Monday, February 8, 2010

Introduction to Reference: Encyclopedias

An encyclopedia is a reference source published either in print or electronic form that summarizes basic knowledge and information on all important subjects, or in the case of a specialized encyclopedia, a particular subject. Kister.

“12 points to consider”
American Library Association (1996). Purchasing an Encyclopedia: 12 Points to Consider (5th ed.). Chicago, IL: Booklist, American Library Association.

  1. Authority
  2. Arrangement
  3. Subject coverage
  4. Accuracy/Objectivity
  5. Recency
  6. Approach
  7. Style
  8. Bibliographies
  9. Illustrations
  10. Multimedia
  11. Physical format
  12. Yearbooks and other special products

    Type Characteristics Uses
    Adult GeneralMulti-volume or large databases of info providing a systematic overview of selected topics.

    Fast finding.
    General background info including definition, cross-references and bibliographic references. Pre-research info (reader gets overview which helps to develop strategies)

    1-3 volume Provide succinct information.
    Frequently arranged dictionary style, with no index.
    Fact finding.
    General background information including definition, cross-references, and bibliographical references.
    More limited scope.
    Intended for desk or home use.
    Children & Young AdultContent written at appropriate reading level.
    Include learning aids and devices.
    Fact finding.
    General background information including definition, cross-references, and bibliographical references.
    Written for children or young adults.
    Teaching and learning tool.
    Subject In-depth scholarly coverage of a particular subject area. Fact finding.
    General background information including definition, cross-references, and bibliographical references.
    Focus on particular subject or discipline.
    Encyclopedia yearbooks & supplements Document year’s major events. Need has decreased with move to electronic formats. Update events of year.
    Provide statistical information.
    ForeignNon English language. Presents information from viewpoint of a different country or culture.

    Representative titles

    Encyclopedia Americana
    First major US encyclopedia, first published in 1829

    • Excellent coverage of science and technology
    • Noted for its coverage of North American history and geography
    • For high school and up
    • Online version contains new and revised articles not yet in print set.

    Clear styleLack of timely updating in print version
    Excellent accuracy and impartial coverage of controversial issuesPedestrian illustrations and look in print version
    Strong coverage of US and Canadian topicsSlow pace of revision in print version
    Strong in biographySome technical articles difficult to read
    Large analytical titlesDefault set to "article title" in online version

    Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Online
    Online version of Academic American Encyclopedia, which was:

    • 1st wholly new encyclopedia since the 1950’s (1st appeared in US in 1980)
    • 1st to use computer technology in planning, editing and revising
    • 1st CD-ROM encyclopedia released in 1985
    • Articles tend to be shorter than those in other encyclopedias
    • Originally designed for adults; Booklist now rates it as suitable for grades 5 and up

    Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia

    • Sold through supermarkets but still viewed as a good medium-sized encyclopedia aimed at home market
    • For students from fifth grade through high school and general adult reference use
    • Licensed to Microsoft Corporation as basis of Encarta
    • Available electronically on EBSCOhost


    • Available on CD-ROM and DVD as Encarta Reference Library
    • Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia
    • A free concise encyclopedia (Subscribers to MSN Premium can access the more complete MSN Encarta Plus)
    • Earliest version based on Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia with some rewriting now also incorporates text from Colliers Encyclopedia

    The New Encyclopedia Britannica

    • Oldest continuously published English language encyclopedia
    • For educated adults
    • New 15th ed. issued 1974 in three parts but no separate index
      o Propaedia
      o Micropaedia
      o Macropaedia
    • 1985 forced by demand to add a two volume index
    • 1999 full contents offered free on the Web
    • 2001 free service pulled in favour of subscription service
    • 2003 print version along with electronic version

      • Very authoritative and reliable
      • Broad, deep, well-balanced coverage
      • Reasonably current

      • Three part arrangement of print version confusing
      • Reading level quite high
      • Illustrations tend to be stodgy

    World Book Encyclopedia

    • Consistently the best selling encyclopedia in the world
    • Aimed at grades 3-12 so topics and coverage based on those typical of American schools
    • Last volume contains annually revised study guides
    • Unlike most, World Book Year Book does update main set
    • Most media rich online encyclopedia
    • Revises almost 20% of its pages each year (industry standard is approx. 5%)
    • Longer entries conclude with a list of related articles, online, questions, and a bibliography
    • Index: easy to use and detailed, including page numbers for illustrations and maps

      • Clear direct styles using appropriate vocabulary
      • Excellent maps and other graphics
      • Balanced treatment of controversial subjects
      • Useful reading and study guides
      • Comprehensive analytical index

      • Critics have felt too strong a conservative Western bias to some articles

      Some free content at World Book Student Resource Center

    Free online versions

    Britannica Concise

    • Available free in different versions
    o Direct from Britannica
    o From National Geographic


    Hutchinson Encyclopaedia

    • British
    • Title on cover of print ed. Hutchinson Encyclopedia

    Encyclopedias 1-3 vols.

    The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition.
    • 1 volume, 3072 pages, 11 lbs.
    • 51, 000 articles, 745 illustrations and maps
    • Authority: Columbia University Press
    • Index: none (65,000 cross references)
    • Audience: older students, adults
    • Short bibliographies includes with articles
    • Largest and best general, single volume, English language encyclopedia

    Available free on Bartleby site
    Licensed for use on numerous other sites, e.g.
    YAHOO! Education
    Fact Monster

    Subject Encyclopedia
    Canadian Encyclopedia
    Now freely available at i
    n both French and English and adult and junior version

    Foreign Encyclopedias
    Brockhaus Enzyklopadie (Germany)
    Encyclopaedia Universalis (France)

    In 2003, the American Library Association reviewed four print sets – Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, The New Book of Knowledge, and World Book Encyclopedia. They also reviewed their online counterparts and the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. To compare and contrast the four prints, ALA paid particular attention on how the publishers focused on the aftermath of September 11, the lead up to the war Iraq, and some of its key players, and the emerging diseases of SARS and West Nile virus. Find out what Susan Awe and Barbara Bibel thought of how the encyclopedias managed to sum up the world at:

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