Please use NYU Libraries online resources as your first choice during the COVID situation. Physical reference materials located in the 1st Floor Reference Center are getting moved to Bobst 9th Floor now.
Encyclopedias and biographies are great resources to familiarize yourself with the background information on a given subject.
Hint: After you've read an encyclopedia or biography article to get a broad understanding of a subject, use the article bibliography to dive further into the scholarly literature on that topic.
See foe example, Credo Reference, an Online collection of dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographical sources, quotations, bilingual dictionaries, and measurement conversions covering topics from the arts to the sciences.