Outstanding Reference Sources: A 1991 Selection of Recent Titles

By Watstein, Sarah Barbara | American Libraries, May 1991 | Go to article overview

Outstanding Reference Sources: A 1991 Selection of Recent Titles


Watstein, Sarah Barbara, American Libraries


Distinguished reference works selected by the Reference Sources Committee of the ALA Reference and Adult Services Division.

In January, trend forecasters have a field day; the world pauses to reflect on the recent Past and to speculate about the future. Forecasters' PrOgnostications concern diverse areas-culture, the economy, the environment, politics; lists of what's "in" and "out" POP up everywhere.

While selecting the year's Outstanding Reference Sources during the 1991 ALA Midwinter Meeting, the members of the Reference Sources Committee joined other forecasters and paused to reflect on trends in our area-reference publishing. Reference publishing continues to be alive and well. Information is definitely "in" and comes in a variety of formats suitable for browsing and scholarship. Ten trends are noted for your review, followed by the 1991 list.

A-Z dictionaries are still "in," covering a range of subjects from banking to food, from Impressionism to the Vietnam conduct.

Thumb-through reference guides continue to be popular, treating subjects as diverse as economic indicators and the animal rights movement.

One-volume handbooks claim their corner of the reference market, addressing American women's history, Opera, or the federal government.

Little-known and easily sensationalized topics such as witches and witchcraft are the focus of still other sources.

Subjects receiving more public attention such as homosexuality or the Holocaust have generated reference sources boasting an interdisciplinary, transcultural, and transhistorical approach.

Large-scale reference sets still abound-who could resist a work of history and criticism on Latin American writer?

New comprehensive works on such subjects as African-Americans in science and medicine or Jewish religious fife and development will get deserved and heavy use.

Biographical references on such subjects as art, ballplayers, and women writers offer new material for scholars and fans.

Eye-opening and aesthetically pleasing sources address such subjects as human anatomy, promising universal appeal and usefulness.

Stimulating, innovative formats continue to generate interest, resulting in sources that clearly stand out from their competitors, like the selected CD-ROM encyclopedia.

Selection process

The 10 librarians who serve on the Reference Sources Committee represent a wide variety of types of libraries, geographic areas, and professional and personal interests (see p. 394). The fist they compile is akin to the Reference Books Bulletin cumulation; it reflects the cumulative knowledge, commitment, creativity, and intellectual curiosity" of a committee. Their 12-month work cycle culminates at the Midwinter Meeting, when individual members present their recommendations for consideration by the entire committee.

This list of outstanding reference sources, an annual American Libraries' feature since 1984,' is intended to identify reference works that best meet a need in small and medium-sized academic and public libraries.

Selection criteria

Selection of outstanding sources is directed by criteria approved by the RASD Board of Directors to accommodate nonprint reference sources such as microforms, online databases, and optical media. Sources eligible for the fist include those that comply with the conventional definition of a reference source-stated in part as usually comprehensive in scope, condensed in treatment, and arranged on some special plan to facilitate the ready and accurate finding of information..." [3] -and those characterized by wide scope and general availability to small and medium-sized college and public libraries. Annuals, yearbooks, and new printings of encyclopedias are considered only when the first issue appears or they contain very important revisions. Similarly, new editions of monographs are eligible only if significantly changed. …

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