Magazine article Information Today

Specialized Encyclopedias for In-Depth Information

Magazine article Information Today

Specialized Encyclopedias for In-Depth Information

Article excerpt

If you search for information on Friedrich Nietzsche at Encyclopedia.com, you get a 247-word overview of the German philosopher's life and work. If you look him up in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stan ford.edu), you get a 5,500-word article divided into numerous subsections, including Early Writings, Nietzsche's Unpublished Notebooks, and Nietzsche's Influence Upon 20th-Century Thought.

No matter what topic you're researching, if you can find it in a specialized encyclopedia, you're almost certain to get more in-depth information than you would from a general reference work.

Last month, I explored the offerings of three specialized encyclopedias that cover the arts: Artcyclopedia.com, The Literary Encyclopedia, and the Musical Heritage Network Instrument Encyclopedia. The following are some free specialized encyclopedias that are available on the Web.

The Philosophy of Reference

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is designed as a "dynamic reference work." According to the site's editors, this means that "each entry is maintained and kept up-to-date by an expert or group of experts in the field.

"All entries and updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished editorial board before they are made public," the editors say. "Consequently, our dynamic reference work is responsive to new research."

But what happens if you cite the encyclopedia in a research paper and then the information changes? The editors thought of that and created an online archive of the encyclopedia's quarterly editions. They are never modified. An online note offers suggestions on the best ways to cite the entries.

Keyword and advanced search options are available for the encyclopedia's current and archived editions. The advanced interface allows Boolean and wild-card queries. You can also browse the entries alphabetically. They tend to be lengthy, multipart articles with extensive bibliographies and links to related entries and other relevant Web sites.

The encyclopedia's only drawback is that it doesn't provide articles for many of the topics listed in the table of contents. According to a note on the site, these entries have been assigned to authors but are still being written.

If you don't find the information you need at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, try the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.utm.edu/research/ iep), which is operated by a staff of volunteer editors from universities around the world. This site offers three types of entries: original contributions from specialized philosophers, adaptations of material the editors have written for classroom purposes, and adaptations from public-domain sources. The editors plan to replace all the adaptations with original submissions.

If you can't find the information you need using the keyword search engine, try the alphabetical index or use related keywords. For example, if you search "Nietzsche," you get a message that says no entries were found. However, information about him is available in the entry for "nihilism."

The encyclopedia also offers a Timeline of Western Philosophy, which includes links to entries.

Regional Reference Resources

Instead of covering a specific field like philosophy, some specialized encyclopedias cover a particular region. For instance, The Canadian Encyclopedia (http:// www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com) claims to be "the most comprehensive and authoritative source of information on all things Canadian."

The site offers access to the complete text (in English and French) of the Canadian Encyclopedia's print version as well as the print versions of the Junior Encyclopedia of Canada and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

The site's keyword search engine supports the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT. You can also browse a subject index. The encyclopedia's entries contain not only text but also multimedia elements, including photos, maps, audio, and video. …

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