Three Resources, one Britannica Library; the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online | Reference eReviews

  • By Cheryl LaGuardia

CONTENT Britannica Library is actually an amalgamation of three reference resources, offering research materials through three levels of access: Children, Young Adults, and Reference Center (for adults). Content includes three encyclopedias (one of which is the Encyclopædia Britannica), new and continually updated journal articles, primary-source material, multimedia (90,000 images, videos, and audio clips), links to 129,000 expert websites, and ebooks. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary in English/Spanish is omnipresent here (double-click any word for the definition to pop up) and audio pronunciations are also available.
The Library also offers: a world atlas; a “Compare Countries” tool for statistical comparisons; “How-To” documents guiding students through creating book reviews, presentations, research papers, and science reports; the “My Britannica” personal account feature for saving and sharing articles, images, and videos; and a read-aloud feature that will enable early readers to follow along with content. The Library is designed for use on a wide variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop workstations; the system self-adjusts to fit the screen being used.
USABILITY The main screen for ­Britannica Library is simple, yet inviting. Most of it is occupied by a big “welcome” to the resource, accompanied by a brightly colored graphic of a human head above which dance icons and symbols representing most human knowledge areas. Beneath this are three simple search boxes, labelled variously: “Children,” “Young Adults,” and “Reference Center.” The welcome message instructs the user to “Choose a level below to get started!” but in truth the patron can enter a query in any of the boxes to get going. Let me use my first search to explain why.
In the search box for children I entered “Adolf Hitler,” and as I typed, a recommended article popped up: “Adolf Hitler (dictator of Germany).” I was taken into a short article about Hitler aimed at grade-school readers. The piece included an introduction (“Adolf Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. He called himself Führer [Leader]. Hitler believed that Germans were born to rule over other peoples. This led to World War II. He also believed that there was no place in society for Jewish people. This idea led to the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews were killed”), and sections on his early life, the Third Reich, and World War II and the Holocaust. Media included were a photo portrait of ­Hitler and one of Nazi Party storm troopers marching through Nuremberg. A sidebar noted, ­“Hitler was appointed chancellor by the German president, but he quickly made himself dictator.”
On the right side of the screen was a bar in which I could immediately switch from Reading Level 1 to Reading Level 2. Level 2 leads to a YA article on Hitler. It offers a longer introduction, and the sections: “Creates the Nazi Party,” “From ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ to Prison,” “Industrialists Help Rebuild Nazi Party,” and “The Legend of ‘Hitler the Superman.’ ”
There were also tabs displayed for images and videos and for related material. In the first I found six photographs, of Hitler, his generals, and Nazi parades, as well as a video about the man’s rise to power (this picture was readily downloadable for use in presentations, which is very useful). Related information is in three categories: “People”; “Places”; and “Things.” I also found there a link to the “Web’s Best Sites” (selected by Britannica editors for quality and age-appropriateness), which for this article included material from Spartacus Educational, the Jewish Virtual Library, the BBC, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, PBS, and
Level 3 offers a much lengthier article about Hitler, written for a sophisticated reader. It includes the sections “Introduction,” “Early life,” “Rise to Power,” ­“Hitler’s Life and Habits,” “Dictator, 1933–39,” “World War II,” “Hitler’s Place in History,” and “Additional Reading.” The multimedia available here included a host of photographs and multiple videos, and the related-items section was much more extensive than in Level 2, going into greater depth and breadth in subject coverage and detail. At screen right in the article a toolbar gave immediate access to a number of functions, including: favoriting the article; printing, emailing, and citing it; translating the material into any language ranging from Afrikaans to Zulu; listening to it being read; and sizing the font up or down.

Britannica Library










I spent a long evening delving into this file, and it was quite wondrous. A search of Level 2 for “minority rights” unearthed 1,260 results across a host of articles. A search of Level 1 for “civil war” located the American Civil War article for children, which then led me into the articles for young adults and adults and encompassed a dizzying array of photographs, analyses, animated maps, documents, facts, biographies, websites, overviews, and minutiae about the conflict, including a bevy of different perspectives about it.
I did a total of 143 searches and found robust, reliable material on each. Enhanced features, such as “Compare Countries (“Choose a country from each drop-down box to compare their population, area, and other important facts”) and Tour the USA (viewing statistics and other information by clicking on a map of the United States) knocked my reviewer socks off.
PRICING For public libraries the price is 75¢ per user, based on a portion of the population served, with a minimum cost of $525 per library. Discounts are available for larger populations and system-wide subscriptions.
VERDICT This is a resource for the ages. The content is superb; there is something for everyone here. It is matched by an inviting and compelling presentation. The way Britannica has interwoven these three resources into one database is marvelous.

