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Lives change every day, and as soon as a biographical reference source captures a living person’s essence, the details and documentation have probably altered. It’s the same with databases; the moment a reviewer finishes a database review, the database has likely evolved. With this in mind, we decided to revisit two biographical databases: Wilson’s Biography Reference Bank, which we previously reviewed in 2001, and Gale’s Biography Resource Center, which we previously reviewed in 2002. The sites were last accessed on April 14 this time around.
Sporting the new streamlined WilsonWeb CX Edition interface, Biography Reference Bank (BRB) covers 550,000 people. Content comes from almost 40 Wilson sources, such as Current Biography (from 1940 to the present) and volumes in the Nobel Prize Winners and World Authors series. Wilson has also licensed selected content from more than 100 resources from other publishers. A recent addition is 5,000 new biographies from American National Biography. BRB offers more than 36,000 images and links to articles from nearly 3,000 periodicals as well as abstracts, citations, excerpts, and other records from nearly every other WilsonWeb database. In addition, there are OpenURL links to records on other free and subscription sites, such as Google Book Search and ProQuest Magazines. New features include a Search History screen and the ability to create search alerts. Full-text articles can now be translated into several languages.
Advanced Search, which is the default, allows the user to search by first and last name, birth and death dates, Profession/Activity, Place of Origin, and Gender. Profession/Activity and Place of Origin now have convenient autocomplete functionality. The Smart Search feature provides additional filters, such as Ethnicity and Source. In Browse the user can select from an A–Z list of names. In the Thesaurus search, selections are made from a controlled vocabulary of subject terms. The default sort for results is relevancy ranking, and results display with links to lists of other entries sharing the same subject headings.
Our search for Hillary Clinton brought 10 images and four results, one for Senator Clinton and three for her father and brothers. Her biography is a directory-type listing from the 2006 Congressional Directory; what pops up as the biographical profile in BRB varies from person to person, but it seems to be the item from the most recently published book. Other entries on Clinton can be found via links to material such as the 2002 edition of Current Biography and the 2001 edition of Facts about the Presidents. There are also links to Most Recent Articles, Reviews and Criticism, Articles and Books, and citations for books by and about the senator. Periodical articles are helpfully listed by subject (for example, Clinton, Hillary Rodham/Press conferences) under Articles and Books. Under Most Recent Articles, they are listed by date, and on April 14 we found citations for 10 articles published that day. Of these articles, 6 are available as full text. We could have used a tab to limit our results to full-text articles only.
Recently, Wilson launched Biography Reference Bank Select Edition, a smaller version of BRB covering more than 236,000 individuals. Here, our Hillary Clinton search yielded two results (for Hillary and brother Hugh) instead of four.
According to the Biography Resource Center (BRC) Web site, the Gale database “combines over 440,000 biographies on more than 340,000 people from over 1,000 volumes of more than 135 respected Gale sources.” In addition, users will find more than 27,000 images and articles from more than 325 newspapers and magazines. Marquis Who’s Who is an optional add-on module, and recently Gale introduced another add-on, Lives and Perspectives Collection, which makes available nearly 160,000 biographies from biography resources such as American Men and Women of Science as well as 40 Gale, Macmillan, and Scribner subject encyclopedias, among them Encyclopaedia Judaica (2d ed., 2007) and Encyclopedia of India (2003). More valuable content, and more cost. For libraries that choose the add-ons, results are fully integrated with Biography Resource Center.
Besides a basic search by Name Contains, or Start of Last Name, BRC offers a limited Category Browse (American presidents, Scientists) and a Biographical Facts Search that can be defined by occupation, nationality, gender, and several other filters. In Advanced Search, users can search by Name, Full Text, Keyword, and Source and, for magazine articles and news items, enter a date range.
Our search for Hillary Clinton yielded 1 image and entries from 3 Gale publications. Two of these, including an article from the second edition of Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998), had been updated on March 27, 2008. The updates consist of links to recent postings from CNN.com and other news Web sites. It appears that biographees can submit their own updates as well. Under separate tabs are Brief Biographies, Magazines and News, and Websites. On April 14, there were six citations under Magazines and News from that day, all of them full text.
Which to choose? Gale’s BRC has a more inviting home page, is more uniform in its entries, and provides only full text, all of which will appeal to students. Wilson’s BRB offers impressive advanced functionality, though Wilson databases sacrifice some straightforwardness in the interest of having the same functionality work across as many databases as possible. Both databases offer a wealth of high-quality content, and the final decision, as always, will be based on relative value. For a public library with a population service area of 32,000 to 55,999, pricing for Wilson’s Biography Reference Bank is $3,620, and pricing for Biography Reference Bank Select is $2,400. Corresponding pricing for Gale’s Biography Resource Center without the add-ons is $5,000–$10,000, with discounts available.
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