It does not seem too much to argue that high quality reference works, always crucial to the effective pursuit of research, have become increasingly important with the continuing proliferation of information as well as the increasingly complex need to capture ways of organizing it. Nor is it too much to say, unfortunately, that, even while this is so, reference works are well on their way to becoming the orphans of academic publishing. Today, more than ever, the publication of reference tools is largely in the hands of a few publishers, who depend on marketing techniques (particularly the packaging of books into series) rather than on the inherent quality of, or demonstrated need for, particular reference tools. Moreover (a point to which I will return), reference works are increasingly appearing in print as the inchoate and offhand products of desktop publishing.
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