Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Subject Area Highlight: Interdisciplinary Resources

One of the changes in library reference service brought on by Google and the ubiquitous web is the decline in the traditional ready reference or factual question at the reference desk. The easy access to online dictionaries, encyclopedias, personal pages, blogs, and other sources of information (some more reliable than others) results in students pursuing these questions on their own. Perhaps the most heavily used of these sources is Wikipedia. The press and buzz on Wikipedia is plentiful as to its quality (both pro and con) and it is safe to say that it will be difficult to wean students from it and Google.


Naturally, libraries and publishers are not isolated from this trend. Myriad sources and services that typically respond to factual and introductory questions are increasingly available online. These online sources are more current, more interdisciplinary, and provide access to more information with external links. Further, libraries offer e-mail reference and, more relevant, 24/7 reference chat service.


The Libraries offer students these reliable resources and other service options so students can double-check information (in itself a good research habit). Systemically, the Libraries need to work on improving access to the resources available, with the goal that students will think of these resources first when engaged in research.


Here are some of these more respected resources available from the Boston College Libraries:

Image from American National Biography websiteAmerican National Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: both of these titles were prestigious print publications and both have transitioned to the web in elegant fashion. Their goals are the same, biographies of notable deceased individuals from the United States and the United Kingdom. The new online editions are more inclusive, offer special features, more powerful and flexible searching and content enhanced with multimedia. Both are updated regularly.


Biography Resource Center: if you need a biography of Jackie Chan, as opposed to George Orwell, this is a good place to search. While it also offers biographies of historical figures, you can read up on more contemporary people. In fact, it has more than 400,000 biographies from around the world.


Image from Encyclopedia Britannica websiteEncyclopedia Britannica: the online edition of the venerable work includes the complete encyclopedia, as well as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and the Britannica Book of the Year. You can also search an Internet directory that includes more than 130,000 links to Web sites selected, rated, and reviewed by Britannica editors. You can search it, browse it, use the atlas and timeline, get some country data, find a quotation, and read some classic texts. Special features include “This Day in History," "Biography of the Day," and links to headline news. brings together complete content from the Facts on File World News Digest since 1940 and selected content from six other core reference databases to answer questions about events, issues, statistics and people for that time period.


Gale's Ready Reference: Provides access to entries from 14 reference directories including: Directories in Print, Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers, Encyclopedia of American Religions, Encyclopedia of Associations, Encyclopedia of Governmental Advisory Organizations, Gale Directory of Databases, Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, Newsletters in Print, Publishers Directory, Research Centers Directory, International Research Centers Directory, Government Research Centers Directory. It contains more than 355, 000 listings for associations, research centers, publishers, publications (ranging from newspapers and newsletters to periodicals and directories), databases, television and radio stations, and more. It is fully searchable across all files.


Oxford English Dictionary: the editors say it best, the OED "is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books." It is regularly updated with hundreds of entries each year.


Image from Oxford Reference OnlineOxford Reference Online: this is a collection of more than 100 reference titles covering more than twenty broad subject areas. Search all 1.5 million dictionary definition, facts, figures, people, places, dates, and quotations simultaneously or select a subject or title to search. An easy to use collection or traditional ready reference sources.


Statistical Abstract of the United States: Standard summary of statistics on the social, political and economic organization of the U.S. Includes data from governmental and private sources. Serves as a guide to other statistical source. This title can be a good place to begin searching for some basic statistical information.

All of these resources, and more, are available via the Online Databases page. Also check out the Ready Reference page and the Research Guides for other recommendations.



Ed Tallent
Head, Reference & Instructional Services





Links »

Ready Reference
Research Guides

Questions, comments? Contact the BC Libraries Newsletter Review Board.
Subscribe to the Boston College Libraries Newsletter