Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more Encyclopedia Update
In this year’s update, we review two print encyclopedias: Encyclopaedia Britannica and The World Book Encyclopedia. Compton’s, Britannica’s encyclopedia for middle school and up, will be published in December. As noted in some of the following reviews, revisions to print encyclopedias do not seem to be as extensive as in the past. Meanwhile, publishers continue to tweak and refine their encyclopedia sites. On the home page of Britannica Online School Edition, the three levels of content, formerly identified by encyclopedia (Britannica Elementary Encyclopedia, Compton’s, and Encyclopaedia Britannica), have been renamed Elementary Level, Middle School Level,and High School Level.World Book launched a new public library version in June, and most of the changes to World Book Online involve repackaging content into separate school and public library versions. There are few changes on the Grolier side. For a summary of each publisher’s current suites of online offerings, see the “Online Encyclopedia Snapshot.”
In other developments related to the evolving encyclopedia model, Gale’s acquisition of HighBeam Research last year means that Encyclopedia.com is now part of the Gale family. For more on Encyclopedia.com, turn to Sue Polanka’s Off the Shelf column.
Commercial online encyclopedias have many similar features, such as spotlight and daily features, a time line, and an atlas. They generally all have basic and advanced search options and print, save, e-mail, and citation tools. We’ve tried to focus on what makes each one unique. Despite the dwindling number of print encyclopedias, we continue to recommend that you have at least one current print encyclopedia on hand for those patrons who still favor print or for those times when all your computers are in use.
All online encyclopedias were last accessed August 3–6, 2009. Check with the publishers for pricing options.
Encyclopaedia Britannica 32v. 15th ed. 2010. Britannica, $1,495 (9781593398378).
Encyclopaedia Britannica continues to be an authoritative resource. The 65,100 entries are signed by more than 4,300 contributors and have extensive bibliographies. The latest printing retains the Micropaedia/Macropaedia/Propaedia structure: short articles for quick reference in the Micropaedia, in-depth treatment of broad topics in the Macropaedia, and an “outline of knowledge” in the Propaedia. The articles on non-U.S. countries in the Macropaedia are extensive—Afghanistan is 12 pages long. It is current to the 2004 election of Hamid Karzai, whereas the 1-page article in the Micropaedia on Afghanistan ends with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. For some countries, articles in the Macropaedia cover more recent events; for others, the Micropaedia is more up-to-date. In the Macropaedia, readers are referred to Britannica Book of the Year for later developments.
The 92 new articles in this edition include Biden, Joe; Obama, Barack; Human genome; and Wikipedia. Four of the new articles, Conservation of species, Global warming, Harlem Renaissance, and Scottish Enlightenment, are in the Macropaedia. Attention seems to have been given to entries related to Native Americans; among the 62 rewritten entries are American peoples, Native; Apache; Iroquois; Navaho; Pueblo Indians; and Trail of Tears, to name a few examples. Twelve maps have been added or changed, including those depicting the Balkan states, global warming, Montenegro, and Serbia. Some 134 new illustrations include pictures of Oliver Cromwell, John McCain, and Barack Obama as well as 24 illustrations in the new Conservation of species article. Rewritten sports articles include one on the Masters Tournament, written by Arnold Palmer. A total of 861 articles have been revised.
Encyclopaedia Britannica retains its position as an excellent scholarly reference source for public, academic, and secondary-school libraries. It has improved its coverage of current events with new articles on Blog, Neoconservatism, and Same-sex marriage. There are, however, fewer revisions in this printing than in the previous (2007) one. The publishers seem to be putting most of their effort into Britannica Online.
The World Book Encyclopedia. 22v. 2009. World Book, $1,099 (9780716601098).
World Book continues to be a first choice for libraries, schools, and homes. It is easy to use, well illustrated, and reasonably current. The 2009 edition includes coverage of Afghanistan through 2006–2007, covering the opium trade and the engagement of troops from the U.S. November election coverage includes biographies of Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Sarah Palin. The article on the Olympic Games includes coverage of the Beijing game results, Michael Phelps, the steroid scandals, and information about the new Youth Olympics for athletes aged 14 to 18 years, scheduled to begin in 2010. The article on U.S. history includes Obama’s election, the Iraq War, and the economic crisis. There are new and expanded articles on Blog, Bono, Darfur, Global warming, Organic food, and Sudoku, to name a few.
World Book seems to be concentrating on its online edition. Although the print volumes remain accessible and attractive, revisions appear to be less extensive than those in previous editions. It is still an excellent print encyclopedia option for most libraries.
