Wikipedia addicts: your options have expanded.  The Brooks Memorial Library’s website offers access to Britannica Online free to all from inside the Library.  Cardholders also have access from home.  Click on Resources > Reference, and log in with your library card number.

Why choose Britannica over Wikipedia? Because it is, according to itself, “the oldest English-language general encyclopaedia,” first appearing in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1768.  It has the weight and authority of centuries behind it.  And if you’re working on a paper, chances are your teacher will accept it as a legitimate source in your bibliography.

Why choose Wikipedia over Britannica?  It can be an easy starting point for research, and it’s strong in particular subject areas.  I love it for questions on popular culture, for example. But remember it doesn’t have the same editorial oversight as Britannica and isn’t considered a reliable source in many academic environments.

Today, I staged a Britannica/Wikipedia death match over Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini (born January 20th, 1920), and these are my quick impressions:

Britannica:  Nice, long, detailed article about his life and works, with critical commentary.  Surprisingly, it has a wimpy bibliography, and the filmography is incorporated into the essay; there’s no handy list.  But it’s nicely illustrated with public-domain photos.

Wikipedia:  This one also has a substantial essay, but it’s more biographical than critical.  Excellent bibliography and a handy filmography and awards list – plus, you could read the article in Fellini’s native language!  Not many photos; try Google Images for that.

In other words, both sources have unique material, so why limit yourself?  It takes just minutes to search them both, and your knowledge will expand for your efforts.

Photo credits:  Fellini and Masina on the set of La Strada, still from 8 1/2, Mastroianni & Ekberg in still from La Dolce Vita. Courtesy Britannica Online.

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