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Describes and reviews both print and electronic encyclopedias and offers advice on selecting an encyclopedia
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A man whose name is virtually synonymous with encyclopedia reviewing, Kister here presents his opinions on every encyclopedia likely to be considered for purchase by either a librarian or a consumer. Much has changed in the encyclopedia industry in the eight years since this work was last published, and Kister has not missed a beat. The volume is current (Kister even devotes some space to the upcoming Britannica on the Internet), though the 1993 rather than 1994 sets of most encyclopedias were reviewed. Kister's Best Encyclopedias features well-written reviews of more than 77 general encyclopedias (up from 52 in the last edition), as well as briefer reviews of more than 800 subject encyclopedias (up from 450) and 44 foreign-language encyclopedias in 9 languages (up from 27).
After a preface in which the author explains the criteria he used in judging the works, the volume opens with a section titled "About Encyclopedias," where Kister answers such questions as "How are encyclopedias bought and sold?" and "What should you look for when choosing an encyclopedia?"
The part of the book likely to be of greatest interest to librarians and consumers alike is "General Encyclopedias," which is sub-divided into five categories by size of encyclopedia and intended reader (such as "Small Encyclopedias for Adults and Older Students") as well as the two categories "Electronic Encyclopedias" and "Out-of-Print Encyclopedias." Reviews range from under a page (primarily for works that are reprinted under different titles) to 11 pages for the New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Each review includes basic facts about the work, an evaluation, and where other reviews may be found. New to this edition is a "Report Card" feature, where sample articles from each work are graded on an A to F scale on coverage, accuracy, recency, and clarity. At the end of each section is a useful comparison chart of all encyclopedias in that category, listing for each the number of words, pages, articles, illustrations and maps, cross-references, and index entries, as well as retail price and a rating on an A to F scale. The only drawback to these charts is that there is no separate column for black-and-white as opposed to color illustrations, nor does this information appear in the reviews themselves.
The section "Electronic Encyclopedias" alone is practically worth the cost of the book--though this part will age the quickest. Just one error was spotted: Encarta is noted as being available in three versions, but there is no DOS version. The comparison chart at the conclusion of this section will help the frustrated librarian distinguish between, for example, the four CD-ROMs going by the name of Compton's.
The section of the book on subject encyclopedias is divided into 30 categories ("Computer and Electronic Sciences," "Music," etc.), with brief reviews of standard works, usually citing other reviews. Although Kister's Best Encyclopedias will (justifiably) be better known for its reviews of general encyclopedias, librarians should not overlook the fine reviews in this section. The volume concludes with appendixes featuring a bibliography on evaluating and making encyclopedias, a directory of encyclopedia publishers and distributors, and an index.
Any reader wanting to make sense of the often confusing world of encyclopedia publishing will benefit from this work. Librarians in all public and academic libraries will want to place this on their "must buy" list and may want separate copies for their reference and circulating collections.From Library Journal:
While not a reference book that will be used with predictable regularity, this work is like a life preserver or snake bite kit: when you need it, it's invaluable to have nearby. The format has been expanded and more specifically subdivided since the original 1986 edition (LJ 11/15/86). Encyclopedias are first grouped in broad categories such as general, subject, and foreign language. Within each category, further subdivisions narrow the field by audience or reading level, with graphic headings like "Small Encyclopedias for Adults and Older Students." Each division begins with an introductory overview of the titles to be discussed and concludes with a concise comparison chart (number of pages, words, illustrations, etc.) for the titles covered. Evaluations are balanced, frank, and bluntly honest, and, while they are based on standardized testing procedures, they conclude with the refreshing reference concept of "Other Opinions." Each ends with a report card for that title in which A through F grades are assigned in such areas as coverage, accuracy, and clarity. Aside from its currency and generous scope (150 general and 80 subject works are covered), Kister's is the most comprehensive tool available for evaluating electronic encyclopedias, with search options, software requirements, and multimedia inclusions all described. Librarians and patrons alike will find this work a virtual necessity for carefully investigating the purchase of an encyclopedia. More importantly, librarians will find it worth its purchase price each time they receive that question they should never answer, "What encyclopedia should I buy?" Essential for public and academic libraries.
James Moffet, Baldwin P.L., Birmingham, Mich.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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