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Evaluation of Reference Sources

ILS604-70 Advanced Reference

Evaluating Reference Resources

Pamela R. Dennis

January 28, 2003 (redone February 22, 2003)


Evaluation was done using the following resources: 

Bopp, Richard E., and Linda C. Smith, Reference and Information Services: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2001), 312-316.

Critically Analyzing Information Sources.  Available online.  (

Katz, William A., Introduction to Reference Work, Vol. I.  Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002




Kennedy, Scott E., ed.  Reference Sources for Small and Medium-sized Libraries. 6th ed. 

Chicago and London:  American Library Association, 1999. 

R Z1035.1 .A47 1999


Initial Appraisal

1.                  Major editor Born in 1952, Scott E. Kennedy serves as Research & Information Services Area Head at the University of Connecticut Libraries in Storrs, Connecticut.  He was assisted by eight committee members from public and academic libraries in New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

2.                  Date of Publication/Edition This resource was published in 1999, having first appeared in 1969 under the title, Reference Books for Small and Medium-sized Public Libraries.  Subsequent editions were published in 1973, 1979, 1984, and 1992.

3.                  Publisher It is published by the American Library Association (ALA), an authoritative publisher in the library field.  Being sanctioned by the ALA makes the work applicable to any library.

4.                  Title the title is concise and description of its contents.  Searchable words in the title that would be easily found in online databases would include reference, sources, and libraries.

Content Analysis

1.                  Purpose

            The resources stated purpose is to serve as an authoritative buying guide for the purchase of reference collections for newly established libraries and for improving and expanding existing collections (p. xvii).  There is a very detailed Table of Contents that includes all subdivisions.  The preface includes the purpose as well as features of and interpretation of the entries.  There is also an extensive index (pp. 307-368) that is alphabetized by titles and authors.

2.                  Scope and Currentness

            This reference is excellent in helping the smaller library develop an adequate reference section.  While Robert Balay and Eugene Sheehy have developed very comprehensive resources as guides to reference books, their scopes are too great for the financial abilities of small and medium-sized libraries.  This book serves as a guide for standard time-tested reference sources as well as new reference sources published since the last edition.  It is the hope of the authors that the lists of resources are those that any library would want to include in its collections.  It does not include the following:  pamphlets, reference works of purely local scope, highly specialized works, foreign-language publications, and works created specifically for children or young adults.  The materials has been updated frequently and, with the wealth of information available, is due for another update in the near future.


3.                  Audience

The book is designed for the librarian to use in collection development.  However, its layout makes it an easy source for any reader to use to evaluate reference materials, particularly because of its divisions by discipline.  In the academic institution, faculty members might find it a useful resource in assisting in updating the librarys collections.

4.                  Other Evaluation Factors

(a)   Cost List $50.00 ($45.00 for ALA members)

(b)   Arrangement - This volume gives the basics in each discipline, providing title, author, number of pages, publisher (including address), date of publication, price, and ISBN or ISSN number for each entry.  Additionally, Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress numbers are provided we well as a description of the item, whether it includes an index, and additional information on how it may be obtained.  Within disciplines, there are subdivisions.  The layout of this book allows the small to medium-sized library the opportunity to purchase volumes gradually in every discipline of the library and plan budgetary needs on an annual basis. 

5.                  Publishers/Authority

It is published by the American Library Association (ALA), an authoritative publisher in the library field.  Being sanctioned by the ALA makes the work applicable to any library.  This resource is also available through netLibrary as an electronic book.


6.                  Evaluation

As in previous editions, the latest version of this critical library tool delivers the best and most useful reference sources for small and medium-sized public or academic libraries and their users. A smart redesign enables users to more easily access its 2,000-plus entries and the most popular and practical titles, including new microform and electronic formats. The latest release offers the user an up-to-date list of the important titles that a medium-sized library would want to consider for its reference collection as well as a core listing against which the smaller library can compare its holdings. $50.00 pbk ALA Members $45.00 ISBN 0-8389-3468-4 Approx. 448 p. 1998





FirstSearch Humanities Index


Humanities Index is a database found in the FirstSearch suite of databases and published by H.W. Wilson.  According to the publisher, the resource is a bibliographic database that cites articles from English-language periodicals. Periodical coverage includes some of the best-known scholarly journals and numerous lesser-known but important specialized magazines.

Scope and Currentness

The database includes articles, book reviews, interviews, obituaries, bibliographies, original, works of fiction, and reviews of plays and television and radio programs.  Made up of over 465 sources, the database includes over 435,000 records dating from 1984 to the present.  It is updated monthly and produced by H.W. Wilson Company of New York.  Subjects include archaeology, art, classics, film, folklore, food, journalism, linguistics, music, performing arts, philosophy, religion, space, world history, and world literature.  First Search is available 24 hours a day except Sundays from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., EST. 


            The database is designed for scholarly searches and would be most appropriate for academic use.


Other Evaluation Factors

1.                  Cost Databases included in FirstSearch are fee-based and cost approximately $1.00 per search.  They are purchased in units of 500 searches and may be renewed as needed.

