Reference Reviews

ISSN: 0950-4125

Article publication date: 1 April 2004


Chalcraft, A. (2004), "Editorial", Reference Reviews, Vol. 18 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/rr.2004.09918caa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


One of the most important reviews in this issue of Reference Reviews is that for the new edition of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (RR 2004/136). While the review is mainly significant because the work is “splendid … essential to all libraries and destined to live a long and useful life”, to quote reviewer Alun Hughes, it is also notable in that it is from that prolific and masterful producer of reference works, David Crystal. Those labouring long and hard to produce carefully crafted reference texts and databases do not get the recognition they deserve. If there were a lifetime achievement award for this type of activity Crystal should certainly be a recipient. In addition to writing a good number of scholarly texts on linguistics he has been responsible for a number of key Cambridge University Press reference titles. These include The Cambridge Encyclopedia, probably the best single-volume general encyclopedia of recent years, and The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia.In the field of linguistics, notable among a number of reference titles are the Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics and An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Language and Languages.

Of course, Crystal is only one of a number of prominent creators of reference sources who would be eligible for such an accolade. In the UK, another name that springs readily to mind is Adrian Room, who, if anything, is even more prolific at turning out quality reference texts. (A 4th edition of his Dictionary of Pseudonyms, the leading single-volume work in this field, was announced just before this column was prepared and will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue). Another British name might be the late John Walford, responsible for creating and sustaining the librarian’s bible, Walford’s Guide to Reference Material. On an international stage one of the first recipients ought to be Theodore Besterman, originator of the doomed project to create an international bibliography of bibliographies, but which did give rise to one of the last great reference works of the pre-computer age, A World Bibliography of Bibliographies.

The history of reference works and their creators is a fascinating and, sadly, not well documented topic. Apart from the fairly recent and significant contribution by Katz (1998), there are few general accounts covering this field of endeavour. Some reference classics have been given individual treatment notably Encyclopaedia Britannicaand the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The latter is the subject of a newly published account (Winchester, 2003) to mark the 75th anniversary of the completion of the first edition (a concise account can also be found on OED Web site at http://dictionary.oed.com/about/history.html). One development that is pleasing to note while mentioning the OED, is that the history of this great undertaking was recently the subject of a 50-minute BBC television programme (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2003). While the presenter, leading BBC figure Alan Yentob, tended to dwell on the contribution of one individual, Broadmoor incarcerated American schizophrenic and murderer William Minor, the programme did provide welcome exposure of the OED and its intriguing history to a wider audience.

Time now to expose this issue of Reference Reviews to its audience, but before doing so the customary identification of highlights, which we began with mention of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, must be resumed.The most imposing print source in this issue in terms of size is the Nature Encyclopedia of the Human Genome (RR 2004/149). Although a specialist title and one that will need updating as the mysteries of human genetics are further unraveled, this is the most important general reference in the field available in print. Web of Science will be familiar to most academic librarians, including those in the UK where it has become the mainstay of general searching for periodical articles by researchers and students alike. We take a brief look at this source reminding readers of its importance and unique citation searching features (RR 2004/118). Another longstanding bibliographical tool scrutinised is International Bibliography of Historical Sciences (RR 2004/166). Inevitably, this has to be compared with the other main source in the field, ABC-Clio’s Historical Abstracts, which we will take a separate look at in a future issue.

This issue of Reference Reviews contains several reviews for new editions of old reference friends. Enser’s Filmed Books and Plays (RR 2004/157) is out in an updated sixth edition carrying on the tradition begun in 1951 of linking filmed works of literature to the original printed texts. Current British Directories (RR 2004/115),the founding title from CBD Research first issued just two years after Enser’s, has now reached its 14th edition. More recently established updated include The New Encyclopedia of Birds (RR 2004/150) from Oxford University Press (previously Encyclopedia of Birds) and the same publisher’s Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations (RR 2004/141). Finally, it is good to see K.G. Saur, new owners of the European Research and Development Database, producing a two-volume print spin-off under the title Directory of European Research and Development (RR 2004/146).

Anthony ChalcraftEditor Reference Reviews and College Librarian, York St John College, York, UK


British Broadcasting Corporation (2003), An A-Z of the OED, BBC 1, 18 December

Katz, W.A. (1998), Cuneiform to Computer: A History of Reference Sources, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MDWinchester, S. (2003), The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford