LJ Best Books 2017

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Best Databases 2013

In our annual roundup of best databases, there are the LJ equivalents of Paramount and Warner Bros.: high-profile producers of new and classic titles that command our attention and praise. Then there are the database versions of indie films: products from smaller companies that may be introduced with less fanfare but whose excellent content and usability ensure their recognition and popularity. While this year’s list features a few winners from industry giants such as Gale/Cengage, ProQuest, and ­Elsevier, most nominees were from smaller and newer publishers including Zinio, Novel Data, Plum Analytics, and Rosen Digital. This shows welcome diversification in the market, with the development and growth of these small, independent database producers promising an increasingly wide range of exciting options for librarians and patrons.

So, from the well-established big names to the start-ups, here as chosen by librarians who were polled by LJ are the best databases of 2013: the blockbusters, the sleeper hits, and the classics. (See also New Database Releases.)


ARTstor; artstor.org

ITHAKA; jstor.org

Since its inception in 1995, JSTOR has become ubiquitous. The database, which became part of the academic services provider ITHAKA in 2009, is currently available in more than 7,000 institutions, and it’s easy to see why: JSTOR boasts a collection of more than 1,500 academic journals, books, and primary sources on the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Like JSTOR, ARTstor Digital Library was the brainchild of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which launched the product in 2001. Today, ARTstor is an independent not-for-profit with about 1.5 million digital images. Both databases are “classics worth owning,” says Lura Sanborn, reference librarian at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH. “In the ever-burgeoning offerings of digital products, it can be easy to forget those early, all-important, still essential groundbreakers,” continues Sanborn. “My library simply could not get by without JSTOR and ARTstor. Also, JSTOR recently added ebooks with an optional DDA [demand-driven acquisition] program, and ARTstor recently launched Shared Shelf, an add-on option for higher ed institutions needing/wishing for an SAAS [Software as a Service] product to upload/catalog their own collections.”

As LJ blogger Cheryl LaGuardia wrote in her review of the recently updated JSTOR (LJ 11/1/12), “The content is so good!… [But] now I can also say that the database will become known for its ease of use in searching, finding, and manipulating records.”


Rosen Digital; digitalliteracy.rosendigital.com

With its emphasis on issues such as cyberbullying, privacy, ethics, and safety, Rosen Digital’s “cyber citizenship resource” for students in grades seven to 12 is an apt successor to Rosen’s first online database, 2007’s Teen Health & Wellness. Digital Literacy offers articles aligned to Common Core, American Association of School Librarians, and International Society for Technology in Education standards as well as lesson plans for teachers, text-to-speech and translating capabilities, and interactive features such as polls and weekly quizzes. Digital Literacy takes the citizenship part of its mission seriously, helping students to develop plans to become citizen journalists and film public service announcements as well as create business plans and record podcasts.

All this and it’s compatible with various mobile devices, too. “If ever there was an ideal product for the 21st-century student, this is it,” said Jennifer Prince in her review in School Library Journal 8/1/13, terming it a “first-rate product.”


NBC; nbclearn.com/portal/site/learn

NBC Learn, compiled from the network’s news archives, encompasses more than 12,000 short videos, newspaper articles, primary-source documents, and images dating back to the 1920s. The collection can be viewed online or downloaded and accessed through the online education company Blackboard. NBC Learn, first launched in 2008, also allows users to annotate and save entries to a personal playlist and share them with others.

Lura Sanborn calls NBC Learn “an awesome addition to any library whose patrons need and love digitized historical news collections.” In particular, she lauds the “full transcript [that] accompanies each newsreel,” not to mention the plus that the database is updated with historical and contemporary footage every weekday.


Pop Culture Universe: Icons, Idols, Ideas
ABC-CLIO; abc-clio.com/product.aspx?isbn=9781598845488

Another database focusing on mass media garnered kudos: first introduced in 2008 and regularly updated, Pop Culture Universe draws on material from longtime educational publishers Greenwood Press and Praeger Publishers, as well as parent company ABC-CLIO, for its more than 3,500 entries, which include hundreds of photos.

“Pop Culture Universe allows a safe, reliable investigation portal for material [from other sources] that is filled with bias, unreliable garbage, and more,” declares Paige Jaeger, coordinator for school library services at Washington Saratoga Warren Hamilton Essex Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Saratoga Springs, NY. “There is no other database like this that will keep kids off Google—providing a Google alternative for this subject matter,” says Jaeger. “When kids have to do research with essential questions such as ‘How does the culture of the time shape your identity?’ it’s hard to provide enough material.”

Pop Culture Universe also demonstrates the helpful features that all ABC-CLIO databases share, according to Jaeger: “Media sources are rich and include both video and primary source material. From product to product, the interface is similar, allowing students to navigate with ease…. The built-in glossary of terms helps build ‘vocabulary of the discipline’ necessary to demonstrate content mastery and is aligned with Common Core State Standards objectives.”