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

  • By Bonnie J.M. Swoger

CONTENT In 2012, Cambridge University Press published the seven-volume set the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. This reference work collected the complete writings of English playwright, poet, and literary critic Ben Jonson (1572–1637), along with introductory texts placing each of his works in context. The contents of this reference work are now available online.
This new resource contains the complete content of the print edition, along with additional material and interface features that make the online database more user friendly than the print work (or even a standard ­ebook version of it).
The print edition used modern spellings for Jonson’s work, whereas the online edition includes multiple versions of most works. Some offer contemporary spellings and others preserve Jonson’s original spellings. Users can view multiple copies of each text side by side for easy comparison. For example, it’s possible to view the modern and original spellings of his play, Every Man in His Humour, side by side, or to compare the text from the 1598 folio to the 1616 folio versions. These features of the online interface allow students and scholars to study changes in each text over time, as well as the opportunity to examine the original text with the modern-spelling version alongside it to aid in comprehension.
A chronology from the print edition becomes an interactive time line, allowing readers to click through the major events (political, literary and social) of Jonson’s lifetime.
New content in the online edition includes essays about Jonson’s texts and the history of the stage. Archival materials related to the author’s work and life are transcribed (with translations as needed) with editorial notes. The “Performance Archive” lists known performances of Jonson’s work from the late 16th century to modern adaptations for film and television. This is a fully searchable list, allowing users to filter by company, venue, play, or date.
A comprehensive collection of music from Jonson’s plays and masques includes musical scores (as PDF documents) and MIDI files that can be downloaded and played. The music collection includes introductory essays about the use of music in Johnson’s plays and in the theater at the time. A discography includes a useful list of commercially available recordings cited in these essays.


USABILITY The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online makes use of modern web technology, including TEI (text encoding initiative; meaning that it adheres to international guidelines for the preparation and interchange of electronic texts for scholarly research), to allow users to explore and study Jonson’s writing.
Basic search of the entire site is available on each page, allowing full-text searching of the archival materials, essays, and original works. Results can be filtered by content type, enabling users to easily separate the essays and commentary from Jonson’s creations. The database is best viewed by browsing, however. From the homepage, users can access all of the major content sections with one click. A navigation menu at the top allows exploration of each section of the resource: “Works,” “Records” (archival materials), “Music,” “Essays,” and “Reference” (a comprehensive bibliography for the entire site).
The navigation menu also includes access to a blog, which is available to non-­subscribers, featuring posts about recent museum exhibitions related to Jonson, new scholarship, and performances of Jonson’s works. Nonsubscribers can also view the essays, performance calendar, and time line.
The “Works” section includes a list of 234 items shown in chronological order from 1597 to 1641. A brief note indicates which version of the work is included, and whether each version uses modern or original spellings. Users can search the full text of these works (including the introductory texts and editorial notes within each work). The database also allows searches of key terms, characters, or themes described in the introductory texts.
The list of works can be filtered by spelling (modern or original) and genre (plays, verse, masques, correspondence, and prose). A slider allows researchers to select a date range.
After clicking on a title, the selected text is displayed in a scrolling box. This text can be copied and pasted, but must be read on screen—there are no tools to download the material. Most works include editorial commentary that can be toggled on or off; a small speech bubble icon within the text indicates that such notes are available. (I left them on because I didn’t find them distracting.) A table of contents is available for the selected document, and users can toggle between viewing a single document and a side-by-side comparison view. Some works include scanned images of the original quarto works.
The comparison tool is powerful but not always easy to use. An option to “synchronize texts” is available to “toggle panel synchronization,” but it didn’t appear to have any impact. I was hoping that this tool would automatically move both texts to the same location.
References used within the section are hyperlinked, so users can click directly to the appropriate entry in the bibliography. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to click directly back to the original starting point. Clicking the “back” button in the browser takes users back to the main page for the work in question, but not the same point in the work as before.
PRICING All institutions pay the same cost for the resource, $1,600. Individual subscriptions are available for $1,100. If users don’t subscribe to any other Cambridge University Press products, an additional hosting fee may apply.
VERDICT The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online is an excellent example of a print reference work that is transformed by putting it online. Rather than merely making an ebook version of the original, the publisher has created an easy-to-use, feature-rich online edition. Having said that, the market for this resource is small. Academic institutions with courses or major research programs regarding Jonson would benefit immensely, as would individual scholars. However, the cost of the resource would place it out of reach for many institutions. Academic librarians and English literature scholars may wish to point their students to the freely available resources, especially the essays, performance calendar, and time line.

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, Readers can contact her at

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.