This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Electronic Highways

Published: October 21, 2004

Online encyclopedias: An overlooked resource?

Today's scholar is inundated with an overabundance of electronic resources. There are Web sites and subscription databases devoted to almost every area of academic research. A search using an engine like Google often can result in millions of Web sites and Web pages containing opinion pieces, white papers, government data or books from vendors like That is in addition to online databases, accessible through your libraries' paid subscriptions, that provide citations or full-text to journal, newspaper and magazine articles. Often overlooked, however, is the online encyclopedia. Both general and specialized encyclopedias are invaluable research tools accessible through the UB Libraries Web site.

In the past, scholars frequently consulted encyclopedias to get an overview of a particular topic, identify specialists in particular fields of research, expand their bibliographies by using an essay's "additional readings" suggestions or retrieve definitions for unfamiliar terms. They then consulted print indexes and abstracts for journal, magazine or newspaper articles and the card catalogue for books on the topic they were researching. Technology has allowed publishers to place many of these print resources on the Internet through paid subscriptions. The following are just a sampling of the online encyclopedias maintained by the University Libraries.

Reference Universe is a mega-encyclopedia search. Published by Paratext, this product searches the table of contents and back-of-the-book indexes of more than 5,000 subject encyclopedias. The search interface allows you to either enter keywords or browse by subject. The results will indicate when UB owns the encyclopedia with a red check-mark. If UB owns an online subscription to the encyclopedia, Reference Universe will connect you to the entry with one click of the lightning bolt icon. The coverage is crossdisciplinary, with encyclopedias covering business, chemistry, literature, philosophy, religion and television, to name just a few.

Britannica Online is the electronic version of "Encyclopaedia Britannica." This bastion of the world's knowledge has been in existence since the late 1700s. While many advanced scholars might not use Britannica, it is still a valid reference tool for students who need an introduction to topics in history, art, philosophy, religion, science and biographies. Not only does it contain full-text entries of more than 72,000 essays, but also provides access to relevant topical Web sites that have been vetted by Britannica scholars.

Gale Virtual Reference Library provides access to the full text of Gale's encyclopedias, almanacs and "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary." Among the subjects covered are aging, biology, child development, ethics, law, popular culture and religion. An advanced search allows you to limit by broad subject, years of publication and audience. The results are ordered by title of the essay, with access to the full text in html or pdf form. A unique feature is the "How to Cite" link, which shows the user how to cite an article or electronic book using the Modern Language Association (MLA) style.

Access Science is one example of a specialized encyclopedia, in this case McGraw-Hill's "Encyclopedia of Science & Technology." This particular online encyclopedia is updated daily and encompasses more than traditional encyclopedic essays. It also provides biographies, dictionary terms and updates on the latest breakthroughs in science and technology. Some of the areas covered are agriculture, archaeology, environmental science, medicine and veterinary medicine. You can browse the entries by topic or search by keyword(s). Most essays provide a bibliography and a list of additional readings.

These are just a highlight of the hundreds of online encyclopedias available to the UB community. UB librarians have created a list of online encyclopedias organized by discipline. Don't overlook these valuable resources available at http://libweb.lib.buffalo. edu/infotree/resourcesbysubjecEncyclopedias.asp. You'll definitely find a reference tool that will help you begin that research project at the scholar, graduate or undergraduate level.

—Laura Taddeo and Cynthia Tysick, Arts and Sciences Libraries