Gale Virtual Reference Library Supersizes Reference E-Books

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Gale Virtual Reference Library Supersizes Reference E-Books


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


These days, everything is supersized. You can get 3-ton SUVs, houses with five bathrooms, and softball-sized muffins. So why not supersized reference e-book collections? Other reference e-collections are substantial: Oxford Reference Online has 120 volumes, xreferplus has 150, and netLibrary Reference Collection has more than 400. But why not get even bigger?

Well, a supersized reference book and database publisher recently has gone bigger. Thomson Gale, a subsidiary of the supersized Thomson Corp., has created the Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL; http://www.gale .com/ebooks), which is supersized in every way. It's a big collection of big reference books on a big range of subjects. By the end of this year, GVRL will have more than 200 titles and almost 800 volumes, including some of the biggest reference sources around. So if you like your reference information supersized--or just good--GVRL is a "big" deal.

GVRL is supersized in ways that count, especially in its range of subjects and the quality of its reference content. It covers many topics of importance in academic, public, school, and some special libraries, including arts, literature, history, religion, science, social science, multicultural studies, and business. It has sources for different reading levels and audiences, such as academic, general, and middle school. In addition, GVRL offers titles from Thomson's leading reference publishers: Thomson Gale, Scribner's, Macmillan, and St. James.

Reference Book Interface

GVRL has a typical Gale interface, with a few reference book search features. The Basic search mode has a single search panel and options to search on keyword (first 50 words of the article and assigned subject terms from the book's index), article title, or source. The Advanced mode offers additional search options--full text, image caption, and ISBN--and supports Boolean and proximity operators; nesting; truncation; and limiting by source, date, subject, and reading level.

Search results can be sorted by title, source, and, in Basic search only, by relevance. The Advanced mode has neither relevance sorting nor date sorting. Articles can be displayed in Adobe PDF or in "text with graphics," which retains original images. Each record has a browsable table of contents and index, with links to articles. These articles also have links to related articles elsewhere in the book. Overall, the interface is visually satisfying and intuitive, with useful on-screen prompts and pull-down menus.

Star Works Online

One of GVRL's supersized accomplishments is bringing several star reference works online. It offers, among others, the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Encyclopedia of Religion, Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, West's Encyclopedia of American Law, and the Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Each of these multivolume subject encyclopedias is a necessary reference source for many libraries, both in print and (now) online. With these few sources alone, GVRL would be an important reference service (even if not supersized).

GVRL includes dozens of other reference works that are standards in their fields. For business, it offers Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Business and Finance 2and several of Gale's Business Plans Handbooks. In history, there are encyclopedias from Macmillan, Scribner's, and St. James. For literary criticism, there are selected volumes from Gale's useful "... for Students" series (drama, novels, poetry, and short stories).

In social science, GVRL offers several excellent psychology encyclopedias and nine Junior Worldmark sets covering world geography and culture. In science, there are important sources in physical and biological science and several of Gale's medical encyclopedias. In short, with hundreds of key titles from several of the world's leading reference publishers, GVRL is a major new locus for online reference content. …

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