As the richest source of information in history, the world wide web presents an exciting research tool for educators and students. But a simple query on any search engine will show that the web is also the greatest source of misinformation ever. Relatively few sites provide reliable, factual, accessible information, while many more provide useless drivel–or worse. How do educators begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, and point their students in the right direction?

One solution gaining popularity among educators is the fee-based reference sources available via the internet. Authoritative publishers such as Grolier and others have set up shop on the web, offering easy and affordable access to many forms of information and teaching tools. In most cases, searching these sources is as simple as typing in a natural-language query. These web-based reference sources are becoming an attractive alternative, whether as a complement to your school’s print-based library or as a source for more up-to-date information.

Here are some of the companies offering on-line reference services:


Well-known for its print versions, Grolier now has three online reference sets.

The New Book of Knowledge, designed for grades 3-8, features the NBK News, a weekly posting that provides links related to current events, and a Teachers Guide that includes lesson plans with worksheets, activities, and discussion ideas.

Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Online, geared to grades 5-12, is based on the full text of the Academic American Encyclopedia. It includes more than 36,000 articles, 15,000 bibliographies, 100,000 cross-referenced hypertext links, 6,000 pictures, an interactive atlas with 830 maps, and a monthly e-zine.

Designed for grades 8-12, The Encyclopedia Americana is positioned as a quick-reference resource. Grolier sells packages of two or three of its online products to schools with pricing based on the number of students using the service.

Encarta Online

Offered in two versions, Encarta is the online version of Microsoft’s CD-ROM-based encyclopedia. The Encarta Concise Encyclopedia is a free, abridged version, suitable for quick reference. Encarta Online Deluxe is a premium version containing all 40,000 articles on the CD-ROM and optimized for online delivery, according to Microsoft. It also includes an extensive collection of detailed lesson plans, as well as resources for use at home. Pricing is based on Microsoft’s large-volume licensing program.

Britannica Online

Containing the text of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and thousands of additional articles, Britannica Online is continually updated and includes related internet links and a Week in Review feature that provides background on current events, as well as links to relevant Britannica entries. The Spotlight feature uses multimedia to provide in-depth information on various themes, such as dinosaurs or the Normandy Invasion.

Britannica Online is offered by annual subscription, starting at $295 and based on the number of enrolled students.