Facts and Reference
Sometimes I bore you with ideas, sometimes I
entertain you with fun sites, and this month I
offer you a range of useful reference works
online--encyclopedias, dictionaries, quotations,
handbooks, fact books, and more. I can't believe I
haven't already covered some of these sites.
I think I've already mentioned the Encyclopedia
Britannica. All 44 million words of this
venerable reference work are freely available to
you--knowledge that previously would have cost
$1,250 in paper-based form or $85 a year for an
A search in Britannica.com returns entries in
the encyclopedia itself, web sites, magazine
articles, and related books. As with most digital
encyclopedias, each entry has links to
cross-references. Also available is the
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
The Advanced Search menu selection on the main
page takes you to an excellent collection of other
reference sites, including yellow pages, genealogy,
colleges, companies, consumer resources, government
documents, statistical data, and world data.
One of the better collections of reference works
online is Bartleby.
A particularly rich resource is the Columbia
Encyclopedia. The new 2001 edition has faster
full-text searching and includes an index of over
17,000 biographical entries.
Some of the other major reference works
available on Bartleby are the American Heritage
Dictionary, Roget's Thesaurus, the King James
Bible, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Gray's
Anatomy, and the World Factbook. You'll also find
an array of English handbooks and usage
You can search the whole site, specific
categories such as reference, or specific works
such as the Columbia Encyclopedia. In addition to
reference works, the site includes classic fiction,
nonfiction, and poetry.
An adjunct to Bartleby is the Bloomsbury
Research Centre, which offers a free online
database of reference books, with 17,000
cross-referenced entries. The books in the database
include Biographical Quotations, Dictionary of
English Literature, Good Word Guide, and Guide to
Art. You can search the database by keyword or
browse by title.
also offers a rich reference site, including a
dictionary, encyclopedia, and atlas. There is,
however, one annoyance: some of the content in the
encyclopedia is free and some requires that you
purchase the encyclopedia on CD-ROM before you can
access it online for free. And there doesn't seem
to be any way to know beforehand which is which. I
surmise that the more general content is free and
the more specialized content requires that you
subscribe. Of the 42,000 articles in Encarta,
17,000 are available for free.
That annoyance aside, this is a useful site. The
Microsoft Encarta Dictionary has all the features
you'd expect of a good dictionary, plus one: it
pronounces the words for you. Lately I used the
word "archipelago" in conversation and wasn't sure
how to pronounce it. Now I know. And I'd never been
quite sure how to pronounce "banal," having heard
it pronounced in several different ways. Now I know
the most common pronunciation.
I'm also impressed with the world maps. This
section is well organized and loads fast. An
initial menu lets you choose from eight broad
regions. I chose to view a map of Asia. From the
resulting map I chose to view a map of Southeast
Asia. I like being able to get the big picture and
then to keep zooming in to more detail. I then
selected The Philippines. The first view you get is
the "main" view, which shows an outline of the
country and locates the capital. You can also
choose the "detailed" view, which is a
topographical map that locates all the major cities
and other features, such as Mt. Pinatubo. Most of
them are clickable links that take you to the entry
for that city in the encyclopedia. I like the way
these were integrated.
In addition to these reference works, the
Internet also offers an extraordinary array of fact
books, providing you with just about any statistic
or bit of information you could want. Librarian
Gary Price from George Washington University has
put together an excellent list of these
Internet-based tools that give you "fast
facts" on a wide range of topics.
The categories are listed alphabetically by
topic, from agriculture to zoology. I checked the
"Iowa" category and found the Iowa
Redbook, the Iowa Official Register put out by
the Iowa Secretary of State.
It's filled with links to information on
senators, representatives, justices, judges, state
agencies, local government, county officials, and
stats, as well as to information you might not
expect such as the origin and naming of Iowa
© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.