2.                  Searches (a) Design There are few graphics included.  The search screens are in box format and include only the search entry lines.  (b) Multimedia there is no multimedia included.  (c) Navigation For those people using keyboard only, keyboard commands are given in the information portion of FirstSearch, including Back (Alt+Left), Forward (Alt+Right), Find (Ctrl+F), Print, (Ctrl+P), and Close (Alt+F4).  Like other FirstSearch databases, Humanities Index allows the user to search in basic, advanced, and expert modes and displays the results as lists of records that may be marked for saving, printing, or exporting to email.  Information may be searched by keyword, author, title, and subject headings and can be limited by year, record type, and language.  Full text may be selected, and users can restrict the search to materials available in their own library by including the appropriate OCLC code.  Humanities Index includes 529 titles.  A sidebar appears on each screen, allowing the user to return to the home screen or change the database, search options, or results type at any point.  Screens note may be read in English, Spanish, French, and other languages.  Online help is also available.  (d) Organization the database is well-organized and provides easy access to its other pages (see below). 


H.W. Wilson is a very reputable company, and its FirstSearch databases are found on most university library homepages.  Comments may be made online through the Comments link.  However, users are requested to contact their Reference Librarians if there are problems.  The publishers address, phone number, and fax number may be found at


            For this project, I chose to use the advanced search feature, which allows the use of Boolean operators, and requested the following information:  music (keyword) AND obituary (keyword) NOT opera for the years 1995-2000 in English.  The resulting list of records included 99 entries, most of which were obituaries.  Included in the bibliographic information were title; author; source (including title, volume, number, date, and pages); and number of libraries holding the record.  Items included in my own academic library were marked with a special icon, and full-text items included links to the html full text.  Other available options were searches for related subjects and related authors, and further limitation was available.  Within the subject search, the user is given a list of subjects as well as the percentage of that topics availability.  The records could then be marked for printing, exporting, and emailing.  These items may be selected to include a brief record or the full record and could include any notes with the article.

            Upon selecting a record, the information appeared in single-space type including title, author, source information, ISSN, OCLC number, and copyright information as well as the full-text source.  The user is again given the option of emailing or printing, and there are buttons that allow the user to return to the previous menu or seek online help.


EBSCO ATLA Religion Database


            The American Theological Library Association (ATLA) Religion Database is part of the EBSCO suite of research databases based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and provides links to topics in biblical studies, world religions, church history, and religion in social issues.  It is considered to be an essential resource for researchers and students in theology as well as in social sciences, history and humanities.

Scope and Currentness

            ATLA is available 24 hours a day and is easily linked to library homepages through Internet explorer 4.0 or later, or Netscape Navigator 4.0 or later.  It includes over 1,000,000 bibliographic records in 35 languages dating from 1949 to the present.  Additionally, there are over 350,000 article citations from 600 journals, over 200,000 essay citations from 15,500 multi-author works, and over 360,000 book review citations.   New links for Related Books, Related Essays, and Related Article/Review were added in 2002.  There was no mention as to how often the database is updated, though most EBSCO databases are updated daily.


            This database can be used by the scholar as well as the layman (see application below).

Other Evaluation Factors

1.                  Cost This is a rather expensive database for the small academic library, costing around $3000 a year for unlimited simultaneous users.  Luckily, we have a member of our academic library consortium subscribing to ATLA, and we are able to share the resources.

2.                  Searches (a) Design the pages are clutter-free with little use of color.  Tabs are clearly available leading to each consecutive search page.  (b) Multimedia - there is no multimedia included.  (c) Navigation - basic and advanced searches are available, with advanced including Boolean operators.  Other databases could be accessed at any point.  Searchable fields included ISBN, ISSN, Library of Congress Number, Linking record control Number, Related links, and publication type.  (d) Organization the database is well-organized and provides easy access to its other pages (see below).  As of 2002, links are also available for related books, essays, and articles/reviews.  Authority files are available for scripture and publication.


            EBSCOHost has a good reputation of providing excellent fee-based resources.  It can be found on many library home pages (see study from Lawrence Krumenaker,  A Tempest in a Librarians Teapot: EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale Exclusive, and Unique Titles.  Searcher 9 [July/August 2001], 40-45).  The company lists its mailing address, phone numbers, fax number, and email address in the Help screen for questions or comments by the consumer.  Pages do not include advertising but simply serve as host for the product.


For this exercise, I chose to use the advanced search and used the terms music (default fields) AND angels (default fields) with abstracts available from 1980 to 2000.  I was returned two hits, each including title, author, source (journal title, publication date, and page numbers), and a note as to whether the article was held in the current librarys facilities.  (In this case, CONSULS was the database being cross-referenced.)  One of the two holdings was held in CONSULS.  Upon retrieving that document, I was given a complete bibliographic record including the above information as well as description, frequency, publication date, notes, subjects, and alternate authors.  I was also told that the article could be found in paper format at ECSU.  By clicking on the Add icon to the right of the citation, I was able to add my hits to a folder that could be emailed or printed.  Though neither of these articles appeared in full text, articles are available through html text or as pdf files that can be printed, emailed, or saved.

            I also tried some of the other features of the database.  By clicking on Scripture, I could chose a particular scripture passage and find writings about that passage in various locations in the library.  Library Holdings provided a list of journals held in the libraries, and Images allowed me to locate photos of people, natural science photos, photos of places, historical photos, maps, and flags.  I chose to look for a map of Iraq and was connected to MapQuest and a detailed map of the area.  That map could then be printed or saved to disk.

            ATLA is a necessary database for any university providing a good religion/philosophy program.  The ability to search for articles as well as for particular scripture passages provides excellent resources. 


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