Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Reference Reviews, Volume 22, Issue 4.
Apart from at the fringes, where dedicated and perhaps obsessed individuals still toil to produce momentous undertakings for an often ungrateful information world, usually now as web offerings, and with the possible exception of a few university presses, mainstream English-language reference publishing is increasingly market driven. Publishers produce what they believe the market will buy and dominant in the marketplace is the purchasing power of North American libraries, especially in the academic sector. The reality, especially for the “one-off” works often billed as “encyclopedias” or less commonly “dictionaries”, is that most sales are likely to be to libraries serving American undergraduate students. Content therefore tends to follow the curriculum and editing a journal such as this provides something of a grandstand seat to evolving trends and fashions. Over the least few years a number of topic areas have featured prominently in the output of major reference publishers, two of which are represented by titles reviewed in this issue of Reference Reviews. Globalization is a “hot” topic both academically and politically and we have seen a number of recent reference offerings on the subject in these columns. Here we review Routledge’s Dictionary of Globalization (RR 2008/156) which follows an identically titled but otherwise more modest Polity Press publication covered just a year ago (RR 2007/09). Immediately after this we had ABC-Clio’s much larger Globalization: Encyclopedia of Trade, Labor and Politics (RR 2007/73) and in the pipeline we have a just released Blackwell companion on the subject. Also in this issue is Greenwood’s two-volume Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States (RR 2008/154). This is the latest in a flood of titles on Islam and associated topics, an outpouring which clearly relates to academic and wider study largely stemming from the events of 11 September 2001.
This flow of titles has been of such intensity that most issues of this journal in the last few years have reviewed at least one reference item relating to Islam and the Islamic world. To pluck just a few examples from the pages, we have had encyclopedias such as Gale’s two-volume major set Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World (RR 2004/362), dictionaries such as The Oxford Dictionary of Islam from respected and prolific Islamic scholar Eposito (RR 2004/07)) and atlases such as the Historical Atlas of the Islamic World (RR 2005/273). To this could be added a host of other titles on “related” topics, for example Greenwood’s Muslim Cultures Today: A Reference Guide (RR 2007/216) and a Gale shelf buster, the four-volume Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa (RR 2005/385). Perhaps the Islamic reference theme will diminish as publishers exhaust new angles and the media and undergraduates find different subjects of interest. If I were a reference publisher, perhaps commissioning more works in the area of climate/environmental change (this topic still seems to have a relative paucity of non-technical reference works) and economics, or more specifically the economics of recession, would be an astute move. A “Dictionary of global recession” or an “Encyclopedia of economic crises” could well be best sellers in several years time.
Another trend in reference publishing that we have commented on previously is the increasing tendency of publishers to repackage existing products. This is particularly prevalent where a range of existing print titles is bundled together in an over-arching themed database. Joel Cummings comments on this in his insightful review of Facts on File’s Science Online (RR 2008/179). A further example is Greenwood’s The African American Experience (RR 2008/187) where much of the content comprises print sets recently reviewed in these columns (and, incidentally, in focusing on the experience of African Americans reflecting another theme which has featured prominently in recent reference publishing). However, as reviewer Leslie Starasta rightly points out, the benefits of online access with vastly improved searching and multiple user access generally outweigh concerns about duplication. Duplication is, after all, one of the major drivers in the expansion of the reference world. This is typified by two other reviews in this issue where the databases assessed are essentially a digitization of existing print library resources. These are Architecture and Interior Design for Twentieth Century America (RR 2008/181), a small compartment in the vast and developing American Memory digitization project of the Library of Congress, and Gallica (RR 2008/150), the main digitization programme of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for which David Oberhelman provides a valuable summary overview.
There are many other exceptional reviews in this issue of Reference Reviews, both because of the excellence of the review and the quality and importance of the product. To highlight a few examples, we have as our first offering a major reference in the field of journalism, Routledge’s Encyclopedia of American Journalism (RR 2008/149). Another major encyclopedia is the two-volume Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama (RR 2008/182) carefully scrutinized by Keith O’Sullivan. A title that cannot pass without note is the third edition of Roger Scruton’s The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought (RR 2008/157). Always a controversial author, Scruton’s update is ably assessed by Terry O’Brien who takes a broad view looking at both the content and the context. Finally, and in partial balance of the Islamic tilt, Martin Guha provides a wide-ranging review of Encyclopedia of Hinduism (RR 2008/153), another title from Routledge.
Tony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews, and University Librarian, York St John University, York, UK