Britannica Online: thin, boring and not free

Recently, I attended a presentation for Britannica Online.

Britannica Online School Edition
Britannica Online School Edition

To test the resource, I searched for my favorite physicist- Richard Feynman.

While Britannica gave me a brief summary of Feynman’s physics career, I was disappointed by the questions that Britannica could not answer.

They also neglected to include Feynman’s involvement with the Challenger explosion and the popular books that he wrote.

Some teacher’s give Wikipedia a hard time for it’s openness but it does a much better job at showing us the more interesting and human elements of historical figures.

Two more things that annoy me…

  1. We pay for Britannica while a simple search at Google or Wikipedia is free and provides richer results.
  2. Britannica provides MLA and APA citations at the bottom of each article. Since when is it a good idea to cite an encyclopedia? I wish they would provide references (like Wikipedia does) so students can cite the primary sources that are related to the subject and more authoritative.

The one-stop-shop argument…

Others defend resources like Britannica because they are an easy-to-use place for students to find things without having to search all over the web for what they need.

But isn’t the skill of effectively searching all over the web what our students need?

If your students are elementary level…

Then I take it all back. Britannica does a nice job getting little kids started with material that is written at their level. They also have some quasi-educational games at the Britannica Learning Zone that are worth a look.

Library of Congress will do your research

A few weeks back I saw a little blub in PC Magazine on the Ask a Librarian website provided by the Library of Congress. The site provides an online reference service that promises to reply to your question in just five business days.

Ask a Librarian

I decided to give it a try. My question? Which U.S. college has educated the most Nobel Laureates? I thought this wouldn’t be something that could be answered with a simple Google Search.

Three days after I submitted my question, I received their reply:

I have not found a comprehensive list of Nobel Laureates by undergraduate or graduate affiliation. The top schools in the United States for total Nobel Prizes awarded are: Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T., CalTech, and Columbia, and tied with Berkeley is University of Chicago.

But the information didn’t stop there. They sent a myriad of data (see it yourself). Everything from breakdowns by category to links to where the information can be found.

The next time I need some research done, I think I’m going to put the Ask a Librarian service to work.