Friday, February 29, 2008

Gale Virtual Reference Library

I have been pleased to add the Gale Virtual Reference Library to our online offerings. As our seminary begins to offer distance education and online courses, I have been looking for ways to increase our online holdings. And, yes, one does hold VRL titles; Gale provides free archival CDs with PDF copies of your titles. Gale's VRL includes a number of significant theological reference resources and makes them available in a user-friendly format. My only complaint about the VRL is that I find the response time to be slow.

I have been particularly interested in Gale's offering of third-party resources. Where I originally thought the VRL to be a platform for marketing Gale/Thompson publications, I have found it to include an expanding number of titles from other publishers. The VRL now includes what I consider to be e-books in addition to online editions of traditional reference works like dictionaries and encyclopedias. While the VRL interface is clearly not designed to be an e-book reader, one can with a fair amount of persistance and clicking eventually reach and page through the text of a work. Its primary value, though, remains as a search interface that uncovers texts that might otherwise remain undiscovered.

Along with the rest of the wired world, I'm still waiting for someone to invent an e-book reader that is better than a book. No -- while I think it is a significant, good effort, I do not think that Amazon's Kindle is the answer for reasons that have been noted elsewhere. In the mean time, I am pleased to find any available online offerings in religion and theology, and I continue to hope that major theological publishers will see the light and begin offering their works in electronic format.

The two e-books that I have added to our VRL collection as test cases are Baptists in America, by Bill Leonard (Columbia UP, 2005) and Protestantism in America, by Randall Balmer and Lauren Winner (Columbia UP, 2002). I am not expecting our students to necessarily read these books online, but I am hoping that having an electronic copy available will assist with finding appropriate content in these works and retrieving citations for use in papers. Did I mention that the VRL also provides usage reports via email? As I continue to monitor usage patterns, and as Gale continues to add significant titles in the area of religion and theology, I am hoping that the VRL can serve as a good, full-text reference resource for our students.

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