Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Welcome to a new volume of Reference Reviews. With this issue we enter our 18th year of publication; 18 is the age of adulthood and so perhaps we should see this volume as representing something of a rite of passage. Having reviewed thousands of reference titles, both in print and increasingly in electronic format, Reference Reviews has now reached an age where it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other long-standing publications devoted to reviewing reference sources. We also achieve this milestone at a time when reference publishing and publishing generally, appears to be at a crossroads, with several roads ahead but no certainty over which route the industry is likely to travel.
I make this observation following two pieces of news that landed on my desk within minutes of each other a few days ago that seemed to suggest contradictory trends. On the one hand, was a press release from Ebsco Publishing, announcing that the company had acquired Cinahl Information Systems from Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The news that the world's largest indexing and abstracting database in nursing and allied health, and a vital reference source for librarians serving those studying professions related to medicine, had been acquired by a major player such as Ebsco seemed to confirm the trend to concentrate publishing power. Yet it is not all big fish swallowing the minnows. Soon after this press release an article was drawn to my attention announcing the setting up of a group called Public Library of Science (PLoS), due to be launched on 13 October. This new little fish, which aspires to be a very big fish indeed, has as its stated purpose the challenging of the power of the big publishing companies in the area of scientific information by making scholarly papers freely available over the Web.
Which way will scholarly, and thereby reference publishing, go? Will Ebsco (by no means the most predatory of the major information providers and a company that I am sure has every intention of developing and improving Cinahl) and other larger companies strong in the information field swallow up the remaining "independent" publishing concerns? Or will there be a concerted and serious challenge to the entire existing model of scholarly communication and an erosion of the power of publishers? PLoS is not the first initiative to attempt peer-reviewed publication with free access over the Web. Will it be any more successful than the early efforts that have yet to make significant impact?
These are no doubt questions we will return to in future issues of Reference Reviews as they are fundamental to understanding and reviewing the output of reference publishing. Getting back to this, the first issue of our 18th volume, we review an interesting range of new sources. One of our objectives is to review more titles emanating from or relating to countries other than the UK and the USA, especially those from the Third World. This volume is a small step in that direction. Here we review the Oxford Dictionary of Islam from the noted Islamic scholar John Esposito (RR 2004/07), Greenwood's African-Caribbeans (RR 2004/09), the Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema from Encyclopaedia Britannica India (RR 2004/39) and Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women (RR 2004/46). In between we also have gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt (RR 2004/05), politics in modern Japan (RR 2004/13), modern ethnic conflicts (RR 2004/14), dictionaries of Spanish and Dutch (RR 2004/22 and RR 2004/24) and contemporary Italian culture (RR 2004/51).
In addition, there are a number of significant reference works reviewed in this issue which merit special mention. Consulta (RR 2004/01) is an important Spanish-language electronic source of general reference information relating to the Hispanic world. Incorporating a range of full text and other materials it is typical of the new breed of reference sources, to some extent pioneered by its producer Gale, that merge existing and new sources to create powerful and original works of reference with a wide range of applications. The Dictionary of American Regional English (RR 2004/21) will be no stranger to many readers. In this issue, we take a look at the penultimate volume of this five volume set which is already established as the standard work of reference on its subject area. Finally, Oxford University Press has again produced a distinguished reference work with The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance (RR2004/48). There are other useful titles here too. These, include the eagerly awaited electronic version of the Europa World Year Book (RR 2004/15), the fifth edition of John Harper Publishing's European Parliament (RR2004/16) and reviews of annual publications such as the Conservation Directory (RR 2003/28) and The Original British Theatre Directory (RR 2004/43). But, to go on with what is becoming a roll call is invidious, as some titles must inevitably be left out, so I leave it to you to explore the 54 reviews here on offer in the first issue of our "coming of age" volume.
Anthony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews, and College Librarian, York St John College, York, UK