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Reviewed by:
  • The Reference Collection: From the Shelf to the Web
  • Sarah Robbins
The Reference Collection: From the Shelf to the Web, ed. William J. Frost . New York: The Haworth Information Press, 2005. 310p. $34.95 (ISBN 978-0-7890-2840-2) Published simultaneously as The Reference Librarian v. 44, nos. 91/92 ( 2005).

This collection of 17 papers focuses on issues surrounding the migration of reference works from a print-based to a Web-based environment. The issues are explored from a variety of perspectives including those of academic, public, and school libraries as well as publishers.

The book begins with Margaret Landesman's article tracing the evolution of reference collections from the availability of limited print resources for the elite, through early automation, to modern day Web resources. This lays the groundwork for the following chapters and establishes the framework within which reference collections exist. Separate chapters then detail the specific issues faced by differing library types and how these issues must be addressed to best serve the library's primary users. John Morse presents an interesting discussion about publishing and libraries in the "Age of Also." Morse discusses the current state of reference publishing, especially as it relates to the publication of Merriam-Webster dictionaries. After discussing the merits and limitations of online dictionaries, he predicts that reference publishers will continue to support both print and electronic versions of the same title as long as use warrants it.

After addressing the more theoretical aspects of migrating reference collections to a primarily online format, the book then explores issues that result from a heavier reliance on electronic resources. These include the necessity of promoting library research assignments that require thoughtful use of electronic resources, the library's role in detecting cyberplagiarism, the design of ready reference Web sites and a discussion of content included on these sites, and a comparison of federated search tools that enable users to search across many electronic resources simultaneously and from a single interface.

The last several chapters of the book deal with electronic resources available in specific disciplines. Each chapter includes introductory remarks framing the Web resources in the larger context of scholarship for that discipline and then proceeds to highlight certain resources fitting within the scope of the chapter. Resources for the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences, business, education, and medicine are included. The final chapter provides a listing of the 100 "best" free reference Web sites. These lists could serve as a valuable starting place for librarians seeking to develop user guides in any of these subject areas and could be used evaluate the comprehensiveness of existing user guides.

Each article in the collection highlights issues on the radar screens of today's reference librarians and provides insight into the professional dialogue on Web-based reference materials. The editor's years of professional experience in reference and his role as the creator of the Internet Collegiate Reference Collection,, indicate that he has firsthand knowledge of the issues surrounding today's reference collections as they move from a print environment to the Web. The authors of individual articles seem qualified to write on the topics covered and are primarily reference practitioners or collection developers, though some authors work in library-related fields such as consulting or publishing.

Overall, this book provides a solid overview of the issues surrounding the move from a print-based reference collection [End Page 476] to one available primarily online. It serves as a good update to Christopher Nolan's Managing the Reference Collection (American Library Association, 1999) and updates the discussions presented in Nolan's book regarding electronic reference titles. Most librarians will probably find some aspect of this book particularly relevant to the issues faced in their institutions; however, it is unlikely that a reader will wish to read the book from cover to cover. This book is best digested in pieces with attention paid to the chapters relevant to one's area of interest.

Sarah Robbins
University of Oklahoma


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 476-477
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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