Use Reserve books and books from the stacks after getting an overview by looking at a variety of encyclopedias and other reference sources. These books are very detailed, and if you start with a 400+ page book on the Silk Road, you will probably be very overwhelmed and confused! Remember: reference first.
Besides the main content of a book, the parts of a book itself can provide information useful for research. The main parts of a book include:
Table of Contents: An outline or breakdown of the different chapters of a book.
Bibliography: The list of works used in the research of the book; useful for finding more informaiton on a topic.
Index: The list of key words, often including people and place names, used in the book and the page numbers for where those words appear; typically the last section of a book. Useful for knowing whether a specific person or term is referenced within the book.
Other possible sections include:
Appendix: The part or parts of a book that provide additional information to the main text; usually found near the back of the book.
Glossary: The section that defines key terms used in the book; usually found near the back of the book.