By Dean, Katharine
American Libraries , Vol. 36, No. 5
"Yes, it's good. But, does it rock?" Nine librarians asked themselves that question many times before casting their final votes at ALA's Midwinter Meeting in Boston for the outstanding reference sources of the past year.
Since 1958, the Reference and User Services Association's Reference Sources Committee--composed of both public and academic librarians--has chosen the year's best in reference publishing. Members must select from all subjects the best titles suited for small- and medium-sized public and academic libraries among hundreds of new works.
By Midwinter, the committee had nominated 65 excellent candidates. During 16 hours of deliberation, we examined each title for quality of content, presentation, and appurtenances:
* Will the work fill a topical gap on the reference shelf?
* Does it contain helpful tools for understanding and accessing its content?
* Is the content organized usefully?
* Are the indexes, cross references, and bibliography excellent?
* Is the authority evident in the front or back matter?
* Is the price appropriate for the book's value to the library or patron it is intended to serve?
Yet with so many new reference books exhibiting those features, a title needs something more--a quality exceeding all others--to ensure our votes. We struggled to articulate this until Jeff Schwartz, reference librarian at Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library, came up with our ultimate qualification: "Does it rock?" That question became our benchmark for picking the 22 winners.
We looked at one of this year's winning titles, the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, for confirmation: The informal verb "to rock" means to "be impressive" or, better yet, to "blow one away," and suggests characteristics of undeniable and persuasive excellence. What follows is an annotated listing of the year's outstanding "rocking" reference works.
For more information on the Reference Sources Committee, or to see current and past lists of best titles, visit the RUSA web site at www.ala.org/rusa/bestref.html.
Atlas of World Art, edited by John Onians. 352 p. Oxford University Press, 2004 (0-195-21583-4), $150.
Over 300 maps combining cultural and political phenomena create an exciting new perspective on major art events from 40,000 B.C. to the present. Each pair of pages presents a thesis, showing how geography affected the art of an era. The visual presentation of the paths of invasion and migration, as well as the location of natural resources used in art, reveals art history in fresh ways. Succinct text and reproductions of sample works of art make this a strong addition to any collection with a focus on art or an interdisciplinary approach to history.
Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture, edited by R. Stephen Sennott. 3 vols. 1,525 p. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003 (1-579-58243-5), $525.
A balance of sophistication and clarity in the writing, authoritative entries, and strong cross-referencing that links architects and structures to entries on the history and theory of the profession make this an especially useful source on a century of the world's most notable architecture. The contents feature major architects, firms, and professional issues; buildings, styles, and sites; the architecture of cities and countries; critics and historians; construction, materials, and planning topics; schools, movements, and stylistic and theoretical terms. Entries include well-selected bibliographies and illustrations.
CUSTOMS, ETIQUETTE, FOLKLORE
Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. 3 vols. 1,600 p. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005 (0-684-31394-4), $395.
Steele, director of the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, has crafted, with the help of 325 contributors, an authoritative introduction to fashion, the industry, and the issues that have defined the field. …