AL -- General Encyclopedias

Meyers großes Konversations-Lexikon [Meyer’s Comprehensive Encyclopedia]. Facsimile and full text of the 6th ed. 1905-1909. Berlin: Directmedia, 2003. DVD. (Digitale Bibliothek, 100). ISBN 3-89853-200-3: EUR 235 [04-1-015]

Brockhaus: die Enzyklopädie digital [Brockhaus: Digital Encyclopedia]. Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F. A. Brockhaus, 2003. 2 CD-ROMS + manual (64 p. ill.), 1 computer mouse. ISBN 3-7653-9377-0: EUR 990 [04-1-016]

Encyclopædia Britannica 2002. Bristol: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2002. DVD. ISBN 0-85229-795-5: price not available [04-1-017]

Meyers offers not only the keyword searchable full-text, but also the transcribed browsable facsimile of the 23,000-page 6th edition. Contained on a single dvd, it combines the features of the reprint of a late representative of the genre of expansive universal encyclopedias with those of an electronic resource. The digitization of the original Gothic font for the searchable database is mostly successful (an exception being the lower-case “s” occasionally transcribed as “f ”). Article entries, references, illustrations, and tables have been linked to the content as appropriate. Unfortunately, the supplement volumes were not included in the project. Another drawback is that the discs must be installed on the hard drive and may not be used on more than one machine. Unlike Meyers, neither Brockhaus nor Britannica preserves the illusion of the printed page, opting instead for the full capabilities of multi-media digital presentation and integration, with multiple windows and possibilities for varying levels of information seeking while preserving the sense of context within the whole. Reaching beyond itself, Brockhaus also enriches the content with links to web sites. Still, the illustrations in the 19th (paper) edition were more extensive than what is offered in the current digital edition. Included in the electronic product are an atlas, multi-layer human anatomy, and the searchable 1906 Brockhaus Kleines Konversations-Lexikon. A final feature allows the user to enter and store singly or as thematic groups personal notes and links in the file. As noted above, the Britannica is similar in technical sophistication to Brockhaus, but with several differences. Unlike Brockhaus, Britannica has a simpler screen presentation composed of only two windows, and the product is supposed to be updated and revised annually. Its supplemental files include an atlas and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Otherwise, the multi-media informational capabilities of both Brockhaus and Britannica are comparable, as are their user-customizable notation and organization functionalities. [wh/rlk]

Wikipedia: die freie Enzyklopä die [Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia]. Ed. Wikimedia Foundation. http://wikipedia.org/ [04-1-018]

Wikipedia, which exists in more than 80 languages, is a continuously evolving online encyclopedia in which readers are freely permitted to contribute new articles or comment on existing entries and suggest corrections. All of these contributions are tracked and given attributions. Wikipedia has become a much-consulted internet resource, but to use it effectively one needs to be aware of its attributes.

A ground rule is that information should be presented in understandable terms and from a neutral point of view (“NPOV”), with all significant positions and arguments on a topic being included. In general, there is more content in the natural sciences than in the humanities or social sciences, and the quality of the articles varies considerably. Many topics are discussed—for example, “wok racing”—that will hardly ever be included in traditional reference works. Compared to published encyclopedias, the articles in Wikipedia tend to have much stronger internal cross-referencing.

Search engines such as Yahoo or Google help users search for content within Wikipedia. Although undeniably useful, it cannot be used as a sole resource for reliable information. Its strength is as a tool for a quick overview of unfamiliar themes and topics, as well as of recent events. In Wikipedia, the boundary between author and reader disappears, with each reader being a potential editor and/or author. Libraries can use Wikipedia not only as a reference work, but also as a pedagogical tool for teaching competency in research and information evaluation. Its combination of facts, concepts, opinions, and explanations reminds us that knowledge is not always transmittable as facts alone, but undergoes constant change and must be acquired through continued learning. [jv/ldl]

Die Zeit, das Lexikon in 20 Bänden: mit dem Besten aus der Zeit [Die Zeit Encyclopedia in 20 Volumes: The Best from the Newspaper Die Zeit]. Ed. Joachim Weiss and Dieter Buhl. Hamburg: Zeitverlag Bucerius. 22 cm. ISBN 3-411-17560-5: EUR 245 (full set for Zeit subscribers), EUR 298 (full set retail) [04-2-410]

Vol. 1. A-Bar. 2005. 704 p. ill. ISBN 3-411-17561-3: free to subscribers, future volumes each EUR 12.90; EUR 14.90 (retail)

Der Brockhaus: in zehn Bänden [Brockhaus in Ten Volumes]. Ed. Joachim Weiss. 10 vols. Leipzig; Mannheim: Brockhaus, 2005. 7,360 p. ill. 25 cm. ISBN 3-27653-2450-7 (set): EUR 450 [04-2-411]

Das aktuelle Wissen.de-Lexikon [The Up-to-Date Wissen.de Encyclopedia]. Ed. Beate Varnhorn. 24 vols. Gütersloh; München: Wissen-Media-Verlag, 2004. ill. 19 cm. + cd-rom. EUR 149.95 [04-2-412]

With an estimated marketing budget of three million Euros, the Die Zeit encyclopedia (subsequently abbreviated DZE) has been heavily promoted. Die Zeit is just the latest German paper to use various book spin-offs for winning new readers for the paper, and—even more pointedly—for bringing in extra income. The gift of a gratis first volume to subscribers evidently worked, since tens of thousands of new subscribers came into the fold through the end of 2004. Though not immediately evident from the title page, the substance of DZE was obtained from the Brockhaus publishing company and turns out to be a lightly camouflaged version of the Brockhaus in zehn Bänden (subsequently abbreviated BZB). Despite the natural assumption that a 20-volume set must contain twice as much as the 10-volume work from which it was derived, closer inspection shows that only 16 of the DZE volumes constitute the actual encyclopedia, with the other four volumes being reserved for lexical and citation dictionaries. Appended to each of the DZE volumes is a separate section on colored paper that reprints relevant (and sometimes exceedingly tangential) articles from the newspaper Die Zeit. Layout choices make up any further differences in volume count. The choice between DZE and BZB is no contest: since the encyclopedia contents are essentially identical, the DZE is the much better value of the two and will, when complete, add presumably useful dictionaries in the bargain.

With the success of DZE, competitors were certain to enter the market as quickly as possible. Bertelsmann came up with the Aktuelles Wissen.de-Lexikon (subsequently abbreviated AWL), primarily aimed at its book club member base, but available to others over the internet. Since DZE and BZB are essentially fraternal twins, the only substantive comparison is between DZE/BZB and AWL. Articles and bibliographic notes in the latter— if samples taken from the respective first volumes are indicative—are somewhat less complete than those found in DZE/BZB. All in all, though, owners of the AWL will have no cause to regret their purchase, especially given its low price. The fact that AWL is not hardbound is of little concern nowadays: the time is long past when a set of encyclopedias was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Moreover, “wikipedias” (see RREA 10:16) and the internet are making established encyclopedia publishers increasingly nervous. [sh/rdh]

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Last update: July 15, 2007 [TB]
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