Britannica Online has three online encyclopedia sites: Britannica Online Academic Edition, Britannica Online Public Library Edition, and Britannica Online School Edition. Enhancements to all editions include a primary sources collection, which includes both full-text e-books and documents, and a Spanish Translator, which, when turned on, provides instant translations instead of the usual English-language mouse-over definitions.
For public libraries, Britannica offers two reading levels: Reference Center and Britannica Kids. In addition to encyclopedia articles, the Reference Center home page includes access to Merriam-Webster dictionary and thesaurus and a variety of Research Tools: Video Collection, Timelines, World Data Analyst, Compare Countries, World Atlas, Notable Quotations, Gateway to the Classics (PDFs of 225 works from world literature), Featured Articles, and Spanish-English Dictionary. In addition, users will find a Featured Spotlight (Guide to Women’s History when we last checked) and daily features including Biography of the Day, This Day in History, Britannica Blog, and news from the New York Times and BBC News. Also on the home page are links to a selection of new and revised articles (for example, entries for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Sonia Sotomayor) and to Britannica Kids, which has a more kid-friendly home page and content from Compton’s and Britannica Elementary Encyclopedia.
Basic and advanced search are complemented by several browse modes: Index, A–Z, Subject, Year in Review (an annual review of events), Biographies, and Contributors. Users can save what they find in the Workspace (which requires registration). A search will retrieve results from Encyclopaedia Britannica as well as Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, periodical articles, media, Web links, and Merriam-Webster sources. The encyclopedia also includes periodical articles from EBSCO and ProQuest.
A search for information about Afghanistan led to encyclopedia and Book of the Year articles as well as 21 Web sites, 59 media features (photographs, maps, and videos, including before-and-after pictures of the Bamuyan Buddha), and magazine articles. A search for information about swine flu yielded a brief entry and Web links to WebMd, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and National Public Radio but no link to any of the National Library of Medicine’s sites. Information about the current economic crisis came up when using the search term financial crisis of 2008. The entry on the 2008 Olympic Games included extensive coverage of China’s participation. Articles link to a Comments or Suggestions page, where users can offer corrections, updates, and more.
The current version of Britannica Online Public Library Edition is very user-friendly. It is easy to search and find information at several reading levels. The Compare Countries feature, current news, and supplementary material from the Web and periodicals are very useful for students and anyone preparing a presentation. This is an excellent resource for public libraries. Intended for college students, Academic Edition is almost identical to Britannica Online Public Library Edition except that it does not link to children’s content.
For schools, the opening page of Britannica Online School Edition K–12 has been redesigned to offer three levels: Elementary School (based on Britannica Elementary Encyclopedia), Middle School (based on Compton’s), and High School (based on Encyclopaedia Britannica). A smaller K–8 version is also available. The main landing page provides access to a Dictionary, Learning Materials, and Teachers’ Resources. Users can also access additional databases: Enciclopedia juvenil (Spanish-language resources for younger students), Global Reference Center (Britannica’s foreign-language content), Annals of American History, World Data Analyst, Merriam-Webster Unabridged, and the new Student News Net. Annals of American History, where users can search speeches, memoirs, historical accounts, poems, images, and multimedia by topic or time period, should be a welcome resource for students and teachers needing primary source documents. Student News Net, designed for use in fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms, provides news and current events with corresponding activities.
The front page search box is now located at the bottom of the page. Search results are listed by encyclopedia, allowing students to choose their reading level or informational need. Journal and Web site results are sorted by grade level, and font size is appropriate for the grade level as well. A search for Barack Obama yielded 120 hits in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 30 hits in Compton’s, and 6 hits in Elementary Encyclopedia. The first result in each is an age-appropriate encyclopedia article on the forty-fourth president. Articles in all encyclopedias provide links to age-appropriate journals and magazines, Web sites, and multimedia. Users can save to a personal Workspace. All articles link to a Spanish Translator, and Compton’s and Elementary Encyclopedia link to curriculum standards.
Users have the option to start searching a specific encyclopedia by clicking on the appropriate link from the front page. Elementary School offers a colorful front page with cartoon graphics as well as a link to the Britannica Learning Zone for PreK–2. The Learning Zone has not changed dramatically since last year’s update and still allows youngsters to Explore, Play, Read, and Draw in an interactive learning environment.
The search box on the Elementary School page is large and easy to locate. Users can also explore by topic. Also on the front page are links to Discover America, Discover Canada, and Discover Mexico; News by Student News Net; Animal of the Day; Activity of the Day; Video Collection; and Featured Spotlight. In addition, students can access features such as an alphabetical browse, country comparisons, an interactive time line, and a dictionary. A new feature, Animal Kingdom, will be highly useful for students at this grade level.
