Democratic, Republican, and Third Parties in America: An Encyclopedia (1790s–2013)
M.E. Sharpe; sharpe-online.com
By Cheryl LaGuardia
Content Democratic, Republican, and Third Parties in America: An Encyclopedia (DRTPA) is a new online reference tool that expands and updates material from three printed Sharpe Reference titles: Encyclopedia of the Democratic/Republican Party (1997), supplements to both parts of that set (2002), and the Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America (2000). The combination of these texts provides a “survey of the history, evolution, and current state of major and minor political parties in the United States at both the state and national levels.”
This revised and updated content is now offered in a seamless, cross-searchable file covering the history of major American political parties and the party system, along with the full text of major party platform statements on issues and legislation (from 1832 to 2008). One hundred notable third parties and alternative political movements from the 18th through 21st centuries are discussed here; also provided are national election summaries and statistics, individual state party portraits and statistics, and biographical sketches of 250-plus political leaders.
In addition to this textual material, DRTPA contains an image gallery, a primary-source archive, about 1,000 editorially selected, annotated links to websites, and “Teachers’ Resources,” a collection of online materials created for the use of history teachers. The file is updated annually.
Usability This file offers multiple access methods. There’s a single quick-search box at top screen right, with an advanced-search link and the option to search exact terms beneath it. Below these is a title bar with links to the image gallery, primary source archive, website links, teachers’ resources, and tabs for “Search Title,” “About,” “Browse,” and “Topic Finder.” The screen then offers a search box in which researchers can use Boolean operators to mine articles, images, primary-source documents, chronologies, and a bibliography. There’s also a handy link to “Click here for search examples,” where I found instructions on how to search for an exact phrase (enclose search terms in quotation marks) and examples of just how to use “and,” “or,” and “not “ to limit my search.
I should note that this is a single title in Sharpe Online Reference and that a master toolbar exists above the title bar for DRTPA. That master toolbar has tabs linking to home, title selection, “About SOLR” (Sharpe Online Reference), and a help page. The assistance is definitely useful, but the home tab is a little confusing because it links to the SOLR homepage, rather than the DRTPA one. Users must then select the title they want to search (in this instance, DRTPA), an extra step that seems unnecessary.
My first search was for tea party (with no quotation marks), for which I got 946 results, the first two of which were of 100 percent relevance: a 2009 article on the Tea Party movement and an image for the Tea Party Caucus, U.S. Senate, 2011. After that the articles listed were of 80 percent relevance or lower. However, when I tried my search in quotation marks, “tea party,” I got 31 results, and the same two first results were listed with 100 percent relevance, but after that came 29 solid results either referring to the Boston Tea Party or to the Tea Party movement.
It was at this point in my searching that I at last spied a small, blue back arrow near top screen right and clicked on it to go back through my search (up to this point, after learning that “Home” took me out of the specific resource entirely, I had been using my browser back key, not the optimal way to go back through a search). So that helped me get over the lack of a DRTPA Home key—but the lack of one still makes for slightly awkward searching.
Next I clicked on Topic Finder in the title toolbar, and that took me to what looks like an interactive list of chapter titles: “Introduction: The Party System in American Politics,” “Historical Overview,” “The Major Parties and Party System: Organization, Operation, Culture,” “Issues, Government Policies, Legislation: Major Party Views,” “Third Parties and Alternative Political Movements,” “Major Party Conventions and Platforms, 1832–2012,” “National Elections, 1788/89–2012,” “State Party Portraits and Statistics,” and “Biographies.” I clicked on one of the hundreds of interactive sublinks in the chapter “Finance and Funding of the Parties” and went to an extensive, up-to-date article describing party funding and finances, with charts, cross references, a further-reading list, a link to information on how to cite the article in MLA, Chicago, and APA formats, and links to bookmark, make notes on, email, and print the article (to do any of the first three you need to set up a subaccount in SOLR). A quick dip into the browse tab let me read “Introduction: The Party System in American Politics,” an alphabetical table of contents, the chronologies, and the master bibliography.
After that I had to do the inevitable search for the Little Flower: Fiorello LaGuardia. Here I ran into some odd search results. A search for fiorello laguardia returned eight results, all of which were for the Little Flower. When I searched for “fiorello laguardia” I got zero results. Trying again with fiorello la guardia unearthed 63 results, including a number for Robert LaFollette, Lyndon LaRouche, and La Raza Unida Party. And when I searched for “fiorello la guardia,” I got those original eight hits for the Little Flower. So the form of name you use does matter (for the record, there should not be a space between the La and the Guardia).
