Questia.com bills itself as the world’s largest online library. That may very well be true, but then again at the moment it’s not saying a whole lot. Provided Google can deal with the multiple lawsuits that are currently standing as a huge obstacle to its plans to digitize millions of books, Questia’s library may one day look in comparison like the public library of Podunk compared to the Library of Congress. But not now.
Is it worth paying the price for a subscription to the world’s largest online library of the moment? I’m currently in the middle of my one month trial subscription. I’m much happier now than I was a few hours into it. Access is supposed to be immediate upon payment. Rather than paying via credit card, I chose to have my PayPal account debited. Four hours later I still had not been able to login and had not had any of my email inquiries returned. Finally, I called them and the operator-an exceedingly nice young man whose name I unfortunately did not get-handled my situation with aplomb. Within two minutes I had logged in.
Now, the reason I decided to have a go at the world’s largest online library is because I’m a freelance writer and I get most of my assignments from internet freelance databases. A lot of what I write requires significant research. As anyone who has ever used the Google Scholar database or any other search engine specializing in academic journals knows, many times what comes back is information that you would kill to use, but to which you have been denied access. Typically, these are highly specific databases containing journals related to, for instance, medical issues, legal issues, educational issues, etc. Normally, anyone can purchase a subscription to these databases, but since they are so occupation-specific, unless you write about that issue frequently it really doesn’t make sense to shell out the kind of money they typically cost.
At least, not for me. But Questia.com is different because their library isn’t specific. Nor is it committed solely to books, magazines or journals. The prime selling point of Questia.com is, well, that they offer the world’s largest online library. And, like regular libraries, you can find not only books, but magazines, newspapers, reference books and journals. Admittedly, their newspaper collection is significantly weighted toward those in UK, with only a couple of American newspapers. But they more than make up for that lack with their collection of magazines. Among the magazines you can access from Questia: Film Comment, Ebony, National Review, Dance Magazine, The Christian Century, and The Atlantic Monthly. Among many, many others.
Questia.com also has a fabulous journal database. In fact, their journal database may be even more impressive than their book database. The journals you will find here cover the research gamut: medicine, entertainment, religion, politics, cultural studies, architecture. Among the more obscure journal titles awaiting your perusal: Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America.
So how many books does the world’s largest online library have? Questia.com advertises itself as having over 66,000 full text books. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of reading. Of course, that also means the possibility of getting a lot of hits on your search that won’t help you out much. Questia allows you several options for narrowing those 66,000 books, along with the journals, magazines, etc. down so that you can get mostly what you want.
But Questia offers more than just a return on its promise of being the world’s largest online library. Especially helpful to students is particular little tool that comes with the subscription. Anyone who has ever written a research paper knows the pain of properly formatting a bibliography and citing sources. Questia makes this process a breeze. During the course of your reading simply click on the tab Quote/Cite and you can choose from several of the many citation forms available: MLA, APA, ASA, Turabian. Once you’ve cited it, Questia automatically adds the title to your bibliography page, which you can then download. In addition to in-source citation abilities, you can also highlight sections of text, add your own notes, and look up words.
Questia.com also makes finding a topic to write about easier than ever. Let’s say you’ve been given a research paper to write on Shakespeare. You can click on Questia’s Shakespeare’s topics link. That brings you to another page listing all his plays, as well as other related topics. Let’s say you want to do something unique, like a paper on music in Shakespeare. You click on that topic and you are presented with a pre-selected list of reference material specific to music in Shakespeare. Of course, you can conduct your own search to move beyond this list, but it’s a great starting-off point.
And if you are completely clueless as to how write a research paper, Questia provides an animated tutorial that not only gives you the basics of what is necessary in a good paper, but also shows you how to best use their site to help you along.
Questia.com also is a great place for teachers. If you teach grades 7-12, then you can use Questia to create lesson plans using the vast wealth of material available. They even provide a multimedia presentation to guide you on how best to go about this process.
Sounds good, yes, but how much does all this cost? There are three different plans: $19.95 for one month, $44.95 for a quarterly subscription and $99.95 for a yearly subscription. Be aware that these are all renewed automatically so if you decide it’s not for you it’s up to you to cancel at the end of your subscription. Is it worth the price?
I can only give you my personal experience. The day after I subscribed I had the chance to bid on a rush job that gave me just slightly over 24 hours to write a ten page paper. I would not even have bid on the job if I hadn’t had access because I would not have had time to go the library and browse through all the books related to the subject in question and then read them and write the paper. But with Questia I could narrow my search focus to exactly what I was looking for and came up with several books and journal articles. Although I’ve only got the monthly subscription now, that one job will allow me to pay for the annual subscription when my first month is up. So my verdict is: Questia.com, the world’s largest online library, is an invaluable tool for anyone conducting online research.