Bartleby and xrefer offer free searchable access to full-text standard reference works with hundreds of thousands of individual entries
Online virtual reference collections are one of the many information blessings of the Web. Libraries often create their online collection by collecting links to individual resources, but there have been few free collections of standard reference sources. Two notable exceptions are the free, full-text ready-reference collections from Bartleby.com and xrefer.com.
Both offer free searchable access to full-text standard reference works with hundreds of thousands of individual entries. The collections differ significantly in the scope of the titles included, search features, and reasons to use them. Understanding the scope and search capabilities of each can help determine how to use them successfully for a variety of reference queries.
The entire Bartleby site includes more than just the reference collection discussed here, with other sections for additional full-text collections of verse, fiction, and non-fiction. Yet for ready-reference questions, Bartleby has a useful collection. The most significant titles in the Bartleby reference collection include the most recent edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia, the 4th edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and the 3rd edition of Roget's II The New Thesaurus.
Most of the rest of the Bartleby reference collection are well-known tomes: Fowler's The King's English, Strunk's The Elements of Style, Mencken's The American Language, the Familiar Quotations of John Bartlett, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the Oxford Shakespeare, Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, Emily Post's Etiquette, and the Robert's Rules of Order Revised. All together, Bartleby offers more than 25 reference sources, many of them classics in any library's reference collection.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic, we have xrefer.com, which has gathered more than 50 full-text reference sources together and provides not only full-text searching but also extensive cross-linkages between the reference sources. Xrefer offers a variety of dictionaries beyond basic-language dictionaries. There are dictionaries of quotations, music, place names, computer terms, and biography. The publishers included at xrefer are well-known names in the reference publishing world: Houghton Mifflin, Grove, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Bloomsbury, and Macmillan.
The majority of the works are British editions and thus have an obvious English bent in spellings and content. Thus, xrefer includes A Dictionary of English Place-Names and the Market House Books Dictionary of British History. Yet the majority of the works are of broad interest to the Englishspeaking reference world.
The full list of titles (http://www.xrefer.com/allbooks.jsp) shows some general sources like The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001, The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English, and the Bloomsbury Thesaurus. It has Oxford dictionaries for accounting, biology, business, earth sciences, geography, law, science, and more. It has specialized resources such as the Penguin International Dictionary of Finance, A Dictionary of First Names, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought, and the Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography.
For many reference aficionados, the collections available at xrefer, in and of themselves, make the site worth a prominent bookmark or link. Yet, xrefer the company actually trumpets its cross-linking technology over and above the collection. The basic idea of the cross-references (which accounts for the xrefer name as well) is that the indexing for entries not only connects a search to one entry, but also provides links to other related entries in the other works. …