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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2000

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Book Reviews

African American Firsts in Science & Technology

Julia Gelfand
Applied Sciences Librarian
University of California, Irvine
jgelfand@sun1.lib.uci.edu

Webster, Raymond B., African American Firsts in Science & Technology. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 1999. ISBN 0-7876-3876-5. $60.00.

There are a surprising number of many other titles and resources that cover similar content. African American Firsts in Science and Technology approaches its biographical focus by including a wide range of accomplished African American scientists, technologists and related professionals who influenced their fields, and by introducing how each of them can serve as positive role models for young and aspiring African Americans who may now consider careers in the disciplines covered after reading and consulting this volume. The work is arranged chronologically within eight subject chapters in Agriculture and Everyday Life, Allied Health, Dentistry and Nursing, Life Sciences, Math and Engineering, Medicine, Physical Sciences and Transportation. The last topic also covers astronauts, astrophysicists, military strategists as well as those associated with more traditional avenues in transportation and civil engineering. The content is arranged rather curiously. Most readers would expect Agriculture and Life sciences to be closer together, followed by Medicine and Allied Health, followed by the Physical Sciences and Engineering. Interestingly, computer science is not reflected independently.

The chronological arrangement emphasizes the "firsts" and highlights the accomplishment for which the person is known. One must understand that the context of this volume is to place accomplishments and note achievement that has not been documented as having been done before by an African American. The intent is to weave the story of African American history as well as promote individual pioneers who in many cases can be considered heroes because of the barriers they broke en route to their success. Editors of this volume concluded that many of these individuals faced great adversity in their lives and not only became leaders in their professional arenas, but made serious contributions to American history. A significant number of the subjects are people whose major contributions were not in the sciences, but on the leadership, policy or advocacy side promoting science and innovation.

It is hard to characterize the 1,200 entries contained in this book that cover 1756-1999. Each entry highlights dates of vital statistics, and introduces the accomplishment, the significance of the time, educational background, and special attributes of the subject. The source of this information is noted and occasionally a photograph accompanies the information. A master chronology follows with references made to the entries. There is also an occupational index with more specific entries, a general index and a bibliography of resources on African American leaders and biography and related topics.

It is difficult to discern exactly the criteria for inclusion. In the field of information science, one entry is noted, when there are numerous examples of incredible talent that failed to be included. One clear omission in that field is Dr. Robert Wedgeworth. He has had an incredible career having served as Executive Director of the American Library Association, Dean of the former School of Library & Information Science at Columbia, President for two terms of the International Federation of Library Associations and most recently, University Librarian at the University of Illinois from where he retired last year. How many more firsts can someone participate in and how much more of a role model can one be in a career that has covered so many dimensions and had so much visibility?

The web site, {The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences} offers profiles in 18 areas of science with coverage of the past and of the present with details about the current training of African American scientists and output over the years, and what is likely to be the scenario for the population of African Americans who select careers in the sciences in the future. Surprisingly, very little duplication exists between these two resources. They each have a role for different readerships and I encourage libraries to direct users to the most appropriate source. African American Firsts fills a void in reference works for young readers and establishes how important the contributions of each of these people are to our history. It is too bad that the publisher did not detect the numerous typographical errors that are found in this work.

This print volume is an interesting attempt to provide lessons in history, biography, and the sciences. As a library reference, it may not be the resource of choice for any of these target research areas in a research setting, but instead it has good potential for school libraries, public libraries and as an item for a personal library collection. The content is certainly inspiring, interesting and well documented. The MARC record indicates subject headings for juvenile literature, and I am encouraged by that accuracy and hope that this book will be enthusiastically promoted among young readers.

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