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All of these elegies are making me nostalgic for ye olde print Encyclopedia Britannica, but let’s not forget that it lives on electronically and is available with your library card.  With admiration for its will to survive, I offer this reprint of two earlier blog posts on the E.B.:

Part 1: Britannica vs. Wikipedia

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’s drawing on the brilliance of many authors and has an interesting 21st-century method for establishing authority.  It’s very strong in particular subject areas;  I love it for questions on popular culture, for example. But it 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.

Part 2: Using Britannica Online

On the Library’s website, click on Resources > Reference > Britannica Online.  It will prompt you for your library card number: type the whole 14-digit number with no spaces.

Once you’re in, you have various options for searching.  They always have fun features like “This Day in History,” if you just want to browse.  If you want to research a specific topic, you can type a keyword into the search box, but that’s not my favorite way; I think you get better results by clicking the link called The Index, which is near the top of the screen, below the search box, next to the word BROWSE.  On the Index screen, you can click the first letter of the word you want to search or use the Index search box.

For example, find the word ECOLOGY in the index, either by clicking on the E and working your way in through the alphabetical list or by typing the term into the Index search box.  There are two entries for the word.  If you click the first one, it produces a list of reference links to related articles in the online encyclopedia.  Even better, it displays several links on the left side of the screen called Content related to this topic.  If you click on the link for “Main Article,” you’ll get a nice 5-page overview.

To be honest, I think that the online Britannica has to work on its  design.  The way they display search results often obscures the main articles and highlights passing references.  Once you get comfortable with it, though, it’s wonderful having online access to this detailed, authoritative encyclopedia.

JMW

revised 3/27/12

Janet told me that there was once a snake on the Library mezzanine; she found it while shelving.  I like snakes, but I’m glad we haven’t seen one on the mezzanine in a good long time.  Yesterday, though, a gray squirrel was hanging out in theology (211) and was heading toward the existential philosophers, especially Jean-Paul Sartre (194).   Our cataloger thought she might need some guidance.  In hopes of guiding her right out the door, we got help from a veterinarian patron who grabbed a library shopping basket and headed for the stacks.  Moments later, a gray blur was streaking across the floor downstairs and patrons were on their feet.  Happily, with a library full of readers to cheer her on, the squirrel found her way into the office, sprinted through the doughnut box, and exited out the window.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Science, accessible online through the Library’s website, tells us that “There are about 55 species of tree squirrels in the genus Sciurus that occur in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.”  Our squirrel did not “utter a loud barking chatter when alarmed,” but we did note the “long, bushy tail, used as a rudder when…airborne while leaping from branch to branch” (or shelf to shelf).  We hope that, after her anxiety-provoking adventure, she did use her tail as “a comfy wrap-around when… sleeping.”

For more information about the gray squirrel and her cousins the chipmunks, marmots, and prairie dogs, click on the Resources button at the Library’s website and choose Reference > Gale Virtual Reference Library.  If you’re searching from home, the system will prompt you for your library card number.  Or download the Gale public library app for your iPhone.  It works whenever you’re in range of a public library with Gale online reference products.

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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Brooks Memorial Library Reference Department:

Jeanne Walsh, Therese Marcy, Sharon Reidt, Jess Weitz, and sometimes Jerry