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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Reference Reviews, Volume 23, Issue 6
Will Wikibooks have the same impact on the commercially published textbook as Wikipedia has had on the multi-volume encyclopedia? Unlikely you would think, not least because thousands of textbooks are produced annually whereas the multi-volume encyclopedias Wikipedia has largely vanquished were numbered, if non-English sets are excluded, in dozens. Nonetheless, the Wikibooks site (RR 2009/253) is an important innovation and although relatively slow to develop, adding 35,231 pages since its launch in 2003, cannot be entirely dismissed as a reference tool. Yes, any information obtained will need verification but, in smaller libraries especially, this is a potential resource that should not be entirely overlooked.
Wikibooks is one of the “big-hitter” gratis web sites reviewed in this issue of Reference Reviews. Another is Discovering American Women’s History Online (RR 2009/290). This award-winning site maintained through Middle Tennessee State University comprises a database of more than 400 digital collections. A huge range of material is encompassed, from the mainstream to the obscure, including advertisements, book covers, comic books, correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, visual materials and more. Sites such as this, which universalise access to primary materials previously available only to dedicated researchers, are one of the greatest benefits of the internet to the library world. As more materials from archival and special collections have been digitised so commercial publishers have started to digitise backruns of commercially produced primary materials such as collected correspondence and documents. A new example is Electronic Enlightenment (RR 2009/257), a collaborative project of Oxford and other university presses to make available, through subscription, digitised versions of print editions of correspondence between key philosophers, authors and scholars in Europe during the “long eighteenth century”. 53,000 letters and documents are available as of April 2009 and the database comes with a range of additional features such as links to reference sources, comprehensive searching, the option of free MARC records for library catalogues and facilities to export to bibliographic management software.
In highlighting some of larger scale electronic sources reviewed in this issue we should not overlook Livius: Articles on Ancient History (RR 2009/292). The product of the efforts of Dutch historian Jona Lendering, who has developed the site over more than ten years, this is one of the leading internet sources in the field of ancient history including materials on a number of more peripheral areas not routinely covered elsewhere. Livius, like many “one man band” websites, is primarily a labour of love. Another, more specialist example, of what can be achieved through the efforts of one individual is America’s Quilting History (RR 2009/278), a site built and maintained by quilting historian Judy Anne Breneman. As with Livius, this has a somewhat amateurish overall appearance but the content and scholarship is excellent, making it a must consult reference for any enquiry relating to aspects of quilting in the USA.
Aspects of American popular culture are something of a theme in this issue of Reference Reviews. American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles and Radical Ideas (RR 2009/295) is a new three volume set from M.E. Sharpe. While the focus is on the alternative cultures of the post-1945 era, the entire range of US history is covered with “radical” including the right as well as the left. Jewish Americans have contributed extensively to the American counterculture as well as popular culture more generally and it is this that is the subject of Encyclopedia of Jewish American Popular Culture (RR 2009/298), a single volume set from Greenwood Press, a publisher with a long and successful record of providing encyclopedic coverage of US ethnic groups. Greenwood are also adept at identifying new topics for encyclopedic treatment and in this volume we review the perhaps less successful Encyclopedia of Cybercrime (RR 2009/261). With Swine Flu still prominent in the news headlines as this editorial is put together, Greenwood have also been strangely prescient in bringing out Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics and Plagues (RR 2009/274). Should Swine Flu develop into a full-blown global pandemic libraries will no doubt face a mix of panic and assignment driven enquiries for which this two volume set could be a partial prescription. Completing the major Greenwood sets we cover is the four volume Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (RR 2009/265). This is perhaps less encyclopedic than the title implies mainly comprising 75 essay length chapters, but is still a significant contribution to the reference literature on American literature and culture.
What of significant works from other publishers? These include the third edition of Cengage’s (Gale) Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol and Addictive Behavior (RR 2009/262) issued in four volumes and following earlier editions in 1995 and 2001, and the second edition of ABC-Clio’s Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the Western Hemisphere, 1492 to the Present (RR 2009/294). Alongside these we also feature a number of smaller scale, more specialist, works. These include McFarland’s John Buchan: A Companion (RR 2009/269), one of the few reference sources on this author, the more glossy and mass market, but still scholarly, Encyclopedia of Sharks (RR 2009/275) from A & C Black and Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (RR 2009/291) from Louisiana State University Press. Perhaps the most specialist reference of all however, is Springer’s The Aral Sea Encyclopedia (RR 2009/296). To a large extent a record of an environmental catastrophe it is a pity that the volume is marred by poor translation. This, of course, just reminds us that commercial publishers too are fallible. Those who might deride Wikibooks should remember that many monographs, even those peer-reviewed and proof read, can sometimes misinterpret and mislead.
Tony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews, and University Librarian, York St John University, York, UK