Reference books can be heavy in every sense of the word.   The best are written by subject experts and are the culmination of years of research and painstaking editorial revision.  They are beautifully designed and have detailed indexes.  They also weigh a lot, and are not are easily transported, even if we let you borrow them, which we usually don’t.

Online reference sources are more portable, of course, and they’re becoming more so all the time.  But not every app carries the authoritative weight of a library reference book—not to mention Google and its gazillion slightly-relevant websites.  What’s a mobile scholar to do?

This is where the Library comes in, filling its traditional role of providing access to recorded knowledge.  “Access,” in this sense, is more than just a password for a restricted website: Libraries gather and organize material to make it easy for researchers to find what they need, no matter what the subject. 

With that in mind, Brooks Memorial recently acquired a core collection of e-reference books in the areas of science, history, religion, law, economics, popular culture, and more.  They can be searched all at once, which is a nice step forward in reference service, and they are accessible either through the Library’s website (Resources > Reference > Gale Virtual Reference Library) or through the Gale app, a free download for the iPhone and the Droid.  The app is nifty because the covers are displayed on virtual shelves, giving a visual idea of the diversity of this collection.

Some of the gems on this virtual shelf:

  • International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (William A. Darity, editor in chief, Macmillan, 2008)
  • Encyclopedia of Religion, winner of the Dartmouth Medal in its original edition and revised in 2005, (Lindsay Jones, editor in chief, Macmillan)
  • Grzimek’s Animal Encyclopedia, scholarly and detailed but accessible to young students, with terrific illustrations (Gale, 20003)
  • The Gale Encyclopedia of Law, which is just hitting the print and virtual shelves in January of 2011

And there are more, so download the app or bookmark the site on your web browser for easy access to these weightless, weighty reference sources.