CD-Based Reference Tools Serve as Virtual Libraries

By Carmona, Jeff | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), August 1996 | Go to article overview

CD-Based Reference Tools Serve as Virtual Libraries


Carmona, Jeff, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


What is photosynthesis? How many people live in Mexico City? Who built the Taj Mahal, and why? Not many students can answer these questions without consulting an encyclopedia, atlas or other reference work. Fortunately, they no longer have to visit the local library and hunt through endless aisles to find the books, maps, etc. they need. Not to mention the inevitable trips to the copy machine, which seems to always break down right before an important deadline.

These days, thanks to a variety of computer-based reference tools, an abundance of information lies at one's fingertips. Such products have been around for over a decade -- Grolier introduced its first Multimedia Encyclopedia in January 1986. However, widespread adoption did not occur until fairly recently, due to the proliferation of low-cost, speedy CD-ROM drives and CD network towers plus other enhancements to desktop PCs.

Price reductions have also fueled the demand for electronic reference tools; entire encyclopedias can be had for as little as $45, with academic discounts bringing costs down even further. This article surveys some of the latest releases in this field, highlighting major trends of interest to education. For a complete listing of all their products, contact the companies listed in the directory.

* Encyclopedias Come of Age

Multimedia encyclopedias have come a long way since their introduction, when publishers simply "dumped" existing information from printed sources, adding a few bells and whistles such as sound effects and limited search functions. In contrast, today's titles are packed with vivid animation, video, audio and games plus advanced search engines. Indeed, CD-ROMs are a natural medium for encyclopedias. (It's also much easier to carry around a disc versus 25+ printed volumes.)

Britannica CD contains the full text of the 32-volume Encyclopacdia Britannica, one of the most authoritative general encyclopedias in the English language. One can search on any subject, obtaining broad overviews or moving ahead to advanced levels of detail and understanding. Boolean searches are also supported.

Illustrations, figures and photographs provide visual reinforcement to Britannica CD's text. For example, a question about Art Nouveau architecture brings forth a text explanation and leads to a photograph of Casa Mila by architect Antonio Gaudi. Bibliographies at the end of articles give still more research suggestions. Britannica CD comes in both stand-alone and networked formats; pricing for the latter is based on FTE enrollment.

Another leading producer of printed encyclopedias, World Book recently entered the electronic age with its World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, which boasts easy-to-read text. Owners of the printed version can get the CD-ROM for a discounted price.

Looking ahead, Compton's NewMedia unveils Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1997 for Windows, which features 40,000+ articles as well as numerous videos, animations, slideshows and maps. Representing the latest trend, users can download updates to the encyclopedia from online sources, including America Online (AOL), or hot link directly to sites on the World Wide Web. AOL comes bundled on the CD-ROM, providing one-button access to the Compton's NewMedia Forum, which offers homework assistance and activities for students.

Shipping this August, the 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia also exploits the expansive resources on the Internet. The Grolier Internet Index connects thousands of articles on the CD-ROM related Internet sites hand-picked by a team of editorial, education and library experts. Approximately 800 new sites will be added to the index each month.

Grolier's latest release also offers four new interface screens for accessing the 50,000+ articles (7,000 are new or revised), 1,200 maps, 9,500 images or 600 musical selections. A separate timeline tracks pivotal episodes in history, utilizing videos and narration, while 16 Guided Tours provide a thematic approach to content. …

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CD-Based Reference Tools Serve as Virtual Libraries
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