There are numerous academic dictionaries on CD-ROM. I've picked three to cover here that represent the best in their respective categories. But first...
In my last CD-ROM Currents column, I looked at academic encyclopedias that are appropriate for university, college, and special libraries. At the time, I did not have the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology, which clearly belongs to this category and deserves mention, at least belatedly. I have now had a chance to look at this two-volume CD-ROM set, which was published in 1996 by Knight-Ridder Information/DIALOG.
Although the KR OnDisc logo appears on the disc, the encyclopedia doesn't make use of the venerable OnDisc software. Instead, it uses the popular Personal Library Software (Figure 1), a natural-language search engine with relevance ranking that also has the power features of command language systems, such as field qualification, proximity, and positional operators. The full text of the 700 articles, 10,000 illustrations (including drawings and tables), and bibliographies are searchable, and you can display and/or print all of these in page-image format -- more or less the photocopy equivalent of the original page.
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At $3,000, you pay a rather steep price for the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology, but the content is first-class. This means libraries have to decide whether the more current and more universal 1997 CD-ROM edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica offers sufficiently in-depth coverage of physical science and technology topics or whether they need to spring for the Academic Press Encyclopedia.
And now, back to the dictionaries.
Oxford English Dictionary
This gem apparently does not requires advertisement or press reviews. I have seen no ads for the CD-ROM edition of OED in the past few years, and when I requested a review copy for this column, the public relationship manager of the publisher told me that no review copies were available.
This is an unusual attitude (considering the $2 cost pressing a copy of the CD plus a few dollars for shipping), but Oxford University Press may get away with it. The name of the product speaks for itself, and while the first CD-ROM edition had ill-designed software, the second edition is very good, though sorely lacking in a convenient and intuitive way to print those immensely rich articles either partially or in their entirety. Maybe University Press is not interested in new reviews of the CD-ROM edition because it is putting OED on the Web and shifting its sales focus to that version. I have seen the Web edition at the alpha stage (Figure 2), and it is impressive, outperforming the CD-ROM edition.
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The decisive question will be how Web access is priced. OED on CD-ROM has not followed the price-slashing trend of academic encyclopedias; it's still almost $1,000. But, if the Web version is more in line with current pricing schemes (such as $1/student/year for Encyclopaedia Britannica), it will be not only better known and respected but also much more commonly used than it is now. It is fascinating source for anyone with the slightest interest in the English language, and the electronic versions open incredible horizons for exploring it.
Academic Press Dictionary of Science & Technology
Academic Press has a relatively new and attractive series of multiplatform CD-ROMs for many of its respected print publications, from the Immunology Methods Manual to the Encyclopedia of Virology. The one that befits our current topic is the Dictionary of Science & Technology. At $80, the CD-ROM version is not only a steal but is also less expensive than the print edition, which costs $121. And it is even more current, not to mention the fact that it offers greater versatility in access. …