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Article Type: Editorial From: Reference Reviews, Volume 24, Issue 6
Perhaps the most notable feature of this issue of Reference Reviews is the diversity of topics covered by our reviews. In these columns we feature reference works on German espionage, American lawyers, Portuguese literature, words and expressions originating in the textile industry, British grasses, whisky, travel resources, babies’ names, admirals and contemporary Japanese culture among others. Taking a few of these at random, German espionage and counter-espionage is the key theme of Historical Dictionary of German Intelligence (RR 2010/258), the eleventh volume in the Scarecrow’s Historical Dictionaries of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, a series we last considered three years ago with a review of Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence (RR 2007/221). (The Czech State (RR 2010/298) and Modern Greece (RR 2010/297) are two other Scarecrow historical dictionaries represented here as the publisher’s numerous series march on with a mixture of new titles and updated editions.) Those who savour the occasional dram will be drawn to World Whisky (RR 2010/280), Dorling Kindersley’s heavily illustrated catalogue of whisky produced by distilleries across the globe. This volume also appears to be part of a series, or at least an embryonic series, forming a companion to the same publisher’s World Cheese Book (review forthcoming). Dorling Kindersley are one of the big fish in UK publishing and Bradford based Wool Press are a mere minnow, but this publisher is responsible for one of the most fascinating titles in this issue, On Tenterhooks (RR 2010/267). Documenting the surprising number of words, terms and expressions that have their origins in the textile industry, especially the textile industry that once dominated large parts of northern England, this little book is typical of the hidden reference “gems” from smaller publishers that are all too often overlooked.
Other valuable reference sources that can easily be missed by the non-specialist are the increasing range of niche academic-based electronic resources. A typical example is Women Writers Online (RR 2010/270) from Brown University Women Writers Project. This subscription site provides 320 searchable texts by pre-Victorian women writers with a subset, Renaissance Women Online, supplemented with essays and other supporting information. Another site produced under the auspices of an American university is the freely accessible PAL: Perspectives on American Literature: A Research and Reference Guide (RR 2010/268). Created and edited by an emeritus professor the site currently has entries for 453 authors, including lists of works, selected bibliographies and brief background information/biographical notes. Yet a further example of this type of site is eHistory (RR 2010/293), based at the Department of History, Ohio State University. Like the other sites, primarily driven by the efforts of one individual, its academic foundations give it a credibility and authority lacking in some other sites billed as “reference” floating on the Internet. This site’s strengths lie in the American Civil War, the Second World War and the Vietnam War, with the focus on US history. It and the many similar sites anchored in academic institutions and often loosely linked to teaching programmes, have the potential to challenge some of the grander resources marketed by commercial publishers, especially in niche areas.
Despite their proliferation, sites such as these are unlikely to challenge the big commercial publishers in the near future. Despite the diversity of this issue, the familiar names dominate the columns. One such is Wiley, or for many titles nowadays, Wiley-Blackwell. Having swallowed Blackwell, Wiley is at the very top of the reference league in terms of output having extended their range from a largely science based list to the more humanities and social sciences focussed titles of Blackwell. Here we carry an extended review of an updated version of an original Wiley product, The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology (RR 2010/253). Now published as a four volume fourth edition, this cements its position as one of the pre-eminent resources in the burgeoning area of psychology reference, a growth presumably fuelled by the expansion of academic courses in the subject. Libraries where psychology is not a core interest or where the £400 price tag is prohibitive should note that previous editions have been followed by a single volume concise version (RR 2004/41 for the 3rd ed.). Greenwood Press, recently merged with ABC-Clio, is another of the big reference fish. Several years ago we reviewed The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Homes through American History (RR 2006/62). This has now been followed, somewhat belatedly, by a three volume companion set The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Homes through World History (RR 2010/257) to provide coverage of the world outside the USA. An increasingly big player in the commercial reference market is online full text specialist Alexander Street Press. In this issue we take a look at Images of America: A History of American Life in Images and Texts (RR 2010/299). The result of a partnership with local history publisher Arcadia Publishing and previously promoted under the label Local and Regional History Online, at the time of review this contained 157,000 pages and 255,000 images from 1,200 Arcadia books.
Another resource which has could become a “big hitter” reference is World Digital Library (RR 2010/251). At this point very much in its infancy in terms of numbers of objects, this has the potential to be an immense resource. An initiative of UNESCO and with the participation of national library and archive bodies from several countries including the Library of Congress, the aim is for the site to provide digital representations of “manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, prints, photographs and architectural drawings”, especially from countries that may lack the resources to develop their own digitisation programmes. This site may add significantly to the diversity of reference sources, opening up a wide range of new objects to librarians and their clients worldwide. We will still though, lean heavily on the industry of individuals to exploit reference niches and provide new products and insights. With this in mind, it is pleasing to end this column with a note that Norman (Norm) Desmarais, the author of one of our review titles The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in Canada and New England (RR 2010/294), is himself a regular reviewer for these columns. Norm has published several other titles on the American Revolution and is an example of how librarians too can contribute to the diversity of reference provision by committing their expertise or passions to print or screen.
Tony ChalcraftEditor, Reference Reviews , and University Librarian, York St John University, York, UK