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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2000

Book Reviews

Guide to Information Sources in Engineering

Brian Quigley
Electronic Outreach Librarian
Kresge Engineering Library
University of California, Berkeley
bquigley@library.berkeley.edu

Guide to Information Sources in Engineering. Charles R. Lord. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2000. 345 pp., $75.00 (ISBN 1-56308-699-9)

Charles Lord once served as the Engineering Librarian for the University of Washington, Seattle where he was named the Ei/SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year in 1997. Since that time, he has moved to the Tacoma campus to serve as its library director. In light of these credentials, sci-tech librarians must have high expectations for this guide written for engineers, librarians and other information professionals. Lord certainly delivers a useful and dependable guide but not one that meets expectations.

Lord opens his guide with an informative but misleadingly titled chapter on "How Engineers Use Information," in which he discusses the creation of engineering information and its relationship to engineers before actually addressing the subject of the chapter within the next-to-last paragraph. He then takes the reader on a tour of engineering information sources (most published since 1996), stopping along the way to delineate specific resource types within eleven broadly defined chapters. Lord concludes with an appendix listing scholarly publishers and their web addresses followed by a lengthy though hardly comprehensive index.

Having grown accustomed to literature guides arranged by subject (such as the Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Engineering Information Sources and Hunt's Information Sources in Science and Technology), I initially balked at the choice of resource type as the primary organizational device. However, the wealth of resources belonging to multiple subject areas eventually led me to appreciate this style. By subdividing some chapters by subject area, Lord increases the utility of those chapters, but the obvious lack of consistency in these subjects simply baffles me. For example, bioengineering appears as a subject division within the chapters on scholarly journals and professional organizations, but not within the chapters on handbooks and Internet resources. Does this mean that no useful handbooks and web sites in bioengineering exist? These inconsistencies and exclusions certainly have an effect on the quality of the book.

For those resources that Lord does include, he provides basic bibliographic and price information, as well as descriptive though rarely evaluative annotations. Although all very interesting, some of these inclusions approach a level of specificity that Lord cannot maintain throughout the volume. Should a work that does not list even one bioengineering handbook include a directory of Pacific Northwest computer companies (Northwest High Tech on the Web)? This inconsistency notwithstanding, Lord does inform us of many valuable resources that we would probably not encounter otherwise.

Clearly, the interdisciplinary nature of engineering research complicates the task of assigning information sources to specific categories. Even so, Lord limits each resource to a single category, presumably in an attempt to save space. This limitation makes the index absolutely essential for locating sources. Unfortunately, although the index is quite lengthy, it is not as comprehensive as it needs to be. Often, resources can not be easily found under specific terms.

For all the questionable choices throughout his guide, Lord succeeds when it comes to Internet resources. He includes more of them than did previous guides in the field, and he incorporates them throughout to a degree not previously achieved in those guides. By including web resources in the appropriate chapters, Lord helps raise the digital format to the level of the print resource.

Although flawed, this guide does serve as an informative and necessary update to previous guides in the field. Building upon those guides rather than duplicating them, Lord calls our attention to a variety of current resources -- some familiar, some obscure; some essential, some esoteric; some print, some electronic. Certainly, professionals will occasionally become frustrated with this guide's organization and indexing. Nevertheless, they will often be rewarded for their efforts. I recommend this book as an essential addition to any reference collection that serves engineering professionals and researchers, especially in academic and special settings.

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