This month I'll review a multidisciplinary database that contains the full text of dozens of short-entry reference books from British publishers. If this seems familiar, it's because in the June 2002 issue (p.14) I reviewed a multidisciplinary database that contains the full text of dozens of short-entry reference books from British publishers. The first article was on Oxford Reference Online (http://www.oxfordreference.com); this one is on xreferplus (http://www.xreferplus.com). If this appears to be a new British invasion, then let them come, because xreferplus, like Oxford Reference Online, is an excellent database that can be useful in many settings. xreferplus does in fact have a great deal in common with Oxford Reference Online, and in some ways surpasses it. In effect, what we have is a Battle of the British Bands, online database style. So let the contest begin. (More on the battle later.)
xreferplus was founded in 1999 by a group of British publishing veterans with extensive online experience. (The service itself was launched in June 2000.) It features a roster of publishers that includes respected houses on both sides of the Atlantic. xreferplus assembles dozens of those publishers' most familiar and widely used reference books into a single, integrated database. And even though books like Debrett's Baronetage and Peerage echo Victoria and the Empire, xreferplus is the very model of a modem major database. It has a sleek Web interface, lots of powerful search and browse features, and flat-rate pricing.
Robust Ready Reference
xreferplus contains 120 full-text reference books from nearly 2 dozen publishers. Most are British and include prominent reference houses like Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, Macmillan, Penguin, Peter Collin, Routledge, and Thames & Hudson. Noteworthy non-British participants include Columbia University Press, Elsevier Science, and Houghton Muffin. The books themselves are all short-entry, single-volume dictionaries and encyclopedias.
The xreferplus collection is truly multidisciplinary, with at least cursory coverage of every major academic discipline and research subject. Language reference is particularly well-represented with numerous etymological, usage, bilingual, and standard dictionaries. All of the major liberal arts are covered, especially literature, history, and the humanities. There is at least one comprehensive reference source for other subjects, including business, health, science, technology, and politics.
xreferplus is exceptionally wide, but not deep. Its single-volume reference books provide information on almost everything, but the entries themselves are short. The longest articles in xreferplus are found in encyclopedias. This is quite acceptable for word-oriented reference or quick look-ups, but xreferplus does not provide in-depth coverage of any subject.
Nor is xreferplus a current-events service. Its books are updated annually or less frequently, so it does not cover recent news. The most up-to-date information extends to late last year; several titles make reference to 9/11. Finally, xreferplus does have a decidedly British flavor. Its spelling, usage, definitions, and subject coverage are British, which may befuddle American users. There are however a few reference books with an American focus.
xreferplus has a complete set of search features, including Basic and Advanced levels, Boolean operators, phrase searching, end and internal wild-card character, field searching, and relevanceranked results. The Basic level provides a single query panel that searches the entire database. The relevanceranking algorithm usually does a good job in bringing the principal records to the top. The Advanced level offers additional options, such as the ability to limit the search to separate subjects or individual books. Screen layouts throughout xreferplus are typically clear and uncluttered, with helpful on-screen prompts. …