Friday, August 04, 2006

Why do we keep buying print encyclopedias?

From 1996 to 2006, there were 285 encyclopedia entries that were cited in Web of Science. During that same time period, the Leddy Library of the University of Windsor (where I am employed) acquired 580 encyclopedias.

Some of these encyclopedias include: "Blackwell encyclopedic dictionary of human resource management", "Cambridge encyclopedia of hunters and gatherers", "Contemporary youth culture : an international encyclopedia", "Encyclopedia of ageism", "Encyclopedia of Arab women filmmakers", "Encyclopedia of fire", "Encyclopedia of local history", "Encyclopedia of relationships across the lifespan"... (Wot? No "Encyclopedia of the Enyclopedia"?)

I have to admit, I am dubious of the value of these works. It's not that that I doubt their scholarship. I just have a hard time imagining that the perceived value of these works are so great that they would draw a student in their dorm room to walk across campus and into the library in order to look at them. Not when Wikipedia is a click away.

I'm not saying that the print encyclopedia is dead or, by proxy, the library's reference collection is dead. It just smells bad.

There is valuable material in our reference collection and if we really want to make the material available we are going to have to put some effort into showcasing it. What I envision is an online index to the table of contents of our print reference collection. This revelation came to me after I had stumbled upon the ASU's Index to Physical, Chemical and Other Property Data which is simply magnificent.

Since so many libraries have similar contents in their reference collections, I imagine that it would be best if only own such index would be created and maintained any librarian interested. Library holdings information would automatically appear by means of a COinS Dialtone.

And it goes, almost without saying, that the platform would be a Wiki.

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