I probably should have written this column for the September issue of Information Today, at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. The need for Spanish-language digital reference sources keeps growing, as does the U.S. Hispanic population. Similarly, the proportion of Hispanics who use the Web--and who get secondary and postsecondary degrees--keeps growing. Luckily, there are quite a few good and excellent digital reference sources in Spanish, many of which (especially in the dictionary and encyclopedia categories) are free or affordable even for individuals.
The Library Market
There are four well-known players that serve the library market with digital ready-reference sources in Spanish: Gale, Grolier, World Book, and Micro soft. Gale (the sponsor of my Digital Reference Shelf column on its Web site), in cooperation with Oceano Group, offers the Consulta database, which is by far the most comprehensive digital ready-reference collection. It has more than 100 general and special encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and almanacs. Consulta is ideal for large colleges with extensive course offerings in Spanish and for public libraries with large Spanish-speaking populations.
Historically, Grolier was the first to launch in the U.S. a digital encyclopedia in Spanish: the Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre en linen, a good, well-illustrated resource for high school students and Spanish-speaking adults. Grolier strongly emphasizes its Latin American focus, but I think the Iberia-independence card is overplayed by omitting some important issues and people related to Spain. For example, it ignores Jorge Semprun, Spain's most lauded contemporary novelist. Grolier's search software is very good, except for its inability to handle the Spanish diacritics in the queries. However, the interface for the separate American Heritage LaRousse Spanish Dictionary: Spanish/English English/Spanish (which should be integrated with the encyclopedia) is poor. Grolier also recommends the encyclopedia for grade schools, but 1 think its language is too difficult for those students. World Book's curriculum-based, basic-Spanish-language Enciclopedia Estudiantil Hallazgos may be better for younger students.
Microsoft has a Spanish-language Encarta both on CD-ROM and on the Web. It isn't merely the Spanish translation of its successful English-language encyclopedia, but is enhanced for topics related to Spain, Central America, and Latin America. A concise online version used to be free, but as of this summer it's only for subscribers of the MSN 8 service. This bundling is not necessarily a smart idea, as potential users of this very good encyclopedia may not want to switch to MSN 8. Surprisingly, Microsoft's choice, Langenscheidt's bilingual Spanish/ English dictionary, is not a good one.
Many of the dictionaries bundled with encyclopedias and reference suites are also available free of charge on the Web (see below). The one exception is the bilingual Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary, which is available on the Web only as part of the Oxford Reference Online service. It received the best score on nay benchmark test, but a free product, the bilingual Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary, was very close to it.
The End-User Market
Free, high-quality monolingual and bilingual Spanish dictionaries abound on the Web. …