Focus on Reference


Scanning shelf upon shelf of books, lumbering between aisles carrying cumbersome reference volumes, and squinting to read fine print may deter some students from using the library. However, computerized resources may help make the process of research less daunting. In this month’s Focus On, we preview two types of computer-based reference sources. Online options introduce users to numerous resources, such as viewing the content of several encyclopedias, linking to other topic-specific Web destinations, or receiving e-mail responses to research questions from a PC at home. Reference resources available on CD-ROM expose students and educators to several learning avenues through video clips, interactive documents and more. The following Web resources and CD-ROMs acquaint students with an abundance of information at the click of a mouse.


Searching for a continually updated, multipurpose reference source on the Internet is easy with the newest site from World Book. All ages and levels can surf through World Book Online to find every article from the 22-volume print set, plus 3,200 more. World Book Online includes 30,000 articles from 107 periodicals, 1,000 maps, 60,000 cross-reference links, 15,000 Web site links, and hundreds of images and sound clips. Accessing the site’s home page provides users not only with the options of viewing maps and articles or browsing the site using alphabetical categories, but also with features, current events, new items, Today in History, headlines and a Learning Zone. The Learning Zone offers a Teacher Resource Center, a Parent Resource Center, Homework Helpers and Surf the Millennium, which pays tribute to the past 1,000 years with a selection of Web sites detailing historical events.


A new addition to World Book Online is the Global Edition, which details information on foreign countries and cultures through more than 35,000 articles and all of the same features as World Book Online. Each topic contains a box titled “International Content,” which highlights differences from the North American version. The Global Edition also provides North American and International versions of Behind the Headlines, Today in History and What’s Happening this Month. Alternating between the Global Edition and the North American World Book Online is easy, thanks to a toggle switch.


With the first presidential election of the new millennium rapidly approaching, students and teachers can have direct access to a resource that details election coverage, information about the electoral process, and details about the way a democratic system of government operates. Satisfying these objectives, ABC-CLIO has organized more than 45 years of reference materials into three Web sites, titled American Government, Geography: World and Geography: States. Organized identically, the sites contain a daily UPI news feed specific to the particular page’s content, along with features, a student section, a teacher section and a tools section.


Each teacher will receive a password to log on to the site, and in turn, can assign a separate password for his or her class so that students may also access the site from home. Teachers are able to customize the Educator section of each site. Here, instructors can list announcements, syllabi, discussion questions, handouts, and multiple choice or fill in the blank tests that are designed according to certain educational standards and textbooks. Teachers may choose their assignments according to topic, grade level, academic standard, or textbook. Students may access this information through the Student icon, where they can also seek materials related to their assignments through a weekly topic exploration link.


Additional features include product recommendations, an online store, and a feature story penned by a teacher or librarian. A Cybrarian section, where anyone may pose questions to an educator or librarian, is also included. All maps found on the pages are interactive, and thanks to flash technology, users can view layers to the map, such as essays, photos, rivers and cities. Site licenses are available for $499, and this includes unlimited access from school or home.


Flipping through several volumes of encyclopedias is no longer necessary when the same information is available on the Internet with a few quick mouse clicks. Learning about geography, history, science, sports, religion and multicultural issues is quick and convenient with maps and a plethora of facts about topics spanning several academic disciplines available from the Facts On File Online Databases. These Web archives are organized according to topic. While the databases are rich with factual information, the maps fail to enhance the product, and there are too few images. In addition, most articles are loaded using Acrobat Reader, which can take a bit more time than simple links.


Under the science category, users may explore genetics and cell biology, anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry and earth sciences, as well as historical inventions and historical science experiments. The history section transports students to historical images, women’s history and landmark documents in American history. The multicultural source allows users to explore African American, American Indian, Asian American and Hispanic American history and culture. The rather large Junior Resources category provides information similar to that found in other databases; however, it also includes environmental activities, adaptation, biomes and biodiversity options, and information about the different hemispheres, everyday life and human achievement.


