Biographical Resources

There are so many potential biographical resources that it is very difficult to narrow it down to five. There are general biographical resources, resources for people currently living, resources for the recently dead, the long dead, sources for people of particular countries, ethnicities, genders, people who were scientists or artists or sports figures – you name it.

Some general online resources available at most academic and public libraries, which I accessed through the San Francisco Public Library (go to Articles and Databases on the homepage) :

(all links must have an active San Francisco Public Library card to utilize)

Biography and Genealogy Master Index | (Gale) Current
Biographical and genealogical index to contemporary and historical figures worldwide. This resource does not contain biographical information, but it refers you to over 13 million books that contain biographical information on people living and dead, all cultures, all times, all fields.

Biography Resource Center+Marquis Whos Who | (Gale) full text 1927 – present
Full text biographies and articles on contemporary and historical figures worldwide. This resource contains short biographical essays on a wide range of people.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography full text
Over 55,000 biographies describing the lives of people who shaped the history of the British Isles and beyond. The United Kingdom’s national biography resource.

Literature Resource Center | (Gale) full text
Biographies, articles, criticism, overviews, glossary, and more on writers and literature. Excellent resource for biographical data on world authors, living and dead.

SFPL has a great resource page strictly devoted to the biographical search and aid of the user in their search. It can me found in the “Article and Database” section alphabetically look for Biographical Information Guide.

1. A good starting point is the Biography Resource Center & The Complete Marquis Who’s Who. These two databases can be searched together in order to find biographies, articles, portraits, and other sources on more than one million people from throughout history and around the world including authors, actors, musicians, political leaders, religious leaders, artists, historic figures and more. In many cases, this will provide the information needed without any further research.

2. For information about people who are connected with the history of the British Isles, use the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

3. For book-length biographies check the online catalog. Try a subject search for: Last Name, First Name.

4. For Members of the US Congress information, use Lexis-Nexis Congressional. Choose the Members link to find:

o committee assignments

o bills sponsored

o voting records

o floor statements

o campaign finance records

o financial disclosures

o other biographical information for members of Congress back to 1997

5. For musicians, try Oxford Music Online.

6. For more on authors, try the Literature Resource Center. For children’s authors try Something About the Author.

7. For more on artists, try the Art Full Text database.

8. For a list of additional biography resources on the Web, view the Librarians’ Index to the Internet (LII) People page. More specific lists are available from the LII California People page.

9. Search the Biography & Genealogy Master Index for more than 13.3 million biographical sketches from an extremely broad selection of biographical reference sources. Use this index to locate information on lesser-known people who cannot be found in the full text databases. Although it does not index every major biographical source in our collection it comes very close. Use it as a gateway to our print resources.

10. Specialized sources on local people are available in the following Library departments:

o The Art & Music Center has files on Visual Artists and Architects who have lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as files on San Francisco Bay Area musicians and performing artists and Northern California Composers.

o The San Francisco History Center has biographical files on current and historical San Franciscans including historical photographs of local residents.

11. Finally, if none of these sources contain the biographical information you are looking for, or if you get stuck at any point, ask a reference librarian for further assistance.

Lastly there are many excellent print resources. One of the best for Americans:

American national biography / general editors, John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes.

The U.S. competition to the British source noted above.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

920.073 Am353

The U.S. competition to the British source noted above.

The possibilities are pretty endless. The electronic resources noted above are the ones our library could afford and felt would be most useful to our patrons.

William Blake (1757–1827), by Thomas Phillips, 1807

William Blake (1757-1827), “Nebukadnezar” (1795)

Reference Interviews

Face to Face Reference Interviews

I choose to visit the City College of San Francisco’s Louise & Claude Rosenberg, Jr. Library. While this library is a service directly toward the students it is also open to San Francisco residents. Some services are not available to all of the public, but certain circulation service are permitted to residents.

Exploring the library I quickly ascertained, there is only two reference desk for the whole library and one is more of a directional/information desk, providing minimal reference services. The staff was accommodating from the start as I approached the information desk with my reference question. Explaining that I was resident and not a student, I began to inquire about biographical sources. The librarian at the information desk, came from behind and walked me to the row of printed reference source in my particular genre. As she did this she pointed, what she felt was the top sources for this particular field. First was Encyclopedia of World Biographies, followed by more, humors  and entertaining compilations of biographies, such as The Book of Dead Philosophers, and The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.

