Magazine article Information Today

New CD-ROM Biographical Sources

Magazine article Information Today

New CD-ROM Biographical Sources

Article excerpt

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the Department of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Hawaii. He won the 1998 Louis Shores-Oryx Press Award from ALA 's Reference and User Services Association for his discerning database reviews. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.

Several great new (or updated) references are now available on disc

In libraries, biographical reference questions are among those most often asked. No wonder that so many biographical reference books have been published, ranging from the general (such as the 27-volume American Biographies) to the specialized (such as Biographical Dictionary of Audiencia Ministers in the Americas, 1687-1821). This latter one illustrates pretty well how far the specialization has gone.

Digital Biographies

In the digital arena, CD-ROM still reigns supreme for substantial collections of biographies. This is so even if we limit our quest to the three major sources: indexes, directories, and dictionaries. There are about 300 such biographical sources on CD-ROM, not counting the dozens of other CD-ROM and DVD-ROM titles that also include a significant number of biographical entries, such as all the encyclopedias, the majority of movie and music directories, and some of the English-language dictionaries. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, has biographical names, birth and death dates, and occupations. The CD-ROM biographical database market is quite crowded by excellent products-such as the Wilson Biographies Plus and Current Biographies databases-that have been available for some time, good ones like Marquis Who's Who, and less-than-perfect ones like the Her Heritage database. Still, despite the crowded market, I've recently received in my mall some additional, remarkable biographical CD-ROM databases.

Gale's Encyclopedia of World Biography and UXL Biographies 2.0

In Gale's Encyclopedia of World Biography, there are nearly 7,000 biographies (739 about women). UXL Biographies 2.0 has 2,500 biographies, but, surprisingly, it cannot be searched by gender. The entries are substantial and well-written, in a definitely interesting style. Useful and up-to-date reading lists guide users to books and articles about or by the subjects. The layout of the reading list in the encyclopedia could be improved by starting each item on a new line. The tight listing format is justified for print volumes but not for the CD-ROM version.

The full text of the biographies in both databases can be searched, along with the name, subject, place, year, month, date of birth or death, nationality, and ethnicity and-in the encyclopedia-also by gender, titles of works, and organizations that the biographee was or is affiliated with. The criteria may be combined. This flexibility is excellent, but, surprisingly, there is no way to search by award. The textual fields can be browsed to choose the appropriate terms.

I found one oddity in the encyclopedia when searching for people with University of Hawaii as the organization name: The two items that came up were not relevant; other searches worked well. The data seemed squeaky clean in the UXL Biographies, but the nationality index is rather dirty in the encyclopedia. Gale should have corrected the many misspelled words in this field like Ameican, Amerian, Argentian, Autrian, and Chilian, and consolidated the variant spellings like Argentinan, Argentinian, Argentine, and the like. Eyeballing the other fields proved them fairly error-free.

The excellent timeline feature of the encyclopedia is unusual in biographical sources. When you type in a year, short, one-line entries appear in the right pane. In the left pane, a list of that year's major events is displayed. The timetable was incredibly current for a biographical work. For 1998, it mentioned Clinton's impeachment (not in his biography, but in the 1998 event list), the bombing of U. …

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