Current Biography on CD-ROM, 1940-Present

By Roberts, Randall L. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Current Biography on CD-ROM, 1940-Present


Roberts, Randall L., Reference & User Services Quarterly


Current Biography on CD-ROM, 1940-Present. New York: Wilson, 1997. Price: $499 1-4 workstations; $699 5-8 workstations; $979 9-12 workstations; $149 annual updates, any number of workstations. Requirements: (DOS) IBM PC or compatible 386/higher; DOS 5.0/higher; 640K RAM (510K must be free); 2-3MB hard-disk space; ISO 9660 compatible CD-ROM drive; (Mac) Mac 68020/higher; 2.5 MB RAM (4 MB recommended RAM); System 7.0/higher; 10 MB hard-disk space; Mac compatible CD-ROM drive. Printer optional.

Current Biography on CD-ROM, 1940-Present is a full-text CD-ROM database that corresponds to the print product, Current Biography Yearbook (Wilson, 1940-). The database includes over twenty-two thousand biographical articles and obituaries on over fifteen thousand prominent people from 1940 to the present. Coverage is international and includes persons from virtually all walks of life. Most of the articles are substantive, and each includes references to additional citations.

H. W. Wilson does not presently offer a Windows version of Current Biography. It comes in DOS, Windows, and Mac versions. While the DOS product will run in Windows, the convenience, intuitiveness, and integration with other Windows products, particularly word processing, is a strong argument for going with the Windows version.

Installation and setup for Current Biography is simple and straightforward, not the least bit daunting even for inexperienced PC users.

Current Biography is easy to use, though a bit inelegant. That is, navigation through menus and selection of options from lists are sometimes awkward. For example, returning to search mode from the display of a biographical article requires a series of Escape key hits. Starting a new search should be a one keystroke maneuver. Selection of items in a list requires cursor control keys and marking items with the space bar and pressing the Enter key to display the marked items. Press the Enter key too early, and the user is always sent to the first item in the list. The forthcoming Windows version of Current Biography should eliminate such annoyances. Generally speaking, Current Biography's screens are simple, uncluttered, and easy to understand. The user is unlikely to become disoriented.

Printing and downloading features are well marked and easy to complete. The help system, on the other hand, is not a prizewinner. There is no index of electronic help. Electronic help is available only as the context-sensitive variety, and Wilson's context-sensitive help is incomplete and superficial. Obvious questions are usually answered, but solutions for more subtle problems are nowhere to be found, not on the CD nor in the twenty-eight-page manual that comes with Current Biography. For example, how are stop words or expressions in quotations searched? Where is the mystery of word variants discussed? Search for "bat," and articles are retrieved where nary a bat is to be found. …

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