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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.2 (2002) 348-349

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Book Review

Sorting out the Web:
Approaches to Subject Access

Sorting out the Web: Approaches to Subject Access, Candy Schwartz. Westport, CT.: Ablex Publishing, 2001. 169 p. $32.95 paper (ISBN 1-56750-519-8); hardcover $72.50 (ISBN 1-56750-518-X)

Sorting out the Web is a solid introductory text on the topics of subject analysis, classification, and organization of information on the Web. It is directed to students, educators, and information professionals "who wish to find out more about subject approaches to networked information resource discovery" (back cover). The author, a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College and former President of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, has produced a well organized, thoroughly researched book in which her background in cataloging and in teaching information organization and retrieval is readily apparent.

Ms. Schwartz writes clearly and without pretension, making complex topics easily accessible to the lay reader as well as the information specialist. The book's six chapters (Introduction, Metadata, Classification, Controlled Vocabularies, Search Engines, Around the Corner) cover the building blocks of subject access on the Web in an orderly, logical fashion. Each chapter is organized in a similar manner: general introduction to the topic, followed by specific examples and many applications in the Web environment, concluding with a brief summary. A comprehensive bibliography, citing works of many past and present key thinkers in the field, appears at the end of all but the first chapter, providing any student or researcher with ample leads for more in-depth coverage of the myriad examples supplied by the author. The text is illustrated with reproductions of relevant Web pages and other charts and figures. Interesting additions to the chapter bibliographies are citations to Web pages created by the author on the topic at hand. Unfortunately, the author has unintentionally illustrated the volatility of the Web by having changed the URL for these Web pages between the writing and publication of the text, without leaving a forwarding link to direct the reader to the new site. With some effort, the reviewer was able to locate the new Web page for most of those cited.

Ms. Schwartz manages to present fairly complex technical issues in a non-threatening way that even a hardened [End Page 348] computerphobe could understand and appreciate. The chapter on metadata, for instance, provides an explanation of the basic concept, presents different types and functions of metadata, and outlines many of the most prevalent schemes, such as MARC, Dublin Core, TEI, EAD, HTML, SGML, XML. She notes some of the pros and cons of the different schemes, without advocating one approach over another. Her conclusions are sound, if somewhat facile, as when she observes that different standards developed by groups of experts for application in a specific domain can hamper interoperability, particularly when they apply different conventions for data entry.

The chapter on search engines demystifies current searching on the Web. Ms. Schwartz explains basic types of search engines, their common features, and notes the attempts that have been made to evaluate their effectiveness. She discusses several trends, such as personalization, summarization, and subject gateways. Coverage of the topic is solid and contains the most new information of any of the chapters for a practicing information professional. However, this reviewer might have hoped for a bit less impartiality. The author notes that "Unlike library catalogs, most publicly available search services on the Web . . . are funded by advertising dollars, and the effort to draw customers (i.e. searchers) to a particular 'portal' tends to emphasize packaging over product" (p. 109-110). She concludes the chapter by stating that "rarely, at least in the field of information science, do the interests of academic research and commercial product development so closely coincide." (p.136) This facile assertion did little to reassure the reviewer that all was right in the information world, particularly given the clear explanations the author had just provided on how the publicly available services...


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