Biographical Resources

Who?

The Ithaca College Library can provide a copious amount of biographical information. There are thousands of full length biographies in the general stacks. For briefer biographical information, there are dozens of biographical resources in the Reference Collection and online.

Finding Biographies Located in the Library

Although there are more than 10,000 books in the library stacks that could be called biographies, there is no BIOGRAPHY section in the Ithaca College Library. Instead, books written about people are cataloged in an appropriate subject section of the library. Here are some examples:
  • Books about Albert Einstein are mostly found in QC, the location for PHYSICS.
  • Biographies of Sylvia Plath are found in PS (American Literature) immediately after her books of poetry.
  • Bill Clinton's autobiography has a call number that starts with E886. E is the call number range for HISTORY--UNITED STATES. Biographies of politicians, living or dead, will be found principly found in History.
  • The call number for The Beatles : the Authorized Biography, by Hunter Davies, is ML421.B4 D38 2006. All biographies of musicians, classical, jazz, or rock (and even Albert Einstein when the focus of the book is on him as violin player) will be found in the MLs.
To locate a biography in the Ithaca College Library, search the online catalog by the name of the person, with last name first, as a subject.

Biographical sources may also be searched by geography, historical period, occupation, or type of people. Some subject headings will be very specific, for example: Civil rights workers United States Biography and Labor unions United States Officials and employees Biography.

Using the word BIOGRAPHY in a subject search, however, is not always helpful or enough. Poets American 20th century Biography has more than a hundred entries to sort through, but additional biographical information about American poets may be found with other subheadings, including Correspondence, Diaries, and Family Relations.

To expand your search, you can also search by keyword, including the term biography with the individual's name or another relevant word, such as inventors biography.

Biographical Resources in Reference

The Ithaca College Library maintains many biographical resources in its Reference Collection.

Biographical dictionaries are collective works of sketches of peoples' lives. In some sources, sketches are no more than a paragraph in length and include no more than a summary of facts, such as birthdate, names of spouse and children, education, awards, and career highlights. Others may devote multiple pages to a single persons life. Unfortunately, there is no room here for the multitude of biographical sources related to specific fields and discliplines, and ethnic groups.

Biographical dictionaries, however, aren't the only sources for locating information about people. In addition to biographical dictionaries, other reference works, such as general and subject encyclopedias, often include biographical essays.

Online Biographical Resources

In addition to the hundreds of individual and group biographies available through Ebrary, there are several biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias available online.

Contact Us

Picture: John Henderson
Social Sciences Librarian
(607) 274-1961

Why bother, when there is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is probably the most used biographical resource now used. You must keep in mind its limitations, especially for biographical information. Because there is little or no control on who may contribute and what may be written, some entries may have been written by enthusiatic fans, while others by harsh critics.

Although you will find good basic and balanced bios, too many have been poorly researched or simply copied from another, usually uncredited, web source.

Notoriously, for controversial figures, such as candidates in the middle of an election campaign, entries have been extensively edited and re-edited by those with rival viewpoints to the extent that Wikipedia administrators have closed the entry to futher tampering.

Wikipedia has been compared to Douglas Adam's fictional Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate."

For the most part, Wikipedia entries are reliable, but for important research, use Wikipedia only as a starting point, and then  verify the contents with other more verifiably reliable and comprehensive sources. What other sources? The other kinds of biographical resources described on this page, for one thing, but even better some books in the Ithaca College Library collection.