Gale Biography in Context

Bibliographic Information: Gale Biography in Context (n.d.). Retrieved from via the San Francisco Public Library eLibrary: Articles and Databases page (library card barcode and pin number required).

Plot Summary/Resource Description: Gale Biography in Context is an online reference source for those interested in researching people.  It contains over 600,000 biographies, with “50,000 new or updated bios added annually, in addition to daily updates to account for awards and events,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).  This updating is possible because the reference source is online.

This is a great resource for young adults interested in satisfying their own curiosity about their favorite singer or athlete or, of course, for use with school assignments.  The Biography in Context database also includes the Lives & Perspectives Collection which “supports high-school curricula and university coursework by providing multidisciplinary content on notable figures and the societal forces that have shaped their lives,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).   So, content of the database is “curriculum aligned.”

Each biographical entry contains an essay plus a plethora of additional media sources, from newspaper and magazine articles to reference books and academic journals to photos, videos, and audio clips.  Biographical subjects include current and historical figures from the United States and around the world.  A “fact box” allows information seekers a quick glance at relevant information for each person covered.

Critical Evaluation: With such a wide breadth of information provided for each biography, this resource is invaluable for those in need of biographical information.  The essay provides a thorough, but not overwhelming, overview, and then the additional resources allow information seekers to go into whatever level of depth they need or desire.

Another great feature, that enhances the value of Gale Biography in Context, is that there is a “resources” page with many tools to help users with the database. A few examples of these “resources” are training video tutorials, research tips and tools, and, specifically for students, there are “Access Tools To Help Complete Your Assignment: Tools for Getting Started and Wrapping Up” (Resources, 2010).

Reader’s Annotation: The Gale Biography in Context online database contains over 600,000 biographies of contemporary and historical figures from all over the world.

Information about the Author/Editors: Editors and subject-area experts provide authoritative content that can be updated as often as necessary (Gale, Cengage Learning, 2011).

Genre: Non-fiction

Category: Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for any areas of the curriculum in need of biographical research

Booktalking Ideas: What one place can you find Adele, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King?

Reading Level/Interest Age: All

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? High School teachers often require their students to do biographical research for assignments.  This database contains useful and accessible information for teens, college students, and adults.


About Gale Biography in Context. (2010). Retrieved from

Gale, Cengage Learning. (2011). Gale Biography in Context (fact sheet for public libraries).  Retrieved from

Resources. (2010). Retrieved from


Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America 2nd edition

Bibliographic Information: Dassanowsky, R., & Lehman, J. (Eds.). (2000). Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America 2nd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.  Retrieved from the San Francisco Public Library website here.  (library card barcode and pin number required)

Plot Summary/Resource Description: As The United States diversifies more and more, the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 2nd ed. (GEMA) provides important information about a variety of ethnic groups for “high school and college students, librarians, and general reference seekers alike,” (Preface).  Endorsed by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association, the GEMA not only provides information about specific ethnic groups it also provides references so researchers can seek additional information.

The second edition of the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America expands upon the first edition, which was published in 1995.  The GEMA provides entries covering 152 “ethnic, ethnoreligious, and Native American cultures currently residing in the United States,” (Preface).  Each entry includes a detailed essay about the group, written and edited by scholars in the field.  Each entry also includes a suggested reading list and a directory of information about that group, including email addresses and URLs for media, organizations and museums related to that group.

Groups are included in the encyclopedia based on either group population data from the 1990 census indicating a significant population or recommendation by the advisory board.  Some of the groups recommended by the advisory board are small, but the board felt that they were likely to be studied or researched by students, and hence warranted inclusion.  Essays include information about countries of origin, in the case of immigrant groups, but focus mainly on the group’s experiences in the United States.  In the case of Native Americans or “First Americans” the encyclopedia covers 18 ethnic groups, which is by no means comprehensive, but represents a six-entry increase from the 12 essays in the first edition.  In the preface the editors make a point to speak about the importance of Native American cultures to the United States.

Critical Evaluation: This is an important, valuable, and unique resource with well-researched and thorough information, so it would be quite useful to students researching, or even comparing, the experiences of, particular ethnic groups.  But, unfortunately, the GEMA is over ten years old.  Not being current does not render this resource useless, but since the data used is from the 1990 census that makes a lot of the data more than 20 years old, and, hence, likely inaccurate.  Much of the cultural information is still relevant, and the historical information remains accurate, but when one uses this resource it must be understood that some of the information lacks currency.   This encyclopedia is also available in three-volume book format, available in the library reference area.

