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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Reference Reviews, Volume 22, Issue 3.
The first review in this issue of Reference Reviews is of Google Book Search (RR 2008/103). Since its launch at the 2004 Frankfurt Book Fair, initially under the label GooglePrint, this characteristically ambitious undertaking from Google has generated much controversy. At first, publishers tended to view it with suspicion if not outright hostility, and in the USA a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and others is still pending (see http://news.justia.com/cases/featured/new-york/nysdce/1:2005cv08136/273913/ for current status). Many publishers, however, soon saw commercial opportunity in the component Books Partner Program, especially for increasing sales of backlist titles, and many of the leading names in reference publishing, such as Cambridge University Press, Springer and Taylor & Francis, are now participants to some degree. In the information world most librarians and libraries immediately recognised the enormous potential of Google’s project and a number of leading libraries readily embraced the project allowing their out of copyright holdings to be digitised. Shortly before this column was written Google announced that Columbia University had become the latest contributor. This brings the total number of libraries to 28, including some from outside the USA, the sole British contributor to date being Oxford University.
Of course, Google Book Search, while generating the most heated debate, is neither alone nor particularly pioneering in attempting to create a global library. Project Gutenberg was perhaps the pioneer and is still ongoing with 20,000 free e-books now available. With Google and Microsoft locked in a battle for net supremacy it was not surprising when the latter announced its own book digitisation project, Live Book Search (see http://publisher.live.com/). Also in the frame are companies such as World eBook Library (see http://wordlibrary.net) which claims 400,000 titles and, while subscription-based, has a very modest charging structure for individual subscribers. Then there are initiatives such as the Open Content Alliance (see www.opencontentalliance.org/) with the potential for a significant monograph element. All in all, and despite the prospect for confusion and overlap from rival net libraries mounted by the big name search engines, we are moving towards a situation where, in a few years time, the bulk of out of copyright monograph material will be available digitally via the web free of charge. Google will almost certainly be the leading provider in a development that will have a profound impact on the library and information sector. The stacks of the world’s leading libraries are thrown open. Those of us with lesser collections can only be the beneficiaries. Whatever we might think of Google and its hegemonic potential, surely we must agree with the concluding remarks of David Oberhelman’s review: Google Book Search is “more of a boon than a bane for the library community”.
Another boon for any library with more than a passing interest in sociology, or the social sciences more widely, will be the new Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (RR 2008/109). Issued both in an electronic version and as an 11-volume printed set, this is a major contribution in its field. As with most similar reference sources available both electronically and in print, the online version is to be continuously updated and already, within less than a year of its launch, 20 new entries are claimed to be added. A further electronic reference source billed as an “encyclopaedia” is the University of East Anglia based The Literary Dictionary Company Ltd’s The Literary Encyclopedia (RR 2008/126). Not as well known as some of the far larger and mostly US-produced rival resources in the literature field such as Gale’s Literature Resource Center (RR 2008/2007/229), this is a site that will be of particular value either to smaller libraries unable to afford the bigger competitors or where a supplementary resource is required.
Literature and language resources are heavily represented in this issue of Reference Reviews. Another Blackwell encyclopaedia we feature in this field is A Brontë Encyclopedia (RR 2008/120), put together by renowned experts Robert and Louise Barnard and reviewed in these columns by our resident Brontë specialist Bob Duckett, currently editor of the journal Brontë Studies. This work appears a few years after the Oxford Companion to the Brontës (RR 2004/140), testimony to the enduring fascination of this literary family, who have some parallels with the Rossettis, also present in this issue with A Rossetti Family Chronology (RR 2008/128), the latest offering in the well-regarded Palgrave Macmillan Author Chronologies series. A new Oxford companion we review is The Oxford Companion to Black British History (RR 2008/144), one of a number of recent reference titles to record the experience of ethnic minorities in the UK. Despite a few new titles, British publishers have not embarked on the outpouring of works relating to ethnic groups that has characterised several US publishers over the last few years. This output continues, the market apparently not yet saturated. Here we cover the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History from ABC-Clio (RR 2008/140) and Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (RR 2008/142) from Indiana University Press, an academic publisher that does not generally frequent this area of referencing publishing. Finally, this overview could not end without mention of two other significant multi-volume publications subject to review, Routledge’s four-volume Encyclopedia of Globalization (RR 2008/111) and ABC-Clio’s Clio’s two-volume Slavery in the United States: A Social and Political Encyclopedia (RR 2008/115). The former follows several other works on this topic including one from ABC-Clio, the two-volume Globalization: Encyclopedia of Trade, Labor and Politics (RR 2007/73), while the latter comes hard on the heels of the Greenwood Press title Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion (RR 2008/61).
Tony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews, and University Librarian, York St John University, York, UK