Facts on File: Access and Transparency

As their website puts it, “Infobase is an educational solutions company providing digital reference content…” In particular Infobase’s Facts on File online content provides valuable historical content.

There are several important features about Facts on File. The website contains videos, images, timelines, biographies, and documents. In particular I was looking at the American Indian history page. The website provides very easy access to specific information about any historical topic. The American Indian page was divided into four areas that included, Videos and Slideshows, Key People, Key Primary Sources, and Key Maps and Graphs. Below the title of the website is a menu for quick access to all of the information found further down on the webpage. This menu bar also includes Topic Centers and Curriculum Tools. The Topic Centers tab is excellent for further reading on specific subjects within American Indian history and functions similarly to websites like Wikipedia where topics in this tab are hyperlinked to more information. This feature also illustrates the breadth of information Infobase encompasses.

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Example of the Curriculum Tools tab

The Curriculum Tools tab on the menu bar is an important feature as well. Along with providing primary sources, Infobase educates visitors on how to use the sources properly as far as interpreting what they mean and citation. As part of the History Web that is meant to be used for research, this information proves a necessary feature to ensure the proper use of the materials provided on the website. Users are allowed to download materials from the website for non-commercial use and to have a single print copy.

Also on the menu bar is a Sources tab. The Sources tab allows users to track where the sources are coming from as well as to see if the sources have been updated recently. From this tab users are able to see that Infobase utilizes numerous online archives for their materials, including the Library of Congress, the National Records and Archives Administration, and the National Park Service.

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Sources used for images on the American Indian History page

Users are able to create an account on Facts on File. The account allows a user to save searchers as well as add records to a folder saved within the website.

While Infobase contains valuable materials, some people will be prohibited from using the website because parts of the site require a subscription. Usually a library or university would be the main subscribers to a service like Infobase. Cohen and Rosenzweig discuss what can come from corporations entering into the History Web. As they write, this creates “two further distinctions – between commercial and noncommercial sites and between gated sites and those with open access.” Infobase is a rather large education company that owns no less than seven different brands including Films Media Group and The World Almanac. I was able to get onto the Facts on File website and access all of the American Indian History materials without signing in but some of Infobase’s materials may be blocked on their other brands. I also found it difficult to search for anything on the website and often ran into an error message.

Facts on File should be free to access because a majority of their sources come from places that already have their own websites that include open and free access to those same sources. As part of History Web, Facts on File is an important website that gears content towards education as the site is just one brand among many owned by Infobase. It is critical that Cohen and Rosenzweig point out that corporations are a part of History Web. Facts on File does not hide that it is a part of Infobase and in fact, in the about page, the rest of the brands under Infobase are listed as well. A website part of History Web that is made by corporation might have a different agenda than a website created by a history department or a museum. Facts on File is an interesting website that provides historical information in an easy, user-friendly environment.

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