Purpose To provide a historical look at the development of web versions of reference materials and discuss what makes an easy-to-use and useful electronic handbook. Design/methodology/approach Electronic reference materials were limited to handbooks available on the web. Observations and assumptions about usability are tested with an information retrieval test for specific tasks in print and online editions of the same texts. Findings Recommended adoption of those elements which create a well designed book in combination with robust search capabilities and online presentation result in an easy-to-use and useful electronic reference source. Research limitations/implications The small sample size that was used for testing limits the ability to draw conclusions, and is used only as an indication of the differences between models. A more thorough look at difference between electronic book aggregates, such as ENGnetBASE, Knovel® and Referex would highlight the best features for electronic reference materials. Practical implications Advantages to particular models for electronic reference publishing are discussed, raising awareness for product evaluation. Areas of development for electronic reference book publishers or providers are identified. Work in these areas would help ensure maximum efficiency through cross title searching via metasearching and data manipulation. Originality/value The paper presents results from some human computer interaction studies about electronic books which have been implemented in a web interface, and the positive effects achieved.


electronic reference sources, usability, web resources

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Library Hi-Tech 23(2) 2005 : 287-298

Date of this Version