• 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
|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
o Organized in a logical manner?
o Abbreviations easy to interpret?
o Photos or other images used? If so, what is their quality?
o Who is included?
o What is the criteria for inclusion?
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?
o How accurate is information? (Comparing information between different sources can help in determining)
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