Magazine article Information Today

Oxford Reference Online Fills Big Niche

Magazine article Information Today

Oxford Reference Online Fills Big Niche

Article excerpt

The conventional wisdom is that it takes older and well-established organizations longer to make the transition from one technology to another than their younger and more flexible counterparts. This has generally been the model for publishing on the Web, where established publishers, both print and online, have been a step or more behind start-ups and dot-coms. Lending additional support to this theory is the appearance last March of a major new online product from Oxford University Press (OUP), one of the very oldest and most respected publishers.

Oxford University Press began printing in 1478, and you can't get much more venerable than that. Among OUP's many achievements is its line of reference books, which are found abundantly in libraries of every kind and level. The most familiar of these titles are standard reference works in literature and language, but the line also includes dictionaries that cover newer topics like computing, the Internet, ecology, and fitness.

OUP has placed a collection of 100 leading reference books online in its new Web service, Oxford Reference Online (ORO; ORO provides the full text of these dictionaries and reference books, which collectively contain 1.5 million entries. It blends the old and the new, joining some of the most traditional reference books with newfangled things like relevance searching, Web links, and flat-rate pricing.

Comprehensive Ready Reference

ORO is a multidisciplinary database that provides deep coverage of many subjects and some coverage of most. Its strongest subjects are those for which OUP has long been well-known:

* Humanities-There are 28 titles in literature, art, religion, and philosophy, including the Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature, the Oxford Dictionary of Dance, and the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.

* Language-This subject's 20 titles include reference books on usage and etymology; English-language dictionaries; and bilingual dictionaries for Spanish, French, Italian, and German.

* Social Science-There are 15 titles that cover psychology, anthropology, history, etc. Several dictionaries of politics and government address political events, leaders, and principal news developments up to the past year or two.

ORO's coverage of other subjects, including science and business, is less substantial:

* Science-One or two books address each of the major scientific disciplines, as well as computing, medicine, and wellness.

* Business & Law-Six titles cover business, economics, finance, and law.

ORO will be expanded over the next 2 years to include approximately 30 additional titles, which will widen the database's scope with coverage of sports, business, et al.

In addition to its proprietary content, ORO has its own Web directory. Each book in ORO has an accompanying set of links to high-quality, subject-related Web sites. Since ORO is not a Web search service, the links are to home pages only, but the service of identifying and classifying these Web resources greatly extends the database's reference value.

The principal point about ORO is that it's made up of short entries. Its sources are dictionaries that, while broad in scope, up-to-date, and authoritative, are concise. A full page is a long record in ORO (note that OUP's flagship reference work, the Oxford English Dictionary, is not part of the database). Thus ORO does not provide the in-depth information found in full-size encyclopedias and other comprehensive reference works. It's an enormous ready-- reference database.

Another key point about ORO is its classic liberal arts emphasis, which means that its coverage of technology and business is wide but shallow. Current events are addressed incidentally as they appear in publications like the Dictionary of 20th-Century World History and the Oxford Guide to the United States Government. There is no current news content. …

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