Use reference materials to find background information. Reference books can help you:
- Explore a topic: find out what has been said about this subject, trends, issues, etc.
- Identify and define unfamiliar terms or people in your reading
- Find references to other books and articles on the subject
- Find specific keywords to use in online searches
The most popular reference website is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is great for exploring topics of personal interest and even for "pre"-research, but it is not an appropriate source for scholarly research papers.
Reference resources in the library include encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries. This page lists a selection of reference books that I think may be germane to your coursework. I have focused on online resources for your convenience (and most reference works are published online), but remember that you do have options for obtaining print materials as well.
As an alternative to looking through individual titles, you can also use a reference database to search across multiple titles at once.