Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'ts A Shrinking World: Global Issues database

I don't think I've ever pitched for a product before that wasn't online and, if not free, at least VERY inexpensive. It's not a trend I want to continue, as I like to see myself as the Consumer Reports of the ed tech blogosphere. (well, I'm having delusions of grandeur there, but you know what I mean!) That's one reason I won't run Google Ads on the blog.

But I saw a demo of Gale's new Global issues database at NECC, grabbed my computer and immediately emailed my rep to sign us up--even though it won't be released until November! If it does everything Gale promises, this database will be something very different, and very cool.

I should preface this by stating my school is very big into multiculturalism and building global awareness; thus, this product grabbed my attention, in that it is the only high-school oriented, issues-focused database out there that doesn't present a U.S.-based perspective. (If you're aware of others, please let me know!)

Want to find out what Saudi Arabians think about Al-Qaeda? The database offers newspapers and videos from the Middle East (think: Al Jazeera in English, among others). Need a Chinese perspective on human rights issues? It's there.

The topics range over 400 issues and 193 countries, with interactive maps, downloadable audio, and RSS feeds to keep up on recent additions. The database also includes student research tools, including the ability to post comments and content from over 400 international journals, magazines and newspapers, selected by country-based experts. Best of all, it presents multiple points-of-view, allowing students to draw their own conclusions. I'm so tired of databases that present a "This is what happened" approach to history, virtually ignoring the unceasing complexities to any human endeavor.

Most interesting, the homepage boasts a customizable interface allowing the librarians to choose what content to show.

Like most Gale databases, this one is not cheap. But Gale is running a pre-release sale that offers a pretty hefty discount if you sign up in July or August.

In an increasingly global economy, it is imperative for us to encourage in students not only a broader world view, but a deeper understanding of other cultures and other perspectives. The U.S. is internationally infamous for its "Let them learn English," (and American English, at that!) attitude.

We were able to get away with it in a post-WW II world where we had little competition. In the 21st century we are doomed if we don't foster global knowledge and understanding in our students. We will, quite frankly, become a quaint anachronism, a relic from the not-so-distant past.

One database can't overcome all the educational challenges we face to accomplish this goal. But it's a good start.


  1. After a long wait, I am disappointed in the new Gale Global Issues site. It is just a poorly constructed news feed site, and there are plenty of such sites with more current information available for free.

    On January 21, expecting to see news and views from around the world concerning President Obama's inauguration, what I see instead are links to articles in the New York Times saying, "Checklist Reduces Deaths in Surgery" and "In Zimbabwe, Deal Likely to Fly or Fail This Week". Both are old headlines, neither the most important even on the date first run, and the first has nothing to do with global issues.

    I checked later in the day and on the Global Issues front page I still found stale headlines, some almost two weeks old from the Times of India (New Delhi, India)

    * All lecturers will be profs now. (Jan 9, 2009)
    * Fuel price likely to be cut this month: Deora. (Jan 9, 2009)

    Neither of these stories offered any global perspective or significance.

    The video presented also falls short of what was promised and advertised. The site mainly offers old NBC news and PBS programs (both offering American viewpoints) that are available at the source for free.

    From what I see, Global Issues In Context is simply an attempt to repackage old information and sell libraries and librarians what they can already better provide their users for free.

  2. Carol (University Librarian)January 21, 2009 at 7:45 PM

    I agree with Samantha and I am glad we found this site via Digg!!!! The site is very cool, and greatly needed. Here is my personal review. Please verify with your own experience.

    As a premium resource Global Issues In Context from Cengage Gale fails on most counts and does not live up to the marketing hype. Even if it were free, it would be a frustrating waste of time.

    The design is deeply flawed. The left side of the homepage has oversized icons that take up a great deal of space and add nothing in the way of helping the user find content. The icons are so large that only two links to content pages are listed under the icon. The selection of highlighted topics was confusing and only some of the topics displayed were related to issues currently in the news.

    The "World News" section of the page carries old and outdated stories. The story selection seems lacking in editorial judgment as to what constitutes a "global issue" and seems to be the product of a computer program.

    There was no caption under the "Featured Video" section. Once again, poor design hampered use and understanding of the site. The featured video box was the smallest section of the homepage and without any caption or title, I was forced to guess at the content of the video. To make matters worse, selecting the "featured video' link opened a toolbox that required that I download the latest QuickTime application. After downloading latest application I once again selected the video link but after more than a five minute delay waiting for the video to load, I abandoned the attempt and went to the "Central Banks" page listed as the first link to content on the page.

    The video podcast was on the Central Banks page turned out to be a clip from the NBC Nightly News (not known as a repository of international perspective) that was at least six months old that discussed the POSSIBLE collapse Of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The video had absolutely nothing to do with Central Banks and did not even mention Central Banks. Along with the content of the World News section, this was clear evidence to me that programs and algorithms are selecting the content. If they are algorithms they are not very clever in construction.

    The written overview and podcasts on the Central Banks page offered better and more up-to-date resources. The overview discussed global banks and issues and carried material from January 2009. The podcasts carried a report of Central Banks slashing interest rates (a report first broadcast in early December 2009) and another podcast mentioned the role of the Fed working with European Banks.

    The stat box offered a snapshot of Central Bank interests at least three months old (October 2008). The News, Magazines, and Academic Journals subsections of the "Central Banks" page offered recent articles from U.S. News and World Report and The Economist, etc. Some of the material was also available publicly, but some clearly required special access.

    The references cited were mixed in quality, but all were out of date. "Banking System," was a entry on the Soviet Banking system written in 2004 and added nothing to an understanding of the role of Central Banks. Entries on central banks in Russia and India written in 2004 and 2006 offered better reference material. It was disappointing not to find a reference to one of the major European or Asian Central Banks that play a much greater role in the regulation of international interest rates and the international banking system.

    On a positive note, there were 27 resources found under the "Global Perspectives" heading. The featured articles were the most diverse of all resources, coming from Manila, London, Ireland, Kuwait, and Africa. Some perspectives contain good contextual material as a preface, others lack this preface and simply contain text of articles or editorials. The most recent perspective offered was from Canada but it was still more than a month old, and the newest "featured perspective" was published more than three months ago.

    Back on the Global Issues Home page, I tried to access content via the Google-provided interactive map intended to allow users to browse issues by country. Without playing with the map resolution, the map is difficult to use and read. The red stickpins are so close together that they obscure large portions of the map and make it difficult to find smaller countries or countries in Europe without extensive tinkering and adjusting. The payoff for such effort is low too. Clicking on a specific red pin opens yet another box that offers links to country information, related issues, etc. Clinking on the pin for Iceland, I found nothing dealing with the four-month-old economic crisis, only links to "Denmark" and "European Union Expansion." Iceland is not a member of the EU and the link to Denmark is utterly mysterious. Following one link, found that the most recent information on Iceland's now troubled banking system in the reference encyclopedia provided came from 2004 and basically regurgitates information available in more updated form at CIA's World Fact Databook (a free resource).

    Global Issues In Context is highly disappointing. It has some good points and offers a good list of topics. It does offer some global perspectives, but they are hard to find.

    In its advertising, Gale claims the "Information seekers everywhere will soon be able to get global perspectives on a range of international issues just by turning on their computers! What stands out however are repackaged American TV clips offering American perspectives that can be found for free at the source or at other free sites on the web.

  3. Carol (University Librarian)January 21, 2009 at 8:11 PM

    BTW: You can evaluate Global Issues In Context by registering for a free trial at one of several Gale sites.


    You can also use the direct access BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIV public entrance found at

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