Recently, I was enjoying a quiet evening of Olympic coverage when a plaintive child's voice wailed desperately from the nearby computer:
"I need some information for school on the fall of the Third Reich with pictures and maps. Can we get it on the computer? How do I find it? Where should I look? I need it NOW."
Fortunately, the computer is capable of fulfilling such urgent requests at the click of a mouse, if you know where to look. Step aside pilgrim...there's more volleyball yet to watch.
Reference and research capabilities are some of the strongest features of the personal computer system. Because such vast amounts of information can be stored in such small spaces, your PC can be a virtual library of resource information. The proliferation of CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web have even further expanded this virtual knowledge base, almost eliminating the need for weekly treks to the public library for quick reference and information.
I started our search for information on the Third Reich with Microsoft's Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. This encyclopedia application on a single CD-ROM contains over 26,000 articles, 8,000 images, 900 current maps and a wealth of multi-media content.
For example, packed into this one little CD is over 7,500 sound clips, video clips and animations. Here you can find an animation depicting the Battle of Waterloo or a video clip of the Civil Rights March of 1963. For the current project, we found maps of Germany and Europe, photos of Hitler at Nuremberg, Hitler with Mussolini and a sound clip from one of Hitler's speeches. Encarta is a very extensive, interactive resource and quite affordable considering the wealth of information available. Retail prices vary, but $60 seems to be about average.
As an added bonus, Encarta includes a Yearbook Builder to add monthly updates to your 96 Encyclopedia. Articles representing newsworthy events and milestones from each month can be downloaded to your hard disk and integrated into Encarta to keep it current. So far, this is a free service from Microsoft and updates are available through July 1996 at their website, http://www.msn.com/encarta/ybb/. One complete year of updates requires approximately 7MB of hard disk storage space.
In search of additional information, we ventured out to the Internet and logged onto the Encyclopedia Britannica site at http://www.eb.com . This fee based service is by far the most comprehensive research tool on the Internet. The articles are lengthy, detailed and contain hyperlinks to every imaginable related topic. Pictures and maps are extensive as well. This premier site comes, however, with a hefty price tag.
The annual subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica is $150 per year plus a $25 registration fee. Yikes! After numerous complaints, including my own, Encyclopedia Britannica began offering a monthly subscription rate of $14.95 which still seems high, but is certainly more palatable, especially for specific projects or term papers.
There is a short term solution to search the Encyclopedia Britannica without fees by signing up for the 7-day free trial. The process is automated and takes only a few moments. A validation number is e-mailed to you almost instantly and you're ready to use the service. The trial account tracks users by their e-mail address, so each e-mail account can try the service for seven days. This is a great quick fix for one-time research projects.
Certainly more patient students can use one of the Internet Search Engines, such as, Alta Vista to sift through the 20,000 articles referencing Hitler and the Third Reich. A quick perusal of these sites yielded articles that ran the gamut from essays to music.
As a last stop, I thought I'd check the Reference Desk on America Online. My earlier experience with the AOL Encyclopedia were unremarkable. The Compton's articles were short and mere quick references. America Online now, however, offers Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia Online as part of their service. While not as extensive as the Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier's is far better than AOL's earlier encyclopedia efforts and features hyperlinks to related topics as well as pictures.
The entire research process took less than thirty minutes. Armed with piles of printed articles, the child was happy, the wailing ceased and the household was again momentarily at peace.
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