Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This issue of Reference Reviews contains the first in an occasional series of short articles we intend to carry alongside our standard offering of reviews. These articles will focus on particular reference resources or issues and normally be of three types: “Reports” will analyse and compare reference sources in a specific field or topic area, “Profiles” will look at the origins and development of particular resources and “Viewpoints” will put the case for a reference source, especially those that have recently come to the fore.
Sonya Lipczynska kicks off this series with a short “Viewpoint” article on the Wikipedia. For those who have yet to encounter this resource and the developing controversy regarding its place in the reference armoury, the Wikipedia is free internet encyclopedia of articles entirely contributed and updated by web users. “Wikki” is the Hawaiian word for “Quick” and the entire project is based on the notion that an encyclopedia can be created and maintained quickly and effectively by the widest possible community of users. As the Wikipedia has expanded and its use grown so alarm bells about its accuracy, balance and control have begun to ring. In her Viewpoint Sonya addresses some of the accusations made against the Wikipedia and concludes that it has many positive features and is “unquestionably of great reference value”. Whether this assertion is justified is for readers to decide (anyone with a strong countervailing opinion is welcome to contact the editor with a view to the publication of a riposte), but with 217,585 articles as of March 2004 Wikipedia is already a massive resource in terms of size.
Another recently announced internet source with the potential to grow huge, and one that is also based on user contributions with minimal editorial control, is Library of Life (www.libraryoflife.com). The aim here is to record the names and biographical details of as many people as possible. Anyone is able to register and post a basic personal profile for free. If a modest fee is paid unlimited text can be posted and up to 200 pictures, five minutes of film and 20 minutes of sound added. All content is vetted by human eye and contributors can choose to make their posting available to family and friends only or to everyone on the web. This source is associated with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and has fund raising as a primary objective. The potential though is plain to see. Library of Life, although in its infancy and not without some existing competitors, could become a massive biographical databank where detail on individuals, alive or deceased, is easily and rapidly harvested.
A more conventional biographical reference source on the grand scale is K.G. Saur’s World Biographical Information System Online (WBIS Online) (RR 2005/115). This enormous database, combining 47 individual Biographical Archives, previously available in microform or on CD-ROM, is arguably the world’s greatest biographical reference tool even surpassing nationally-based sources such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography featured in our previous issue (RR 2005/59). To be completed in 2009, the database already provides information on three-and-half million individuals a number it will surely take Library of Life many years to match.
Several other large-scale electronic reference projects feature in this issue of Reference Reviews. Prominent among them is Early American Imprints, Series 1: Evans (1639-1800) (RR 2005/68). Evans is the chief apparatus for US national bibliography from early colonial times to the opening decades of the nineteenth century. This electronic product adds to the bibliographical records of the original 12 print volumes and supplements the full text of 36,000 works, previously only available in microform, and 2,400,000 images. Another full text database is Latino Literature (RR 2005/95) from the increasingly active and highly thought of Alexander Street Press. Although an undertaking on a somewhat smaller scale this will still contain 450 plays and 120,000 pages of text when completed.
This issue of Reference Reviews also surveys a number of large-scale new print reference undertakings. Psychology is an increasingly popular area of academic study, a trend reflected in the surge of new reference publications relating to the subject. Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology (RR 2005/74) from Elsevier is the latest offering subject to scrutiny in our columns. At three volumes it is one volume less than Sage’s Encyclopedia of Community (RR 2005/82), one of a growing number of social science related reference titles to emanate from this publisher, more of whose efforts will be covered in future issues. Encyclopedia of Entomology (RR 2005/98) is another new three-volume set, this time from Kluwer. Likely to become one of the standard sources in its field it is also available in e-book format. A further multi-volume set that should be mentioned is Scribner’s six-volume Europe 1450-1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World (RR 2005/110). Produced to the traditional high standards of this Gale Group imprint, it helps to demonstrate, yet again, that traditional print encyclopedia publishing is still flourishing, despite the electronic revolution.
Also still apparently thriving is the Guinness Book of Records that, as this editorial is being written, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. There seems no more appropriate way to mark this occasion than to reproduce some of the more fascinating nuggets of information to be found in its pages. So courtesy of the Independent newspaper of 17 November, here are a few favourites: Rudi Horn holds the world record for throwing teacups with his hands and catching them on his head while unicycling, he managed six in 1952; Kively Papajohn had the misfortune to spend the longest time trapped in a lift, he endured six days in 1987; and the fastest baked bean eater is Andy Szerbini who ate 226 in five minutes in 1996. Finally, the person holding the most Guinness world records is Ashrita Furman of New York who has 20, including milk bottle balancing, skipping forward rolling and glass balancing. I wonder, are these achievements that will earn Ashrita a record in World Biographical Information System or a posting on Library of Life?
Anthony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews and College Librarian York St. John College, York, UK