A Silent Film Lover’s Online Delight; AToZDatabases for Small Businesses | Reference ereviews

By Cheryl LaGuardia


content Silent Film Online (SFO) is a collection of 517 streaming online silent feature films, serials, documentaries, and shorts dating from the 1890s to the 1930s. There are productions from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union here, and when completed, the file will double in size. Films already in the collection include Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, ­Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, Buster Keaton’s The General, Fritz Lang’s ­Metropolis, and many more. File features include clip-making and playlist tools for annotating, citing, and sharing content, with each film, clip, and playlist available at a permanent URL for easy integration into assignments, course management systems, presentations, publications, and syllabi.
Usability This is the first file I’ve ever reviewed in which I totally lost myself before ever looking it over systematically. When I saw the “people” browsing box on the opening screen, showing the names D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, ­Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Alva Edison, Georges Méliès, and others, I dove in, pulling up their masterpieces and viewing them, then moving on to others in a race to fill my eyes with the majesty of these great works. I bounced from Chaplin in Sennett’s Tillie’s Punctured Romance to the 1928 Tempest (John Barrymore was so beautiful) to A Trip to the Moon (there’s a version here narrated by director, Méliès himself) to John Brahm’s Broken Blossoms to…you get the idea. This is a film lover’s delight. Not only are the full-length films here accompanied by self-advancing transcripts, but you can find them, and get to them, in so many ways and so easily.

The opening screen offers three access boxes: “Browse” (by title, award, people, publisher, content type, country, or genre); “People” (a listing of directors); and “Genres” (ranging from documentary to comedy, drama, historical, Western, thriller, instructional, and more). There’s also a button leading to advanced search, by which you can search by words anywhere, full text/transcripts, title and series, director/producer, actor, score composer, accolades/awards, country of origin, genre, subject, publisher, collection, content type, language of edition, or date published/released. There’s a rotating carousel of titles midscreen, highlighting notable productions, and a “What’s New” section that spotlights items that have been recently added.

I then reentered the file more methodically. Clicking on a still from Griffith’s Intolerance in the opening carousel, I was taken to the film player accompanied by a transcript at screen right (transcripts include screen text, as well as noting musical accompaniment and music credits). Also available at screen right is a drop-down box including accolades/awards, actors, catalog number, content type, copyright message, country of origin, director, discipline, duration, field of study, format, keywords, language of edition, original language, place published/released, producer, publisher, release date, specialized area of study, subgenre, subject, title, and URL. The film player allows easy clip-making and saving, as well as single-click switching to full-screen showing, and single-click citing, emailing, sharing, adding to playlists, embedding links, adding to selected items, and sending to mobile devices.

SFO also allows one-click playing of each film. I clicked, and Intolerance proceeded to play: all three hours, 17 minutes, and 43 seconds of it.

But there’s more to be found here than just features. There are (so far): 35 animated motion pictures, including Felix [the cat] Saves the Day; newsreel footage (­scary-­as-heck film of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, fires, collapsed streets and buildings); 1910 archival footage of Harry Houdini jumping, handcuffed, from a bridge and escaping, and later footage of him freeing himself from a straitjacket while suspended upside down; nonfiction biographical films (e.g., D.W. Griffith: Father of Film, directed by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow in 1993) and even the 1930 Fanny Brice musical Be Yourself. A musical in a silent film collection? I’m not complaining: it’s Fanny Brice!

Another notable aspect of the content is the surprisingly high quality of the images. Many of the versions of these films have won the National Film Preservation Board’s National Film Registry Award, and all of them are, frankly, better by far to view than I would have expected.

To see if SFO can be used more broadly than just for film studies, I gave the advanced search function a detailed look. There I discovered that by choosing “select terms” under “subject,” I could pull up the terms the company assigns to films here, including absent father, extended family, hardships, hate groups, nightmares, Polar exploration, tradition, and a host of other names by which the file can be searched successfully.

I used the new Alexander Street Press interface in reviewing this file, and I did not like that it was sometimes difficult to limit my search to SFO; this interface is set up to search by discipline (history, literature/­language, etc.). It sometimes took me several clicks, moseying around in the file, to restrict my search to SFO alone. I understand that for those libraries subscribing to multiple ASP files, the disciplinary approach may be a good one, but sometimes you just want to search a single file, and that should be easier to do.

Pricing SFO is available as a one-time purchase or as an annual subscription, with annual subscriptions ranging from $1,295 to $4,115 depending on a library’s budget and size.

verdict Both the astonishing content and the many ways of accessing SFO are outstanding. That enhanced content (such as that Méliès-narrated version of A Trip to the Moon) is included is very rich icing on a glorious cake. It is difficult to imagine why any library supporting serious film studies students would not acquire this file: in addition to the amazing content, SFO affords access to this wealth of visual material in a multiplicity of ways. It will serve scholars in the fields of cultural studies, history, anthropology, literature, and sociology as well as those in film studies. Resoundingly recommended.

Cheryl LaGuardia is a Research Librarian for the Widener Library at Harvard University and author of Becoming a Library Teacher (Neal-Schuman, 2000). Readers can contact her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu

AtoZDatabases DatabaseUSA.com; AtoZDatabases.com. For a free trial, please go to: AtoZDatabases.com/landing/freetrial

By Bonnie J.M. Swoger


content AtoZDatabases is a single-access point for a collection of search tools aimed at small businesses, consumers, and job seekers. Patrons can use the platform to find business listings, new businesses, health-care professionals, job listings, people, new movers, and new homeowners.

Since this database was last reviewed in this column in 2012, the company has added some useful features and made patron-friendly changes to its download policies. Previously, patrons could download only 250 records (businesses or people) at a time. AtoZDatabases has increased this limit to 1,000 records. ReferenceUSA, a similar resource for business and demographic data, allows downloads of only 100 records per search. AtoZDatabases allows exports of Excel, CSV, and tab-delimited text files. Users can select how much information to include in the download.

Patrons will benefit from the database’s new Spanish-language interface, easily accessible via a link at the top of each page. Another new feature is the ability to view corporate structures, including head­quarters, subsidiaries, and branches. I was able to look up information about Mighty Taco (a local restaurant chain) and locate its corporate headquarters (so I could find information about the company’s total profits) and a list of all branches.

AtoZDatabases has partnered with several companies to expand the utility of the portal. Job listings come from indeed.com, a data source for other databases reviewed in this column such as Career Transitions and ReferenceUSA. A new background search feature comes from a partnership with ­Locate America. Users can search by name or address to find additional information. A quick search for data about me yielded my maiden name, my age, my previous addresses, and some incorrect phone numbers. A search for information about my husband yielded addresses, phone numbers (including a few that were correct), names and phone numbers of a few relatives, and names, addresses, and phone numbers of our neighbors. Estimated property values and income levels were included but often inaccurate.

Finally, AtoZDatabases has partnered with JangoMail to provide patrons with free email marketing tools. JangoMail offers mailing list management, analytics, and email design features. AtoZDatabases patrons can now send up to 500 emails per month for free and have access to a suite of resources that allow them to locate relevant email addresses through their databases and create email marketing campaigns.

Usability The database homepage includes a business search, a job search, and a people search. These simple search functions allow users to search by location as well as business, job title, or a person’s name. Advanced search interfaces and the other databases are available via a click from the initial start page.

The advanced search interface for all AtoZDatabases search tools is a custom query generator. Users select the categories they want to search from a list on the left-hand side of the screen, then add their search criteria in the center column. ­Users can see the number of search results on the right side of the screen before clicking “search,” an especially useful component if a query produces zero results. Users can search on almost any field included in the site. Businesses can be searched by location, keyword, NAICS or SIC code, business or executive name, size, ownership, or other factors such as estimated expenditures, nonprofit status, square footage, or number of PCs. Residential records can be searched by location, name, phone number, estimated household income, property value, or interests and hobbies.

A new search feature available for business and people listings is a map-based search option, and is one of the best that I have used. It employs a Google Maps base and allows users to select geographical areas in four different ways. First, users can draw a polygon in any shape. Second, users can select a point and define a radius around that point. Third, users can trace a route from point A to point B. In this search, users can find businesses or people within a certain distance from their route. Finally, users can choose a town, county, or state boundary. After utilizing the map to select a geographical location, users can continue to add to their query from any of the factors included in the database.

While searching and downloading rec­ords from AtoZDatabases is fairly easy, there are some noticeable gaps in the connectivity among the available information. For example, when searching for a business, users will see an icon in the results list that provides access to the corporate tree. However, there is no access to the corporate tree from the business’s profile page. In the people search, users can click on a person’s name to see publicly available information, but there is no link to the new background search features.

Pricing Based on FTE for academics and population served for public libraries, annual subscriptions start at $1,200 per month and only increase based upon population served. All databases and future enhancements are included in the subscription along with internal and remote access for patrons and 1,000 downloads per attempt.

verdict AtoZDatabases is a highly useful if confusingly named resource for small businesses. The recently released features increase the utility of the database as well as making it easier to use and more accessible to more people. AtoZDatabases would be helpful for public libraries in communities seeking to encourage small business development and some academic institutions that ask students to create marketing plans.

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 swoger@geneseo.edu

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