Gale, part of Cengage Learning; cengage.com/InContext/viewpoints.htm

Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints in Context replaced its Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center and its Critical Thinking Module when the two were retired in 2010. Today the social issues database contains more than 300 primary source documents, as well as 700 titles from educational publishers including Greenhaven Press, Gale, and Macmillan Reference USA™. Features include topic overviews, viewpoint essays, biographies, and relevant court case ­information.

“Opposing Viewpoints in Context is a very user-friendly database that looks like a website,” says Rachel Fischer, cataloging bibliographer at YBP Library Services in Contoocook, NH. “It is an excellent resource to introduce to first-year college students as a way to encourage them to conduct research for introductory courses without an Internet search engine. The articles, websites, and media are organized in easy-to-use categories and according to controversial topics so that students can learn about all viewpoints before forming their own opinion.”


ProQuest K-12; proquestk12.com/productinfo/sirs_researcher.shtml

For more than 40 years, SIRS (acquired by ProQuest in 2003) has been helping secondary school students address controversial subjects, from the very well known (abortion, cyber­bullying, and undocumented immigration are some of the current issues covered) to the more obscure (Basque country, commercial whaling, and Jammu and Kashmir). SIRS® Issues Researcher covers more than 330 topics, including 104,000 documents and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles. Aligned to U.S. national, state, and Common Core and Canadian standards, the database also boasts approximately 30,000 graphics and charts and more than 7,000 interactive features, maps, chronologies, and primary sources. The 2013 update allows users to export citation information using either MLA or APA formats. Tim McLain, former social media manager at ProQuest and now senior marketing manager at Netsertive, a digital marketing company in Morrisville, NC, cites this as a “favorite for issues research by middle and high schoolers.”

NewsBank, Inc; newsbank.com/schools/product.cfm?product=24

Access World News: Research Collection offers access to more than 500 million news articles from 8,000-plus sources, from Afghanistan’s Hindokosh News Agency (Kabul) and Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette (Harare) to the Anniston Star (Alabama) and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne). This voluminous collection features not just newspapers but also broadcast transcripts, blogs, video, and web-only content from news organizations, too. About 100,000 articles are added daily to the ever-growing ­database, which has material dating back to the 1980s.

“Access World News, a Newsbank product, now provides hundreds and hundreds of translated global news sources, updated daily,” Lura Sanborn enthuses. “News from the other side of the world is available before our calendar date even changes; read tomorrow’s news today!”


CQ Press; library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/index.php

For usability, Lura Sanborn cites the revamp of CQ Researcher, whose reader-friendly, 12,000-word reports on newsworthy issues are written by journalists and include an overview, a discussion of the current situation, a chronology, essays from both sides of the debate, bibliographies, and more. Founded in 1923 as Editorial Research Reports and published 44 times a year, the material stands the test of time: “The upgrade is beautiful and slick, making a great product even simpler to use and more direct. Loving the 2½-minute video on the top page defining and introducing the product.” Sanborn has just one complaint: “Where’s the app?”


Infobase Publishing; infobasepublishing.com/OnlineProductDetail.aspx?ISBN=0816043477

Educational publisher Infobase Learning is a go-to resource for the teachers he works with, reports Terry Young Jr., a librarian at West Jefferson High School, Harvey, LA. “Our school uses Infobase Learning databases for all content areas,” he says. “Here are some reasons: [it’s] curriculum oriented, most material supports Common Core State Standards, and the length of articles and information doesn’t overwhelm the students.”

Young specifically praises Bloom’s Literature, a database that consists of more than 2,300 books (including those in the “Bloom’s Literary Criticism” series), plus more than 500 peer-reviewed journals and other periodicals. The database includes not just literary criticism but biographical essays, character and writing guides, and more than 2,000 video clips—not to mention full-length videos of close to 100 classic plays, including King Lear starring James Earl Jones. Entries have in-text links and are browsable by criteria such as nationality and genre. Teachers can search the database by educational standards, too.

“Our English teachers would be at a great loss without Bloom’s Literature,” says Young. “To purchase all the Bloom’s titles and only have one print copy would be costly and not nearly as effective as the database. We love it!”


Elsevier; elsevier.com/online-tools/embase

The sheer scope of Embase, from science and health information giant ­Elseveier, is formidable: this peer-­reviewed biomedical literature database contains more than 25 million records from over 7,600 journals, including five million records from several thousand journals not indexed by PubMed. The database also includes 800,000 conference abstracts. Embase’s updates alone are larger than some collections: an estimated 3,000 new records are added every weekday.

“Embase.com is my absolute favorite,” says Wichor Bramer, biomedical information specialist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “It helps me do my work very fast. I do systematic reviews on a daily basis (on average five a week) in my university hospital, and I couldn’t do that without embase.com. Its relevance ranking helps me decide which terms add relevant articles to my search, and once I’m done there I can easily translate it to other databases,” thanks to the macros he’s written. “I do most systematic reviews in two hours.”