The Middle School Level also has a colorful front page, with photographs of middle-school students instead of cartoon graphics. The prominent search box is easy to use. Many links are similar to those found on the Elementary School page, including the topic browse, Discover America, Student News Net, Video Collection, Featured Spotlight (the same women’s history article as on the Elementary School page), World Atlas, and Compare Countries. Unique to Middle School are daily features, including Important People, Big Events, and Highlights. The High School page combines some of the features of Elementary and Middle School, such as Discover America, with some of the features of the academic and public library versions, such as the Britannica Blog and news from the New York Times and BBC News.
The Tour de France had just ended at the time of this review, and a search of Lance Armstrong across all three levels produced interesting results. The article in Elementary Encyclopedia is current through the 2005 race. Compton’s is current through the 2004 race. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes Armstrong’s third-place finish in 2009. Regardless of grade level, all students should have access to up-to-date information. Aside from this discovery, Britannica Online School Edition has many useful features that meet the needs of students, teachers, and librarians.
Grolier Online offers users a variety of sources: the general encyclopedias Encyclopedia Americana (high school and up), Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (grades 5 and up), The New Book of Knowledge (grades 3–6), and La nueva enciclopedia cumbre, along with Amazing Animals of the World, America the Beautiful, Lands and Peoples, and The New Book of Popular Science. Libraries can customize their subscription packages. The site also includes access to around 765 periodical articles from EBSCO, an atlas, American Heritage dictionaries in English and Spanish and thesauri for children and adults, and continuously updated Web links. Grolier Online overlays the individual resources with two interfaces, GO Passport, for students in middle school and up as well as adults, and GO Kids, for grades 3–5. It is easy to toggle from one to the other, and libraries don’t need to choose to subscribe to one or the other since both are part of a subscription. Grolier Online is one customizable product rather than a collection of separate versions and editions.
Resources available on the GO Passport home page include the Feature Showcase (Global Warming when we checked); Feature Stories of interest to teens; NewsNow, with scrolling headlines from Associated Press; International News Desk; World Newspapers, offering links to more than 600 newspapers in nearly 40 languages; From the Editor’s Desk, with editorials, pro-con debates, and selected articles about current issues; and teacher resources. With the International News Desk link, students can click on a continent or search for news or newspapers by country. This feature will be highly useful to anyone needing current-events articles.
The GO Kids home page offers a Find it fast! search box that provides access to all Grolier Online resources. Other offerings include Today Is . . ., which includes birthdays and historical events and is updated daily; and NewsNow, which offers current-events stories geared to the intended age group. The Feature Showcase is the same as that on the Passport page. Teacher resources are also available.
Each page offers access to all of the site’s resources from a single search box. Users can select basic or advanced search modes and can also limit a search to an individual resource. Curriculum standards and Lexile reading levels for each article are available by clicking on tabs at the top of the entry. Lexile levels display on results pages as well, and standards and Lexile numbers are searchable from the Advanced Search page. Users can toggle to a text-only format. Unlike Britannica Online or World Book Online, Grolier Online does not provide clickable dictionary definitions or personal space.
A GO Passport search for Afghanistan across all of Grolier Online produced articles from Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Lands and Peoples, and The New Book of Knowledge, among other resources, along with images, stories from Grolier’s NewsNow current-events feature, periodical articles from EBSCO, and Web links to both U.S. and Afghan government sites. The only difference with a GO Kids search for Afghanistan was that Encyclopedia Americana results did not show up. The environment and array of resources change once the user selects a result, depending on how each individual encyclopedia site is designed and what unique features it offers. For example, a WorldCat search can be launched from Encyclopedia Americana article pages. Country articles in Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia link to national anthems. The magazine collection accessible through The New Book of Knowledge is aimed at a younger audience than the one accessible through Encyclopedia Americana and Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.
This year, the eight Grolier Online databases added nearly 400 new articles and replaced or revised around 7,000. Among new biographies are those for Neil Gaiman, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, and David Foster Wallace. Updates to Banks and banking (in Encyclopedia Americana) and Mortgage (in Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia) accompany a new article, Global financial crisis of 2008–2009 (in The New Book of Knowledge). When more than one encyclopedia has an article on the same topic, it’s hard to tell from the results list which one is most up-to-date.
With all of its features, ease of use, and a wide range of content at many reading levels, Grolier Online is an excellent choice for public and school libraries.
