Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Scanning the press for news of significance to the reference and information world is an occasional task undertaken in the cause of keeping this journal current and topical. Often this is unrewarding activity, but in the few days before this issue of Reference Reviews was put together almost every foray into a newspaper turned up something of interest. It therefore seemed useful to kick of this issue with a brief review of some of the stories that stood out on page and screen, even if some of the news may be “old hat” by the time this column is being read.
In a recent issue we reviewed the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central (RR 2005/157). The Guardian of 11 May carried a brief article reporting that the Joint Information Systems Committee, in conjunction with bodies such as the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation, was calling for the submission of tenders for a UK equivalent to be called, unimaginatively but practically, UK PubMed Central. The UK service will use the same software as its US counterpart and be linked to it to facilitate cross-searching. Fuller information was not available at the time of writing, but whatever the precise content this will be a major shot in the arm for open-access medical and scientific publishing in the UK.
A few days earlier The Guardian of 6 May contained a short piece on the plan by Oxford University Press (OUP) to allow its journal publishing arm, Oxford Journals, to give authors the option of paying for their articles to be freely available online as soon as they are published. OUP also announced it would allow authors to put articles on their own web sites a year after publication. Here we have another major scholarly journal publisher dipping their toe, tentatively it has to be said, into the open-access publishing pool. The calculation seems to be that open access material will not lead to a decline in print and electronic sales because libraries will continue to prefer the security and organization of subscription. It also presumably rests on the assumption that users will prefer to use the subscription version because the open-access material will be less detectable in the information quagmire that is the internet.
In this respect, The Times of 14 May carried a lengthy and perceptive article by Ben MacIntyre on Google’s filing of a worldwide patent on a new algorithm that will enable it to rank news search results not just by date and relevance, but by veracity and quality. Google will evaluate news stories according to a number of variables including length, number of bylines, length of time the source has been in business, volume of traffic to the site (tricky one this – are heavily trafficked sites the most reputable?), variety of countries accessing the site, etc. Ultimately it seems Google intend to apply this formula to all searching, presumably in support of its Google Scholar and other ventures. Whereas a few years ago Thomas Friedman famously demonstrated Google’s fallibility in the New York Times (Friedman, 2003), the situation may be about to change. If Google can add quality assurance to quantity and relevance will it move even closer to global reference hegemony? Only time will tell, but reference publishing and the information world is facing a massive challenge that at best will make many existing information finding tools niche players or at worst render them redundant.
Not that this seems to deter reference publishers from continuing to produce a vast array of print and electronic materials. One market that appears to remain particularly strong is print multi-volume encyclopedias, although many now appear either simultaneously in electronic format or, more annoyingly, after a few months or years when many libraries have invested in a print set. M.E. Sharpe is a publisher not well known on this side of the Atlantic, partly because its output tends to focus on North American subjects. Here we take a look at Encyclopedia of American Social Movements (RR 2005/294), the first of a number of new works to be featured from this imprint. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Management (RR 2005/297) is a blockbusting 13 volumes replacing the original first edition set published in 1997. One of the leading print encyclopedias in its field, it is particularly valuable for the practical emphasis of many of the articles, making it useful for all types of libraries, including those where the clientele is as much concerned with “doing” business as its theoretical aspects. Encyclopedia of Linguistics (RR 2005/306) is another extremely fine work from Fitzroy Dearborn, now part of the Taylor & Francis group. Although there are many encyclopedias of linguistics available with almost all the major reference publishers having their own “brand”, this two-volume set will be a welcome addition to the field. Other multi-volume encyclopedias featured here include Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (RR 2005/295), Public Opinion and Polling Around the World (RR 2005/296), Women in the Middle Ages (RR 2005/326) and Encyclopedia of the Arctic (RR 2005/330), the last two both also from a Taylor & Francis imprint, in this case Routledge.
There are numerous other important print and electronic reference works in this issue of Reference Reviews, notably the Encyclopaedia Britannica 2005 DVD (RR 2005/282), but let us end this overview by highlighting some of the more specialist or unusual titles that might otherwise be overlooked. A Bibliography of Elizabeth Haywood (RR 2005/299) is one of that increasingly rare reference breed, a highly scholarly and specialised bibliography (in this case developed from a doctoral thesis). Although only likely to find its way into a few libraries, it represents the last word on research into Haywood and is a model of its kind. An unusual work from the small publisher Canis Press is John Gray’s Long Live Latin (RR 2005/308). As Stuart James states in his review, “the finest reference books are often the outcome of the sometimes idiosyncratic interests of an individual” – a point this book amply demonstrates. Finally, Volcano Adventure Guide (RR 2005/319) is an example of a book that, while primarily intended for tourists and volcano “enthusiasts”, will appeal to a wide audience including vulcanologists. Splendidly produced by Cambridge University Press, it epitomises the popular reference guide, a reference genre which is perhaps one of the most resistant to the march of the internet and its scout, the ever searching Google.
Anthony ChalcraftEditor Reference Reviews and College Librarian, York St John College, York, UK
Friedman, T.L. (2003), “Is Google God?”, New York Times, 29 June, sect. 4, p. 13, col. 1