliography," "references," or "further reading." Be sure to check your assignment requirements to see what sources are appropriate for your paper or project, and consult with your professor if you are unsure.
OneSearch is a tool that allows you to search the Hunter College Libraries' print and electronic collections at once.
To find background information using OneSearch:
With the filter applied, you'll see search results like this:
Gale Literature is a database devoted entirely to literature, and it includes both literary criticism and reference sources.
To find background information in this database:
The sources you find using the steps above are considered reliable sources, but generally do not count as scholarly sources to use for papers in literature courses. They provide basic facts and generally accepted ideas about the texts, but they are not literary criticism. When you are asked to find a piece of literary criticism for your paper, you should be looking for an essay that makes a specific argument.
Signs a source is not a piece of literary criticism:
If you have any doubts or questions about the appropriateness of a source for an assignment, consult with your professor or a librarian.