In our March 2001 issue, we ran the first in a series of “Readers’ Choice Awards” features, designed to help you understand which software vendors and programs your colleagues have enjoyed the greatest success with.

Our first Readers’ Choice Awards focused on K-12 management software. Since that time, we have also covered technology training solutions (June) and curriculum software (September). This latest installment highlights our readers’ top picks in digital reference materials.

Hundreds of readers voted on the eSchool News web site in October for what they considered to be the best electronic reference products in each of 10 categories. Keep in mind that quality is subjective, and what might be the best solution for one school might be inappropriate for another. Nevertheless, some clear winners emerged in every category.

General reference databases

Bigchalk Library was the overwhelming favorite among our readers in this category, capturing 59 percent of the votes. Many readers cited its ease of use for elementary students, with age-appropriate reading levels and student-friendly icons. One reader added, “A big plus is the inclusion of TV transcripts. Students today are visual media rich, and they are bound to make connections between what they’ve seen on TV and what they are learning about in school.”

EBSCO Publishing’s Curriculum Online was next, with 18 percent of the votes (one reader called it the “most complete” solution), followed by SIRS Knowledge Source (16 percent) and Gale Group Student Resource Center (5 percent). Other products cited by readers but not listed in the graphic above include Jones Knowledge e-Global Library and Thinkronize netTrekker.

Digital encyclopedias

BritannicaSchool, from Encyclopedia Britannica Educational, was the runaway favorite in this category, with 62 percent of the votes. Microsoft Encarta Online (13 percent), World Book Online (12 percent), and Grolier Online (11 percent) finished in a virtual dead heat for the runner-up spot.

“In my teaching level (fourth grade), I found that Encarta was most user-friendly for my students,” wrote one reader, while another said she appreciated the variety of offerings within the Grolier product—seven comprehensive references in a single online source for students from third grade to college.

Social studies collections

ABC-CLIO’s American Government series of CD-ROMs and internet resources was the No. 1 choice of readers in this category, garnering 53 percent of the votes. Grolier’s Lands and Peoples Online was next, with 17 percent, followed by bigchalk U.S. History (10 percent), Gale Group History Resource Center (9 percent), and SIRS Government Reporter (7 percent).

Periodicals collections

Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents chose Gale Group’s InfoTrac as their top pick in periodicals collections. ProQuest was fairly close behind, with 30 percent of the votes, followed by EBSCOHost (7 percent), H.W. Wilson Readers’ Guide (6 percent), NewsBank NewsFile (3 percent), and SIRS Discoverer (3 percent).

One reader said EBSCOHost’s Master file with professional journals provides the “best support for the Advanced Placement classes we offer.”

Science collections

Bigchalk ClassMate Earth Science, which has been adopted by Georgia and Kentucky state officials for use in meeting their earth-science curriculum requirements, was chosen by 48 percent of readers as the best collection of online science resources.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology was next, with 22 percent of the votes, followed by Grolier’s Book of Popular Science Online (11 percent), Facts on File Science Online (8 percent), and NewsBank Science Source Collection (7 percent). Another product chosen by readers but not appearing in the graphic above is EBSCO Publishing’s Science Reference Series, which captured 2 percent of the votes.

Biography collections

Once again, bigchalk Library was the clear winner, amassing two-thirds (67 percent) of the votes. Gale Group’s Biography Resource Center was next, with 19 percent, followed by the company’s Discovering Biography (7 percent) and H.W. Wilson’s Biographies Online (4 percent). Of the latter product, one reader wrote, “Good coverage, ease of use. Great supplemental resources, most full-text.”

Literature and arts collections

Our readers’ top pick in this category was bigchalk ClassMate Language Arts, cited by 55 percent of respondents. Gale Group Literature Resource Center and ProQuest Online tied for the second spot, each with 18 percent of the votes. One reader chose Gale Group’s Literature Resource Center as the best collection but said it was “way too expensive!”

Other products chosen by readers include Gale Group’s Discovering Authors (4 percent) and Magill on Literature (3 percent).

Primary source collections

Classroom Connect’s American Memory Primary Sources was the overwhelming favoriate among readers, with 64 percent of the votes. Facts on File Landmark Documents in American History was next, with 12 percent, followed closely by ProQuest Historical Newspapers (11 percent), NewsBank Retrospective (5 percent), and SIRS Government Reporter (4 percent).

All-digital libraries

By far the most popular choice among readers was Artemis Digital Library (, an online collection specifically designed for middlle and high school students, with 81 percent of the votes. iNet Library (17 percent) and netLibrary (not shown) also received votes.

Digital or streaming video collections

AIMS Multimedia—with its video libraries for schools—was the top pick among readers, with 70 percent of the votes, followed by CEL Educational Resources’ Video Encyclopedia of the 21st Century (17 percent) and Library Video Co. (11 percent). Also cited by readers but not appearing in the chart above was United Learning Digital Streaming.