After the librarian from the information desk showed me the section, she then walked me over to the main reference desk and explained my inquiry to her colleague, who then took over the interview. I explained my purpose and what I was aiming to compile for this upcoming assignment. The librarian listened attentively, nodded, and let me finish speaking. When I finished he turned his screen to me, and began to show me their “Periodicals and Reference Database.” He accessed libraries “biography resource center” and proceeded to throughly discuss the options of each database within.

It was a through and complet reference interview from start to finish, I felt the librarians at City College were eager and helpful to assist me in finding the information I was looking for and even went above and beyond typical library service.


Digital Reference Interviews

I found myself getting quite involved in the aspects of the digital reference services. The two main providers I chose to work with were ASK Now, which I accessed online through the San Francisco Public Library, and Ask Colorado, which I accessed from the Denver Public Libraries web site. I came to using these services after direct emails with both libraries in-house “ask a librarian” service.

My first emails were to the San Francisco and Denver Public Libraries “ask a librarian service.” This proved to be futile and some what frustrating. On the first round of inquires included two direct ready reference/directional questions regarding the library and their electronic reference services. Within this same email I also included an excerpt of a portion of a paper I was writing to ask if the way I phrased a statement, which was followed with bullet point topics about that statement, was phrased correctly.

I sent this email on a Thursday and did not get a response until three day later, and the response was not satisfying. The person answering my emails was not able to comprehend what it was that wanted from the way I communicated it, despite the fact I felt it was a pretty straight forward question. The two ready reference question were answered, but they wanted me to email back more information about the second half of my question. I was disappointing in the response and turn around time. By the time I did get an answer it was two days too late and the answer did not help me anyway. I also attempted to send the same email to the Denver Public Libraries “ask a librarian service,” unfortunately I could never access it. I attempted several times but it kept coming back with an error message and never allowed me to send my entail email.

From here I went on to try both libraries 24 hour, 7 day a week online live reference services. I utilized these service at around 1 AM in the morning. Due to the time I logged on it took about 5-8 minutes for a reference librarian to join the live chat. I also switched up my questioning to pertain a future assignment regarding bibliographic sources. I formed my question to be a general starting guideline for the best bibliographic sources available through their affiliated libraries “article and databases.”

The reference interviews were similar, in that they both introduced themselves, used my screen name, made themselves approachable, and were both very cordial and accommodating to my question. They both made sure they were clear what information I was seeking, by asking me deeper questions about what these sources,such as; who would be using them and how. Each session lasted from 10-15 minutes, it was face paced, but not rushed. Both services had a split screen service that they utilized to show me examples of; sources, cites, holdings within each library, and the online sources available directly from each respected library.

The thing I like about Ask Now, is they have two beneficial follow up services. One they give you and option to take a survey about their service, in hopes of gathering information that will improve the service they offer. Secondly they email your the transcript of your online reference chat interview. This email was also utilized as a follow up device, allowing the user to ascertain what took place and allow that to solidify into further reference questions if needed, this email was sent withing an hour of services rendered. Ask Colorado, performed a deeper pre interview, asking where I was from, how found their site and required more information to log on to their service. Ask Colorado also sent a follow up/transcript of our online chat, but three day after the services.

During this time I also re-sent another reference email to San Francisco and Denver Public Libraries using the same question from the online chat service. It took the same amount of time, three days, for San Francisco to return my email, but the answer was far more through and complete than the first round. I was finally able to get an email through to Denver reference, but have yet to hear a response.

In the end I felt the online chat was successful and just as thorough as an email reference service, plus the information came instantaneously rather than a continual three day turnaround of information. Also it was easier to clarify what information I was reallly seeking, where as in the email, it was hit or miss.



ARTstor was created in the late 90s to address the oncoming need to have a shared digital image database for scholarly use. The database, which is only accessible through educational institutes, hosts more than one million images for use by scholars, researchers, students, curators, museumologists and those in the field of education. The site was specifically developed to transform art related teaching. By the Summer of 2004 ARTstor went live with their digital imaging database and has grown ever since meeting the the needs of education and scholarship.

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