Monday, June 21, 2010

Biographical sources

• Biography is an extremely popular subject area (Biography channel, biographical literature, Who’s Who, etc.)
• Encyclopedias, encyclopedia yearbooks, annuals, directories all may contain some biographical info
• Many ready reference sources exist devoted specifically to biography

Biography: An account of a person’s life written, composed, or produced by another

Related literary forms are:
Autobiography: the narration of a person’s life by himself or herself
Memoirs: the history of a person’s time as seen by the individual who writes them
Diary: a day-to-day account of the happenings and events in a person’s life, recorded by that person
Letters: written communications of a personal nature which may be intimate narratives, records of events, or expressions of the writer’s thoughts and philosophy

Types Characteristics
Uses
Current biographical directories (e.g. Who's who)
Provide brief factual information on living people. If older editions retained, can use to find information on deceased people.
Locate information about individuals, e.g. address, date of birth, degrees earned, awards received, positions held, etc.
Current biographical dictionaries
Biographical essays about famous living people. More detailed information about a person such as accomplishments or general lifestyle.
Retrospective biographical dictionaries
Two types: Universal and national.
Universal: covers people worldwide.
National: People from a specific country only.
Information about famous historically significant people. Useful for countries that do not have own biographical directories. People have to be dead for inclusion.
Obituaries
Articles from national or regional newspapers and magazines. News stories written by news staff, not notices placed by families.
Find bio information about people who can't be found in standard bio reference sources.
Biographical indexes Tell where info about individuals can be found rather than providing information directly. E.g. HW Wilson. Find a relevant biography. Find extensive biographical information on a person from a variety of perspectives.

Evaluation and selection
  • Format
    o Organized in a logical manner?
    o Abbreviations easy to interpret?
    o Photos or other images used? If so, what is their quality?
  • Scope
    o Who is included?
    o What is the criteria for inclusion?
  • Authority
    o Reputation of publisher?
    o Has resource been published for many years?
    o Are sources from which information obtained listed?
    o Additional references for further reading supplied?
    o What do reputable, unbiased reviewing sources say?
  • Accuracy
    o How accurate is information? (Comparing information between different sources can help in determining)
  • Currency
    o Current biographical information included?
    o New editions should reflect changes and current biographical directories such as “Who’s Who” should be revised frequently
  • Indexing and searchability
    o If in print format is index helpful, accurate, and internally consistent in style and terminology?
    o Does index complement overall arrangement of the work?
    o If electronic, how easy is it to search? Boolean searching available? Keyword searching?

Comments re biographical sources

• Apt to reflect opinion of era in which written
• International biographical dictionaries tend to give more emphasis to nationals of country in which published
• Encyclopedias useful for those who are dead, less for the living
• Encyclopedias and national biographical dictionaries are apt to include evaluation as well as narration of accomplishments
• National biographical dictionaries cover more detail than international dictionaries
• Local histories with long biographical sections are a good source of information about less prominent persons
• Newspaper and periodical indexes give good references for obituaries, outstanding accomplishments, contemporary opinion and eye witness accounts
• Special biographical dictionaries of writers and artists usually give more biocritical information and more biographic citations than general sources
• Special biographical dictionaries of scientists usually give more specific information than a general source
• Literary histories and handbooks are a good source of biographies of poets, dramatists and novelists

Biographical search tips

• If nationality not known, consult an encyclopedia or international biographical dictionary first
• If nationality known, consult a national biographical dictionary first
• If person no longer alive, consult a retrospective source first
• If person’s profession known, consult biographical sources for that profession first
• If person’s place of residence or major contribution is known, consult source for that area if possible

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