Encyclopedias attempt to summarize, as concisely as possible, the state of knowledge in a field of inquiry. Use encyclopedias to find background information on your topic, and to familiarize yourself with what is already known on the topic. A good encyclopedia can be a valuable starting point for your research, and often contains recommendations for additional reading.
Three online reference collections that students often find useful are:
A bibliography is, in its most literal sense, a list of books. Many students are familiar with bibliographies from writing research papers, where a list of works cited is sometimes called a bibliography. In libraries, bibliographies serve an additional, important function in helping patrons identify books, journal articles, and other library resources. These bibliographies are usually centered on sources about a particular subject, and are often book-length themselves. Some bibliographies run to several volumes. For more information on bibliographies, please see our guide to Bibliography and Historical Research.
A catalog is similar to a bibliography with the difference being that a catalog lists books and other resources available for use or purchase at a specific place, or from a specific person or organization. Examples are library catalogs, catalogs of private collections, and booksellers' catalogs.
Booksellers' catalogs, of course, technically belong with the bibliographies and catalogs listed above, but I wanted to draw special attention to these interesting sources. While booksellers' catalogs have long been recognized as an important primary source by historians of early modern Europe, they are less commonly used by historians of the modern world. They are valuable as sources in the history of reading, collecting, and print culture in general. They are also useful for identifying primary sources (the books listed in them being potential sources of evidence to the historian).1
Other famous gay and lesbian bookstores that issued catalogs include Elysian Fields in Elmhurst (New York), A Different Light in Los Angeles, Chosen Books in Detroit, and Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in New York.2
The following are not technically a bookseller's catalog, but intended for book collectors, and include information one is likely to find in nineteenth century booksellers' catalogs, such as format (e.g. quarto, octavo, duodecimo) and price, or else they take as part of their subject the trade in erotic books, and therefore focus in part on booksellers.
As with the booksellers' catalogs, I'm listing these readers' advisory guides separately just to draw special attention to them. Readers' advisory is a traditional library service (originating in the nineteenth-century), the purpose of which is to assist library patrons with choosing "the best books suited to their interests, needs, and reading level."3 The service often focuses on areas flooded with a mixture of reliable and unreliable information. In the case of patrons seeking information about homosexuality, or fictional works thematizing homosexuality, librarians were also responding to a need for literature that treated homosexuality as something other than a mental illness or a moral abomination.
As with the booksellers' catalogs, therefore, readers' advisory guides were produced in response to the problem of getting information and reading matter to LGBTQ readers. In the case of readers' advisory guides, they were usually created by librarians for other librarians to use in working with patrons.
Listed here are sources of factual information, which can include almanacs, chronologies, factbooks, statistical compendia, and directories (directories that include personal information are included in the above section on biographies; directories listing places and businesses are listed separately below). Directories especially can be interesting as historical sources as they tend to be published serially (usually annually), and therefore provide a snapshot of the world during the year covered.
1. David McKitterick, "Book Catalogues: Their Varieties and Uses," in The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth Century Bibliography, ed. Peter Davison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 161-175.
2. Wayne R. Dynes, Homosexuality: A Research Guide (New York: Garland, 1987), 3.
3. Charles A. Bunge and Richard E. Bopp, "History and Varieties of Reference Services," in Reference and Information Services: An Introduction, 3rd ed., ed. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith (Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2001), 12.