Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Just over a year ago, in the first issue of Volume 17 of this journal, we reviewed Oxford Reference Online (RR 2003/04), a full text database of more than 150 reference titles from Oxford University Press (OUP). In the editorial column of the same issue we considered the significance of this database further, noting that OUP had pioneered one of the largest and most ambitious moves to Web availability of traditional reference monographs to date. Now on to my desk drops a brochure from OUP announcing the release of Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO). Presumably launched to coincide with the International Online conference and exhibition, in London, from 2-4 December 2003 (the brochure cover carries a sticker dramatically proclaiming "embargoed until 0.01 a.m., 2 December 2003"), this contains the full text of 700 OUP scholarly texts in the humanities and social sciences. As we expect to provide a full review in a forthcoming issue of Reference Reviews, this is not the place to take a detailed look at the contents and structure of OSO (promotional material can be found at: www.oxfordscholarship.com). However, just as a year ago we noted the significance of Oxford Reference Online, so we should now take a brief moment to reflect on the implications of OUP's latest venture into Web publishing.
OUP is, of course, by no means the first publisher to provide a selection of its monograph output in electronic format. Yet OSO is different from many other e-book projects. This is due to the number and quality of titles involved and the time and cash OUP have invested in providing keywords, abstracts and links to other sources etc. cited in bibliographies. In many ways OSO is a reference librarian's dream, especially for those working in the academic sector. But – and here is the critical issue – could it, and the similar sites that are either already available or sure to follow, also become part of a developing reference nightmare? The advent of OSO seems to confirm the trend in electronic publishing towards the packaging of sources and the development of publisher "brands". This has profound implications for the reference process and reference librarians. We seem to be moving towards a world where a number of major reference "players" will dominate. Just as many consumers have a limited choice of retailers for the staples of daily life, so reference librarians may find that their bread and butter are increasingly commandeered by a few reference "supermarkets", where information is neatly packaged and labeled and delivered direct to the shopper, in this case the end user.
An unnecessarily pessimistic vision of the future based on shifting and unpredictable trends? Maybe, and certainly a prognosis that it is unfair to hinge entirely on the advent of OSO, which has all the promise of a great reference source. It is also important to keep in mind that, even within a publishing house set on an electronic packaging course such as OUP, there remains diversity of output and that knowing and understanding this output is the essence of reference work. This is emphasized by the fact that one of the key reviews in this issue of Reference Reviews is for the two-volume OUP print title The Oxford Encyclopeadia of Theatre and Performance (RR 2004/103). Until this becomes available in electronic form, perhaps as part of some other OUP product, being familiar with its content and scope will be an important part of the repertoire of any reference librarian likely to face enquiries relating to the stage.
Also in this issue we review the electronic versions of two long-established general reference works, Guinness World Records (RR 2004/58) and Yearbook of International Organizations (RR 2004/61). The latter is by far the most comprehensive source for information on international bodies and the electronic version cements its role as the leader in the field. Another general reference source given consideration is Gale's Directories in Print (RR 2004/56). In this case we examine the print version, but it is important to note that electronic availability is part of a "package", in this case Gale's Ready Reference Shelf.
Another fairly well-established source at which we take a look is the International Association of Universities/Unesco International Handbook of Universities (RR 2004/77). Sometimes overlooked in the UK in favour of the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook (RR 2003/01), or in smaller libraries in favour of the relevant portion of the World of Learning (online version recently reviewed in this journal, RR 2003/166), this is unquestionably one of the major general sources for information on higher education world-wide. A further database that merits special mention is The AMICO Library (RR 2004/99). A collection of digital documentation relating to works of art held in collections world-wide, this is a site of immense value worthy of greater take-up by libraries of all types. Finally, we should note two reviews because of the special experience and expertise of the reviewers. First, we welcome Michael Walsh, formerly Librarian at Heythrop College, past contributor to Walford's Guide and commentator on Catholic affairs, as an occasional contributor to this journal with a review of A Basic Catholic Dictionary (RR 2004/62). Second, we should highlight Bob Duckett's (a Reference Reviews stalwart, who needs no introduction to regular readers) review of The Brontës A to Z (RR 2004/84) where he writes as editor of the journal Brontë Studies. Brontë fans or reference librarians contemplating updating their Brontë stock should also note that Bob will be contributing a review of The Oxford Companion to the Brontës in the next issue.
Anthony ChalcraftEditor Reference Reviews, and College Librarian, York St John College, York, UK