Novel Data, LLC; esequels.com

“It is the answer to many librarians’ reference desk prayers,” Cheryl LaGuardia declared in a blog post (1/2/08)about the comprehensive ­eSequels, which contains close to 30,000 title and more than 3,200 author entries.

LaGuardia wasn’t exaggerating: former librarian Janet Husband’s guide (updated daily) gets raves from said librarians: “This database actually delivers what it says it will—sequel lists and lists of sequels. They are listed in the correct reading order, [which is] very helpful in keeping up with that next installment or backtracking to find out which one was missed,” says Susanne Costa-Durquette, Taunton Public Library, MA.

“The annotations are wonderfully on target—a great prompt in keeping all the serial authors and characters straight. The amount of information presented is just awesome. We can answer so many patron questions about the author, publication date, characters, etc., from the well-done annotations. And we can do this right at our busy main desk because the setup is so efficient.

“Everyone on my staff loves ­eSequels,” continues Costa-Durquette, “because it is straightforward and so easy to use. And patrons have commented on how easy it is to use at home—they just jump right into the database—no confusion at all.”

“The additional information on the site—the ‘What’s New’ blog—is especially interesting and helpful to library staff,” Costa-Durquette adds. “Articles on the publishing and library world, new topical lists, forthcoming sequels—it’s all so easy to find and use. A great service!”


Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center
Infobase Learning; infobasepublishing.com/OnlineProductDetail.aspx?ISBN=0816043809&subject=Careers%20%26%20Education

Another Infobase Learning database Louisiana’s Terry Young Jr. spotlights for particular praise is Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center, which contains information on everything from schools and career and industry resources to job hunting. The comprehensive resource contains 3,400 job articles, 55,000 searchable industry resources, a news section (updated monthly), and 300 videos. Ferguson also goes beyond the data to provide young adults more personal insight into careers, featuring interviews with professionals and advice from a career expert.

Young says Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center is “one of our favorites. With our emphasis on college and career-readiness, this database provides exactly what our students want to know about careers.”


Plum Analytics; plumanalytics.com/index.html

The scholarly landscape is under­going vast changes, with open access revolutionizing how publishing happens and how quickly and easily patrons can access new information and thinking on various topics. Scientific writing is probably the best-known example, with services such as PubMed gaining great attention, but other fields, such as the digital humanities, are not far behind. Still, though, tenure and other professional recognition have tended to be based on traditional metrics such as the impact factor of the journals in which a scholar publishes. Plum Analytics, a company founded in 2011 by entrepreneurs Andrea Michalek and Mike ­Buschman, has started to change all that, leading to its nomination as most ambitious database by LJ’s reviews editor Henrietta Thornton-Verma.

Michalek and librarian Buschman led the team that developed ProQuest’s Summon discovery system; PlumX builds upon their information-retrieval expertise to help academics gather information on all kinds of scholarly activity—from papers in peer-reviewed journals to social media mentions—into a broader picture of an academic’s professional life. A subscribing institution can use PlumX in many ways, from vetting job applicants to forming a “big picture” of the institution’s research activity for funding purposes or to draw students, and individuals who create a profile will have the benefit of getting credit for many more types of work than was possible before. See LJ’s review of PlumX (ow.ly/oIdsg) and interview with Michalek and Buschman (ow.ly/oIdHB) for more details.


Zinio for iPad
Zinio, LLC; zinio.com

Lura Sanborn calls Zinio for iPad “Simply gorgeous,” and with more than 5,000 digital offerings from around the world, it’s easy to see why Zinio claims to be “the world’s largest newsstand.” LJ’s Thornton-Verma named Zinio ­for Libraries the Best New Database for 2012 (LJ Reference Supplement 11/1/12), and its iPad version is similarly impressive. Zinio allows users to log into their accounts on any device, and its international collection of popular titles covers not just library staples like Vanity Fair and The Economist but also the more obscure: Kayak Angler, Arizona Highways Magazine, and Modern Patchwork help round out the offerings. Zinio also includes magazines that are no longer issued in print, like PC World, Gina Fredericks points out.

“Popular magazines—available 24-7—can be downloaded as PDFs and seen just as you would in print,” says Fredericks, information services coordinator at Liverpool Public Library, NY. “There is no wait for an issue to return,” and the number of people looking at an issue at the same time is unlimited. “You get to keep it for as long as you would like, there’s never an overdue fee,” and patrons “get to see it new, not ripped or torn or soiled or missing articles [removed] by previous persons.” Additionally, maintains Fredericks, “It is fun to use; some magazines are inter­active—you can click to see maps, recipes, videos, websites, contents from the title page, and email texts (e.g., National Geographic Traveler).”

The benefits of Zinio aren’t just for patrons, Fredericks adds. “There is no processing involved so you get [an issue of a magazine] as soon as it is available, and it saves staff time processing, filing, checking out, returning, refiling, weeding, etc.”

Elizabeth Michaelson is a freelance writer and editor in New York City and a Contributing Editor for QualityHealth.com. She previously worked as a librarian in the Queens Library system