Reference works are a place to start, to gather facts and review the broad context of your topic. They can highlight any controversies in the topic, point out multiple points of view, and lead you to additional reading or key primary sources. Reference works may be encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, bibliographies, or other kinds of things, and they may be in print or online.
Always consider the author, and follow the citations to the source of information rather than citing an encyclopedia. We often call these tertiary sources (third hand information). It's helpful for your knowledge and understanding, but may not be the best source to cite.