- Historical Dictionary of Librarianship by Mary Ellen Quinn
In a time of upheaval in the profession it is not surprising to see a growing interest in its history. The Historical Dictionary of Librarianship (HD) is one title in a series of historical dictionaries of professions and industries, presenting “essential information on a broad range of topics . . . [W]ritten by experts, all contain highly informative introductory essays of the topic and detailed chronologies” (i). Mary Ellen Quinn has two decades of library experience and served as the editor and then manager of the Reference Book Bulletin section of Booklist for the American Library Association from 1997 to 2011. She is an accomplished writer and reviewer.
The title Historical Dictionary is a misnomer. Although some terms are defined, such as “Reader’s Advisory,” most entries are biographical or descriptive. This is a short encyclopedia or handbook. It includes an interesting chronology of librarianship and an excellent introduction. Although the chronology begins with the third millennium bce, the “Reader’s Note” explains that the focus is on the modern profession beginning in the nineteenth century, and that is evident in the coverage. The author admits to an Anglo-American bias, though I found entries for nearly 70 countries. The core is a collection of 300 essays on topics related to librarianship, including persons (e.g., “Charles Ammi Cutter”), associations (e.g., “Association of College and Research Libraries”), events (e.g., “the Battle of the Books”), and general topics (e.g., “The French Revolution”). Librarianship is interpreted broadly to include all things library. The entries vary in length from a few lines to over a page. “Further reading” references are located in a final bibliography rather than at the end of each essay. It is well researched, and the coverage for the post-nineteenth-century period is good. One significant limitation is the lack of a clear selection rationale for the entries.
I compared the HD to several older single-volume encyclopedias of librarianship and an encyclopedia of library history. It is notable that these were all collaboratively authored. They each had more and often longer essays. I also compared the HD to Wikipedia. Randomly selecting 15 topics from the HD, I found 10 comparable entries in Wikipedia. Although I have confidence in Quinn’s expertise, many of the articles in Wikipedia were excellent, and they often offered additional content such as images and links to key documents.
I was intrigued by this book, its chronology and bibliography are excellent, and it is current. I did feel the scope was too ambitious for a single-authored [End Page R1] work of its length, and consequently some topics were insufficiently covered. It could be a useful companion text in an introductory library and information science course or a reference for a researcher studying the profession. However, given that much of the content is available elsewhere, in print or online, the cost might be prohibitive. [End Page R2]