REVIEW. First published November 1, 2003 (Booklist).
Here is a database that librarians will really appreciate. We have spent countless hours selecting, storing, and carefully weeding our reference collections. But patrons would rather search on the Internet, and get any old answer, than use our pride and joy, our reference collections. Reference Universe has taken article titles and indexes from more than 2,000 reference works “from both major and minor reference publishers.” These entries have been compiled into a user-friendly database that covers topics from a wide variety of disciplines. It is searchable by singular or plural forms, word variants, exact phrase, or exact words. It also includes searches by all of the words and any of the words. Searches can be limited by publication date and by number of hits (the default being 1,000). A Browse Mode allows users to browse for books by publisher, title of work, subject, or Library of Congress classification number or to browse the Reference Universe index of terms.
After searching, the system presents a list of reference titles in relevancy-ranked order. Besides the title, the brief display includes publisher and date and the total number of index entries or article titles containing the term. There are also links to the local catalog, a full-text e-book version if it is available, article titles and index terms, and a fuller bibliographic record. The full record in turn links to other reference books on the subject, other reference books by the author, the record in MARC format, and a review from ARBA Online, available to subscribing libraries. A notes field generally contains brief bibliographic information. As of this writing, Paratext plans to add reviews and publisher links and has installed a prototype that will automatically indicate whether a library owns a title that appears in a list of results.
Do you remember First Stop: The Master Index to Subject Encyclopedias, published by Oryx Press in 1989? Reference Universe has a similar idea but with a modern interface. Titles indexed seem to have good recency, and keeping the electronic version up-to-date will be easier than updating a printed version. General searches will produce many hits. It may take discernment to determine which subject encyclopedia is best for a particular query, but because this is a librarian’s tool, finding the best references for a patron shouldn’t be a problem.
This metaindex is an exciting product that will get a lot of use at reference desks in both public and academic libraries and also has uses as a collection development tool. Highly recommended.— Jack O’Gorman