Reader’s Annotation: The Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America is a comprehensive resource documenting extensive historical and contemporary information about 152 individual American ethnic groups.

Genre/Category: Non-fiction, Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for Social Studies, Multicultural Studies, and Biographies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Where would you go to compare the immigration patterns of Irish Americans to Asian Indian Americans?
  • Mention unique foods enjoyed by Americans from a variety of ethnic groups with which the students may not be familiar.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 through Adult

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? The Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America is a unique reference source that provides a wide breadth of information about America’s many ethnic and cultural groups.

Britannica Online Academic Edition

Bibliographic Information: Britannica Online Academic Edition (n.d.). Retrieved from (library card barcode and pin number required)

Plot Summary/Resource Description: Britannica Online Academic Edition (Britannica Online) is an online reference source for students and information seekers of all ages, but it is particularly well-suited for middle and high school students’ curricular needs.  Britannica Online’s content and purpose parallel the content and purpose of a set of print edition encyclopedias, except the online edition contains much more data, more updated information, more special features, and many more ways to search for needed information.  Britannica Online contains information about a huge range of subjects from history and science to current events and world literature.  The website lists additional features such as: “atlas, world data, the Classics, biographies, news, multimedia, and more.”  “The Classics” are “225 works by 140 authors [which] offer an introduction to significant works of history, literature, philosophy, and science.”  There is also access to hundreds of magazines, a media collection including long-playing videos, quotations, and ebooks.

Britannica Online contains numerous ways to search for information.  There is a search field where one can type in a query.  There is an A to Z subject guide.  There are several featured subjects on the home page, where one could search around to find a topic of interest.  One could search for a specific topic or browse by subject or alphabetically or all of the above.  Britannica Online contains unique features in addition to access to the encyclopedic information.  The Britannica Online home page includes direct access to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus, New York Times and BBC News, and a Britannica Blog.  One can also compare statistical information about two countries, look up a particular day in “This Day in History,” and view historic timelines on various broad topics including Childhood, Medicine, Science, and Religion.  There are also several “Spotlights,” which are special features, for example, Reflections on the Holocaust, Encyclopædia Britannica’s Guide to Black History, All About Oscar (the award), Guide to Shakespeare, and more.

Critical Evaluation: Britannica Online covers a wide range of topics with accuracy and intelligence.  Britannica Online would be a great resource for a student starting research on a particular topic.  The topic’s article would likely provide a useful overview of the topic and provide additional information about subtopics or related topics, as well photographs and videos.  For in-depth research, Britannica Online would not be sufficient as the only source, but would likely provide a significant amount of useful information at the initial stages of research.  Britannica prides itself on the accuracy and authority of its articles.  The website states, “Unmatched Accuracy and Unique Perspectives: Written by Nobel laureates, historians, curators, professors, and other notable experts, the Encyclopædia Britannica articles are trusted resources with balanced, global perspectives and unique insights that users will not find anywhere else.”  Britannica Online is subscription based, so it is available from Library websites that have subvscribed.  At least in San Francisco and San José Public Libraries, users must log in with a library barcode and pin number to access the encyclopedia, so a person without a library card would not be able to use this resource.  With user-friendly search functions and a huge breadth of information, Britannica Online is a practical and useful resource for young adults as well as all library patrons.

Reader’s Annotation: Britannica Online Academic Edition is a comprehensive reference source for information seeking young adults.  It provides accurate, current, and trustworthy information on a broad range of topics and themes.

Information about the Author: Written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert contributors

Genre: Non-fiction, Reference

Category: Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for all areas of the curriculum

Booktalking Ideas: Use an interesting bit of trivia as the answer to a question you formulate, something that none of the students is likely to know, then ask the students the question.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages, 5-14, Ages 15-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? Middle and High School teachers often require their students to do research for reports, projects, or writing assignments.  Britannica Online is a single source that can provide information on any number of topics to assist students with their information gathering.  Additionally, sometimes young adults are seeking information and need a more trusted source than Google, or need more information than a standard web search engine can provide, so Britannica Online serves that need.