World Book Web
World Book Online’s new “super home page” is divided into three sections. In the World Book Web section are links to the encyclopedia sites. Depending on a library’s subscription package, these may be for either the School and Library Edition (World Book Kids for elementary-school students, World Book Student for middle- and high-school students, and World Book Advanced for high-school and college students and adults) or the Public Library Edition, virtually the same encyclopedias but with different home pages and different names (World Book Online for Kids, World Book Online Info Finder, and World Book Online Reference Center). The other sections on the super home page are Specialty Sites and World Book Digital Collections. Specialty Sites include World Book Discover, for students reading below grade level because of language or learning disabilities; the Spanish-language Enciclopedia estudiantil hallazgos, for elementary-school students, and Enciclopedia hispánica saber, for older students and adults; and Encyclopédie découverte, a French-language encyclopedia for the elementary grades. There are three World Book Digital Collections: Living Green, Early Peoples, and Inventions and Discoveries. For both the school and public library versions, the most basic subscription package includes the two lower-level English-language encyclopedias and Enciclopedia estudiantil hallazgos.
World Book Kids, World Book Student, and World Book Advanced have not changed noticeably since our 2008 update (or, in the case of World Book Student, since our March 15, 2009, review, since it is a fairly new addition). For public libraries, World Book Online for Kids is geared to the same age group as World Book Kids. Both are based on the The World Book Student Discovery Encyclopediaand offer attention-getting graphics and browsing and searching options as well as almost identical easy-to-read content. The major difference is the layout and design of the colorful home page. Youngsters can still dig deeper by browsing under eight subject headings, and those who are comfortable with searching can utilize the Search box. Graphical buttons provide access to Games, Activities, Science Projects, Maps and More, Biographies, and Dictionary.
One unique feature of the Public Library Edition of is World of Animals, where students can explore the animal kingdom. Youngsters can compare two animals side-by-side, view encyclopedia articles about any animal, or explore that animal’s “exhibit” to find quick facts, photographs, video, or other links. This very cool feature should be added to the School Library Edition, as students in the targeted age group want and need animal information in a format that doesn’t quite feel like homework.
World Book Online Info Center, like the equivalent World Book Student, offers users an engaging layout with numerous options to explore World Book content. Students can use the search box or browse by subject, media, or A–Z. Beyond that, the home pages look very different, and Info Center has a number of features not found on the home page of Student. Among these are science projects, current events from Reuters (Student headlines are from PBS), and links to the Chicago Tribune and other national and world newspapers. The new World Book Explores feature assembles collections of articles, videos, activities, images, and Web links to examine topics such as oceans and colonial life. Info Center also provides access to e-books and primary sources, additions borrowed from World Book Advanced.
Like the other two school library–public library pairings, World Book Advanced and World Book Online Reference Center share the same content but differ in the design of their home pages. Reference Center has news headlines from both PBS and Reuters (Advanced has just Reuters). Although Reference Center offers the same e-books and primary sources as Advanced, links to them are not so prominent. Instead, Reference Center has links to consumer-oriented tutorials on topics such as using e-mail and searching the Internet; how-to’s on résumé writing, health insurance, and more; and links to local and federal government Web sites. There are also scrolling images at the top of the page that link to articles on Kurt Cobain, Dubai, the Taj Mahal, and other topics.
Consistency and attention to detail are apparent in World Book Online products. For encyclopedias at all levels, the Lance Armstrong article includes a sentence reflecting the athlete’s return to professional cycling in 2008. For Student and Advanced and their public-library equivalents, editors added more than 400 articles to the World Book database in the past year, including Binge eating, Islamic Empire, and Snow leopard. Another 8,650 entries were revised. A search for information about Afghanistan produces 120 encyclopedia entries along with maps, tables, sound, pictures, Special Reports, links to Web sites, and a Research Guide. Primary sources and e-books are added to results for all but World Book Student. A search using the terms financial crisis 2008 leads to 32 entries, including those for Bank of America, Citibank, and Paulson, Henry. Special features include audio pronunciations for selected words in the text. Advanced Search offers various browse options as well as the ability to filter searches by different types of text and media content. Articles are aligned to state and provincial learning standards and can be saved to a personal account. Print capability allows users to print specific sections of an article, which saves ink and paper. Later this year, World Book Discover’s read-aloud functionality and auto translation (in 13 languages) will be added to English-language encyclopedias, e-books, and primary sources for libraries that add Discover to a school or library package.
In whatever form, World Book Online remains an excellent resource that library users will appreciate. There is not yet a really clear distinction between school and public library collections; except for the addition of some consumer information to World Book Online Reference Center, the various sites just look like old and new versions rather than different versions. Maybe this will change by the time we do our 2010 “Encyclopedia Update.”
Barbara Bibel is a reference librarian at Oakland Public Library, California. Shauna Yusko is a librarian at Evergreen Junior High School, Redmond, Washington.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe