At each American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Outstanding Reference Sources Committee meets to select and honor the best new reference materials suitable for small and medium-sized academic and public libraries. Members nominate titles in their subject areas. The committee discusses their merits and votes on whether a specific title should be recognized as outstanding.
2006 committee chair Matthew J. Wayman noted that the numbers of nominated and honored titles had trended downwards over the last 10 years. In 2006, 61 nominees were narrowed to a dozen winners. This year, we began with 41 candidates but only found 14 to be truly outstanding.
Way man proposed two nonexclusive explanations for the shrinking number of nominees and honorees: Committee members may have become increasingly critical and publishers may be moving their interests from print to electronic sources. The committee's attention to electronic sources had not kept pace as they migrated from CD-ROM to the Web. This year, we made a concerted effort to consider products appearing simultaneously in print and online and those "born electronic." Ultimately, no digital-only sources were nominated because none met the requirement of being predominantly new material.
To Wayman's theories, I propose to add three more. First, many titles were cancelled or delayed this year because publishing firms were sold, merged, or downsized by their parent companies. These decisions may have been motivated by broad economic and media trends and changes, rather than anything specific to reference, libraries, or even books in general. Second, while reference is becoming increasingly electronic, this is not simply a move from print to subscription databases. Free online sources such as Internet Movie Database and the ever-controversial Wikipedia are new core titles. Finally, it is uncertain how the spread of "retail reference" and the bookstore model will affect reference work, collections, and publishing.
2007 chair, RUSA Reference Sources Committee
Colonial America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History, EDITED BY JAMES CIMENT. 5 VOLS., 1,968 PAGES. M. E. SHARPE (0-7656-8065-3), $499.
Designed to complement high school and undergraduate curricula, the book includes a broad range of information related to Colonial America, including but not limited to people, places, ideas, and events. Divided into four major sections--thematic essays, A-to-Z entries, chronologies, and primary documents--coverage is focused on the 13 colonies but extends to the American Southwest, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. While coverage is in-depth, it remains engaging, making this set ideal for anyone interested in history.
The Crusades: An Encyclopedia, EDITED BY ALAN V. MURRAY. 4 VOLS., 1,314 PAGES. ABC-CLIO (1-5760-7862-0; 1-5760-7863-9 E-BOOK), $385 PRINT; $480 AS E-BOOK; $675 (PRINT AND E-BOOK).
A highly accessible set that covers all aspects of the Crusades--from their origins in the 11th century to their end in the 16th century--the 1,000 A-to-Z entries focus not only on the Eastern Mediterranean and Muslims, but include the struggles in Eastern Europe and the Baltic area as well as those against pagans, Jews, and others perceived to be heretics. A well--respected scholar, Murray has edited the most comprehensive encyclopedia on the Crusades to date.
Encyclopedia of the Developing World, EDITED BY THOMAS M. LEONARD. 3 VOLS., 2,184 PAGES. ROUTLEDGE (1-5795-8388-1), $625.
This three-volume set has more than 750 entries that detail the challenges and progress made in developing countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in the modern (post-1945) era. Each country has a main entry as well as cross references and regional entries that broadly define development. …