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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
As my term as North American Regional Editor of Reference Reviews draws to a close, Editor Tony Chalcraft has given me the opportunity to reflect on developments in electronic resources over the past five years. One needs only to look at older issues of this journal to see how many things have changed. Databases on CD-ROM were frequently reviewed back in 2000, and while they are still available (and occasionally reviewed here) today, the majority of libraries choose to access databases via the internet rather than on CD. This should not surprise anyone, although I find it interesting to note that something so recently popular is now considered slow and outdated.
The sheer number of electronic subscription databases has grown exponentially, as have the number of producers. While five years ago many journal publishers were content to license their online content to vendors such as Bell & Howell (now ProQuest Information and Learning), The Gale Group (now Thomson Gale) and EBSCO, now they are just as likely to develop and sell it themselves. New e-journal collections and individual e-journals appear regularly from journal publishers such as Sage (with their Sage Full-text Collections, (RR 2004/192), Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Journals Online) and Oxford University Press (Oxford Journals Online). Complicating matters is that sometimes the e-journals are available free with the print edition, while other times a surcharge is added; sometimes they are available for purchase individually, while other times they must be purchased in collections. All of this, plus all of the budget problems facing libraries today, is enough to give acquisitions and serials librarians a serious headache.
That said, despite the multiple ways to purchase and access electronic journals, some things are getting simpler – at least for our patrons and customers. For those of us who keep up to date technologically, OpenURL has become the buzzword of choice in libraries. Readers of Reference Reviews will have seen that reviewers frequently mention whether a particular database is OpenURL-compliant or not. Though the technology behind it can be complex, OpenURL basically permits linking to content within online databases even if they were provided by different vendors. At my library, for example, users searching within an abstract-only source like Historical Abstracts can simply click on a link to discover whether the full text of an article is available in another database, like Thomson Gale’s InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP. Vendors that offer OpenURL compliance have a definite advantage in the library marketplace. They provide increased access to content, as users are able to reach the material through multiple avenues. If OpenURL connections have not been set up by a vendor or do not work properly, reviewers in this journal typically note it.
Over the last five years, there have been many new developments in the digitization of print content. Alexander Street Press, whose products appear often in these pages, has made great strides in this area, in particular with primary source materials. In addition, many longtime standards in print reference publishing have gone online – sometimes for free, other times via subscription. No doubt we will be seeing many more examples of both types of initiatives in the coming years.
With regard to this issue of Reference Reviews, we take a look at several online versions of well-known print reference sources. One of these is the online Royal Historical Society Bibliography (RR 2004/458), which reproduces content from the long-running Annual Bibliography of British and Irish History series. KnowUK (RR 2004/412), a subscription database available from ProQuest, is another such product. As reviewer Donna Smith points out, it provides online access to many standard British reference publications, such as the Statesman’s Yearbook, Whitaker’s Almanac, and Who’s Who. Many British librarians and academics will already be familiar with the online International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS) (RR 2004/426), also based on a familiar print resource. Though not as common in American libraries, US-based librarians interested in a well-rounded social science database will want to take note of this review. Two major electronic reference resources in the social sciences appear in this issue. Besides the online IBSS, we take a look at the new Social Science Electronic Data Library (SSEDL) (RR 2004/428), an online collection of data sets produced by Sociometrics and distributed by Thomson Gale.
As it happens, UK-based databases seem to predominate in this issue, although recent back issues have introduced new products based both in the USA and Canada. However, despite the apparent geographic focus of some of the databases and reference books mentioned here, I hope librarians elsewhere will take the opportunity to learn about them. This is, of course, the purpose of having a review journal written and read by librarians from around the world. This international focus is one of the reasons I have been pleased to have been a part of this journal over the past five years. As I sit back on the sidelines of the Editorial Advisory Board, I look forward to seeing what new developments – both electronic and print – take shape in the years ahead.
Sarah L. JohnsonNorth American Regional Editor, Reference Reviews, and Assistant Professor of Library Services, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA