Encyclopedia of World Biography

By Van Atta, Nancy L. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Encyclopedia of World Biography


Van Atta, Nancy L., Reference & User Services Quarterly


Encyclopedia of World Biography. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 1999. $975 (schools: unlimited use within building, dial-in access allowed for students and faculty; all other libraries: up to eight simultaneous users, $50 per user above eight). (CD ISBN 0-7876-2939-1; manual ISBN 0-7876-2940-5).

Requirements. Single-user version: 386 or higher IBM PC or compatible (486 DX/33 or higher recommended); DOS 5.0 or higher; MS Windows 3.1 or higher; MSCD EX 2.2 or higher; 8 MB RAM; 5 MB hard disk space; SVGA graphic card/monitor (256 color display); CD-ROM (2X or higher recommended); Windows compatible mouse/pointing device. Optional: printer. Multi-user version: The above with Novell, 3 Corn, IBM Token Ring, or other Net BIOS compatible network.

Gale's Encyclopedia of World Biography on CD-ROM (EWB) contains more than 7,200 biographies of "the most frequently studied individuals from ancient times to the present" who represent "all areas of the world and fields of endeavor" (User's Manual, p. 1.1).

Since its original print publication in 1973, EWB has been designed to be representative, rather than comprehensive, in coverage. This disc continues the tradition of guiding students through time by selecting those subjects who can, as a collection, represent an occupation, a society or race, a place, or a time.

A recurring criticism of EWB is that the bibliographies contain too many out of print or hard-to-find titles. In the disc EWB, the bibliography for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lists four out-of-print books. The disc adds one current source, a collection of Dr. King's sermons, published in 1998. However, at least three of the books listed are respected works usually found in public libraries.

The target audience for the EWB has always been junior high and high school students, as well as college students--although the last would likely be freshmen and sophomores. The biographies are analytical as well as factual, so that the user is challenged to consider why, as well as how, a man or woman has achieved fame. For example, the biography of Stephen King provides more than the usual list of the author's book titles and subjects. The discussion includes thematic analysis, critical and public response, and suggestions about why horror fiction exists as a genre--and why King's horror fiction is so popular. This biography is more than a statement of facts; it represents a dissection of King's life's work.

Installing the disc is easy, although the user must remember to keep the shipping material, which contains the customer and invoice numbers necessary for setup. Pleasant and fast help is available for any questions involving use of the disc. During installation the user can decide whether to set passwords for printing, saving, or setup configuration.

The ability to customize a search by combining elements, such as a range of years and an occupation, is the CD-ROM's best feature. A timeline provides, in three windows, historical context, a year search, and a hit list of biographical subjects for any year. …

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