Literature Review: Information Retrieval

The Internet as a resource

By the end of this section you should be able to

The various information sources described in Section 1.5 are now all available on the Internet. As the World Wide Web has developed, many educational institutions, organisations, companies and individuals have made reference works ranging from encylopedias to specialist dictionaries available for public access. Many of these reference sources are free. Later in this course you will receive guidance on evaluating information retrieved from the Internet (Section 2.4) because for research purposes, you should always treat material retrieved in this way with the utmost caution. However, in this section we provide a subject directory using the categories of reference source to be found in Section 1.5.

Major world libraries are to be trusted in their links to online reference sources, and it would be wise to investigate their websites to find out how to access such sources. The public availability of online reference material varies greatly from one provider to another. For example you can access the Cambridge International Dictionary of English at no charge, while similar access to the Oxford Dictionary would cost several thousand rand per year for a subscription. Online bibliographic databases and journals also often require subscription, and here you should approach your librarian to check whether your institution already has a subscription to the source you wish to consult. Their subscription may be to a CD ROM or Internet based version of the source, but as a member of the library you would be able to gain access to the material.

Electronic reference sources on the Internet


General encyclopedias
 Encarta Columbia Encyclopedia 6th Edition Free Internet Encyclopedia Encyclopedia Proteus (Meta-search online encyclopedias)

Specialized subject encyclopedias
My Virtual Encyclopedia: Encyclopedias in over 50 subject areas and links to many other reference sources.

Indexes and abstracts



Online indexes, bibliographies and abstracts (Clement C. Maxwell Library: Bridgewater State College)
The Wellcome Trust 


General English language dictionaries
A Web of Online Dictionaries: Over 500 dictionaries, thesauri, and grammars in 140 languages.  Also includes links to specialized dictionaries in medicine, business, law, art, etc.
Cambridge International Dictionary of English (CIDE) 
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
DICT Free Online Dictionary
Wordsmyth The Educational Dictionary-Thesaurus

Subject and specialized dictionaries
Acronym Dictionary
Acronym Finder
Synonym Dictionary

Computing Dictionary

Translation dictionaries, AltaVista Translation Service

Biographical Sources

Biographical Dictionary   -  This dictionary includes more than 27,000 notable men and women who have shaped our world from ancient times to the present day. The dictionary can be searched by names, birth years, death years, positions held, professions, literary and artistic works, miscellaneous achievements, and other keywords.  - This web database includes over 20,000 biographical sketches of the greatest lives,  past and present.
Nobel Prize Internet Archive

Geographical sources

Altas (Infoplease)

Almanacs & Directories

Information Please Almanac, dictionary, encyclopedia and altlas
Associations on the Net Searchable, browsable annotated guide to over 2000 home pages of prominent organizations and associations.

Government Documents

Unwembi's resource of South African government information 
South Africa Government Online
Statistics South Africa

Virtual libraries

Internet Public Library




1. Which of the following reference sources requires a subscription?

C. Hypertext Webster

2. Which source could you use to translate an abstract from another language into English?

B. My Virtual Encyclopedia
C. AltaVista Translation Service

3. Where would you find the South African White Paper on Science and Technology - 'Preparing for the 21st Century'

B. Unwembi's resource of South African government information
C. Statistics South Africa