Whether students, researchers or teachers wish to learn about the principles underlying the latest gene therapy, the most prevalent zoonotic diseases, black holes, or the latest developments in computer technology, AccessScience: The Online Encyclopedia of Science and Technology may be a good option. AccessScience contains the full text of the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 115,000 entries from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, and news articles from Science News: The Weekly News Magazine of Science. The site contains 2,000 biographies of scientists, as well as a Nobel Prize and Fields Medal section. The database also includes expanded bibliographies, integrated Web links, thousands of graphics, and tools for librarians to measure patron user statistics.


The following categories are covered in AccessScience: agriculture, anthropology and archaeology, astronomy, biology and biomedical science, chemistry, computing and information technology, earth science, tables and dates, engineering, environmental science, food science and technology, general science and technology, math, medicine, military science, paleontology, physics, psychiatry and psychology, and veterinary medicine. A Student Center, complete with study guides, bibliographies and essay topics, rounds out the site. Additional features include AccessScience questions and answers, a science dictionary, related sites and a news section.


When technology, education and admittance to diverse discussion communities are combined in one program, students and educators have access to the latest trend of learning on the Web., an online reference resource, provides online study guides on more than 200 curriculum topics, templates and tutorials designed to help students organize assignments and conduct research, and an editor-selected Internet directory that guides users to age-appropriate, educationally relevant Web sites. Initially targeted at grades 9-12, BritannicaSchool will expand in 2001 to serve grades K-12.


Students can explore information related to art, English, math, music, science, social studies, features and the world, and they can also access a wordsmith, a trivia section and a blurb detailing facts associated with the current day from the site’s home page. Study guides allow students to view images, teacher’s notes and a glossary related to their topic of study, as well as a help section. In the My Workspace section, students can view images, media and text, and they can listen to sound bytes. The My Toolkit category provides access to research guides, e-mail and a teacher store.


Unique to is the community section, which enables users to participate in ongoing discussions centered on a specific topic. With discussions organized nicely in categories, users can view all the goings-on of a particular discussion. Topics of chats vary, but some examples include administration programs, talkback for teachers and networking in schools.


Whether users desire a shortcut to finding an informative Web site on a specific topic, or they wish to read several pages about a broad topic, the latest version of Microsoft’s Encarta Reference CD-ROMs provide both options. Encarta Reference Suite 2001 presents an eclectic mix of resources for users of all levels and ages. Suite 2001 contains six reference CD-ROMs, including a world English dictionary, an interactive world atlas, two Africana encyclopedias and two general interest encyclopedias.


The English dictionary is comprised not only of a dictionary and thesaurus, but also of an English style guide, a computer dictionary, an almanac, well-known quotations and a multimedia section. Creating customized multimedia maps according to factors such as climate, languages, politics or physical features is elementary with the Encarta World Atlas. A search engine, graphics, and articles about terrestrial elements, such as landforms, oceans and volcan'es are also featured in the world atlas.


Users can explore a breadth of topics about Africa with the Encarta Africana CD-ROM. This software features virtual tours to exotic locales, informative articles, numerous timelines, narrated tours of historic sites, a civil rights chronology, and video clips of notable African Americans addressing various issues. The general reference encyclopedia CD-ROMs offer similar applications, such as timelines, virtual tours and articles, but they also contain a Web center, a trivia quiz game based in a medieval castle, and a homework center that includes resources for students, teachers and parents. Despite the occasional pause involved in switching between CD-ROMs in order to access information presented on one CD, yet detailed on another, the Encarta Reference Suite 2001 offers a large volume of data that covers a wide range of topics. The inclusion of text and multimedia makes this software a sensible resource for both visual and auditory learners.


—Sabrina Tillman

[email protected]



Contact Information


World Book Online

World Book, Inc.

Chicago, IL

(312) 729-5800


American Government

Geography: World

Geography: States


Santa Barbara, CA

(800) 368-6868


Facts On File Online Databases

Facts On File, Inc.

New York, NY

(800) 322-8755


AccessScience: The Online Encyclopedia

of Science and Technology


Columbus, OH

(800) 598-4077


Encarta Reference Suite 2001

Microsoft Corporation

Redmond, WA

(425) 703-4525

San Francisco, CA

(415) 618-0051

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.