The primary-source archive offers some very nifty materials, for instance, Thomas Jefferson’s holographic first draft of the Declaration of Independence, with contextual notes. It’s fascinating simply to browse these sources, but they’re searchable as well.
pricing The first-tier, one-time purchase price of the file for school, public, and academic libraries is $495. This includes free annual updates.
verdict The content rocks, and the multiple means of accessing it will be a boon for different-style learners and researchers. At this price? Highly recommended for school, public, and academic libraries serving undergraduates.
Cheryl LaGuardia is a Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and author of Becoming a Library Teacher (Neal-Schuman, 2000) and, with Marie R. Kennedy, of Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources (2013). Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Poetry and Short Story Reference Center
By Bonnie J.M. Swoger
CONTENT The Poetry and Short Story Reference Center (PSSRC) from EBSCO is a full text collection of more than 683,000 poems and over 48,000 short stories. The database also includes biographical information on authors and literary criticism from a variety of sources including literary journals, essays from websites such as www.poetryfoundation.org, and original content. Supplementary materials include 31 lesson plans (“Poetry off the page”) and a few poetry-related videos and images. Users can access the New Oxford American Dictionary, as well as a literary glossary.
In addition to standard indexing information (e.g., authors, source, subject), EBSCO has added useful material about poetic form (light verse, ballad, limerick), poetic theme (e.g., nature, love, etc.) and poetic technique (e.g., blank verse, iambic pentameter, alliteration).
The poetry collection is rather comprehensive concerning pre-20th-century poets, but more modern content can be unexpectedly spotty. Although I was able to find data on several poets about whom our students have struggled to locate information, such as British poet Andrea Levy, the database only offers eight compositions by Maya Angelou.
Critical essays come from a variety of sources, and it is sometimes difficult to determine whether an essay came from an outside source or is original content. Compounding this issue, source information is not consistently included with essay PDFs. I anticipate that students will have difficulty with this content at multiple steps in the research: “Is this information peer reviewed or scholarly?” for example, or, “How do I cite this?”
Usability Users can access content in PSSRC through a variety of search and browse features. Like many EBSCO products, the database comes with a basic keyword search on the homepage, an easily available advanced search, and several methods of browsing.
Basic search, which appears on the homepage and on search-results pages, allows users to search for a term as a keyword, an author, a poem title, or a short story. The poem and short-story choices perform a full-text search, whereas the keyword, author, and title choices query index information. This distinction sometimes makes it difficult to access content. I tried searching for a middle line of Emily Dickinson’s “If You Were Coming in the Fall” and couldn’t find the poem with a keyword search, but a “poem” search proved successful.
The advanced search offers a large number of preferences. Users can select any index field to mine via a dropdown box, and the advanced mode provides useful options. Queries may be limited to academic journals and specify the document type. Teachers and students can select a Lexile Level or score when they perform a search. It’s also possible to find poems by authors with particular characteristics: century of birth or death, gender, national identity, or “cultural identity” (e.g. LGBT, Jewish, African American, etc.).
Search results for the basic and advanced search are similar to search results pages in other EBSCO products. They can refine their results via links to the left side of the page, individual entries have icons indicating document type, and a search box is repeated at the top of the page.
The homepage provides a variety of options to browse database content. Users can browse by author name, by poem or short-story title, by poem forms or techniques, by periods and movements, and by themes. Users can also browse the small collections of videos and lesson plans.
With all of these options, I was excited to dive into the database and look around but soon became frustrated with dead ends. For example, I started to browse by author and clicked on Maya Angelou’s name. An index record appeared for the author with some basic information: date of birth, movement (contemporary period), and a list of works. But I wasn’t sure where to go from there. The record included a list of works by Angelou but they aren’t hyperlinked; users must instead look up each poem individually. I finally noticed a link to Angelou’s name within the index record that led me to biographical entries about the poet from various reference works, but it was frustrating that I couldn’t get a list of her works from this brief index page. Intradatabase links could be improved.
The full text of short stories and poems is included as HTML full text or (more often) as PDF documents. While I prefer to read and download short stories and literary criticism essays as PDF documents because they are portable and better for printing, HTML full text is easier for the brief poems, especially for those in the public domain that are so readily available online elsewhere.
Personalization tools allow users to create folders and save items as well as create email alerts. These features are similar to the personalization features in other EBSCO products.
Pricing Pricing for public libraries is based on a variety of factors, including population served, existing EBSCO databases, consortium agreements, and/or membership in buying groups. For a single library, it ranges from $1,400 to $35,000-plus. Pricing is subject to change based on royalty requirements, etc.
Verdict There are a few areas of this database that didn’t work as expected, and EBSCO could clarify the source information for some of the critical essays. However, the advanced search functionality and the browsability of the collection are high- quality features. Recommended for academic institutions.
Bonnie J.M. Swoger is the Science and Technology Librarian at SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library and the author of the Undergraduate Science Librarian blog, undergraduatesciencelibrarian.org. Readers can contact her at email@example.com