The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia

(World Book 1997)


Reviewed by Fred Van Helden


The World Book on CD is sensational, offering sound and video clips adjoining words and pictures, which is more attuned to today's interactive technoteaching than the conventional, uni-dimensional set of hard copy volumes that were once all libraries had to offer.

The four main attractions of this technology, of course, are ease of access, space and cost saving, and entertainment value. In terms of access to information several features are offered to help you to find your way around, the easiest of these being to simply type in the topic and watch as the information pops up in front of you. A downside, however, is the fact that, unless networked, access is limited to one computer, which restricts the possibilities of multiple user access - always a big advantage of the multiple-volume hard copy. The space saving benefit of this technology, of course, is considerable. A box with 3 CDs takes up much less space than a twenty two volume encyclopaedia and for a fraction of the cost - it costs a lot less for the CDs than the set of books. And finally, it provides the user with a much more enjoyable way of absorbing information. Similarly, it can also distract you from your purpose by side-tracking you down another alley, sometimes but not always a good thing.

The World Book contains every article from the twenty two volume set. It has extensive international and some local focus with a UK bias. It includes the 'World Book Atlas' with over 760 printable maps and the 225,000 entry 'World Book Dictionary'. The search engine finds information by topic, subject, word or phrase. It also offers features such as graded reading, instant access to definitions, clear article outlines, topical questions and a good use of photos and illustrations. this makes it a good research tool for students of all ages.

World Book CD includes a twelve month subscription to the 'World Book On-line Library' (provided, of course that you have Internet access), offering currency through updates of encyclopedia content and over 300 on-line feature articles with over 3,000 links to the CD. The 'Our Century' feature has some 3,000 links between articles on the CD-ROM and historic, year-by-year articles on that topic dating back to 1923. Additional on-line services extend the depth and use of the multimedia encyclopedia including links to web sites, a news calendar and a collection of detailed articles.

The 'authority' of the articles in the CD version in not specified anywhere. The hard copy at least, offers a select list of contributors and their qualifications (in the introduction to Vol. 1). Illustrations and photographs are acknowledged. Nor is there is an 'Introduction' or 'Preface' to the CD explaining aims and objectives, selection of content, level and purpose and so on but the treatment of the subject material is at a popular level aimed at the general interest reader. It would prove valuable as a ready-reference resource for both Primary and Secondary School levels as well as the home user.

The 'World Book Tour' gives the user an overview of how to use the CDs and there is a reasonable 'Help' option. For a quick browse you can click on the 'Just Looking' icon. Features are many. World Book CD contains over 8,000 photographs, hundreds of video-interactive simulations to help in understanding complex concepts, and a number of virtual reality presentations, including being able to, in effect, walk all the way around 3D art objects or view the brain from any aspect.

The 'World Book Research Helper', which is on the third disc, provides students with step-by-step instructions for writing short reports, book reports and research papers. More than 200 Reading and Study Guides are arranged alphabetically and by subject.

The cross-referencing facility is useful for expanding the subject using the 'Related Articles' option. The 'Quick Facts' listing is a very useful subject summary allowing quick access. The 'Around the World' icon offers world maps with cross-references to related articles and map overlays (political, population, temperature, rainfall, agriculture and mining terrain), which can be deciphered with a colour 'Legend'. Unfortunately, no overlay maps are offered for Australia. The 'Time Frame' icon is useful for chronological world events selected by date (Year/Decade/Century//Millenium/Era).

Excellence also comes with a few flaws. With the multiple CD format (3 CDs) there is some inconvenience with the requirement to swap discs back and forth, a minor quibble and nothing in comparison with hefting hard back volumes from shelf to desk. The quality of the graphics and the sound is generally good, however, some video clips use a small frame and can be jerky. You need good technology to run the CDs properly. The Tool Bar Icons are not clearly defined at face value and the arrangement of the data, I found made the screen a little congested, with too many highlights and options to confuse the issue.

Not long ago it took a super-salesman to persuade most families that the considerable expense of a small set of encyclopaedias was a good investment in terms of the future. With the World book now on CD-ROM, one of the world's great encyclopaedias is now well within the reach of many families and could quite feasibly be an advantage to every classroom.

Fred van Helden, Information Services Librarian, Kempsey Shire Library




Education Australia Online