Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 2000

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Using Publishers' Web Sites for Reference Collection Development

Melissa Holmberg
Reference/Instruction Librarian
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Utilizing publishers' web sites can help librarians locate additional science and technology reference materials which fall within budget constraints while meeting the needs of the patrons. This article analyzes the ways publishers' web sites can be used as librarians develop reference collections. The article also reviews specific publisher web sites to demonstrate useful features of current sites, point out the additional information given at some sites, and discuss desired changes.

As a librarian developing the technology and physical science reference collections at a medium-sized university, I have found publishers' web sites extremely helpful in locating materials for the library. The budget for the two reference collections allows for much more than the items reviewed by publications such as ARBA, Choice, and Booklist which are appropriate for the patrons. However, the budget cannot afford large, specialized encyclopedia sets; furthermore, our patrons' needs often do not require such expensive sets. Thus, to find additional materials, with more information than Books in Print usually provides, I tend to rely on publishers' web sites.

Although print catalogs could be utilized more often, these often seem to be less useful than the corresponding Internet sites. Usually, publishers provide more information on their web sites than they do in their print catalogs. As the arrival of print catalogs rarely matches the acquisitions department's deadlines for collection development, publishers' web sites can be more efficient at finding information about recent publications. Publishers' web sites can also be more effective at verifying suggested titles. Additionally, printouts from web sites tend to be more helpful than the catalogs: printouts from different web sites can be compared more easily than can double-sided pages from print catalogs and notes can be more easily written on the printouts than on the glossy pages of some publishers' catalogs.

Furthermore, publishers' web sites can at times be easier to utilize than print catalogs. Librarians can access the sites during slow moments at the reference desk. This accessibility is extremely helpful, because I often discover gaps in the reference collection when assisting patrons. If time allows after discovering such gaps, I tend to search for the needed materials at publishers' web sites and print out the information about the materials while at the reference desk. Using publishers' web sites at the desk during slow moments also allows me to work on collection development activities without carrying catalogs.

Publishers' web sites can also be helpful when updating materials being weeded from the collection. The software used for Books in Print in the library does not allow us to limit by publisher. Thus, if a book's title is not distinctive, a large number of records may be retrieved. It is often faster to use the publisher's web site than to review all the records retrieved from Books in Print. Also, due to several recent publisher buy-outs, updated reference materials easily change names to reflect the acquiring company. Rather than getting frustrated with not finding a specific title in Books in Print, I can search the acquiring company's web site to determine if they are continuing to publish a particular item. The Internet can also be used to find out which company has acquired a particular publisher.

Like most things in life, publishers' web sites can vary drastically from one to the next. Some exceed the content of their print catalogs, while others offer nothing more than a brief citation. Most publishers' web sites now offer both search and browse capabilities, but a few only give users one of these options. Some publishers include links to upcoming or new titles or to reference materials. Such links can save a lot of time during collection development activities by allowing librarians to take a look at a subset of the larger catalog. On the other hand, some publishers have hidden their search and browse features, making collection developers leave the sites in frustration. Lastly, few publishers' web sites include a publication date in the truncated list of results. Several times I have clicked on a title and waited for the page to load only to discover the item was published ten years ago and was therefore inappropriate for the reference collection.

The reviews below demonstrate such differences among selected publishers' web sites. Each publisher listed below regularly produces science or technology reference materials and covers more than one field in their reference publications.

Academic Press ({http://www.elsevierdirect.com/index.jsp})
Academic Press includes a quick keyword search function as well as an advanced search form which allows price range, year, imprint, and media limits. Browsing is only available in the "Major Reference Works" section. Countering this limited availability of browsing, though, Academic Press includes lists of recently published and forthcoming titles within the "Major Reference Works" section. The level of information given for these newer and upcoming publications is a major strength of the Academic Press web site. Most recent and upcoming publications have their own web site which may include a full contents list, information about the author/editor(s), a list of related sites selected by the author(s), full text of selected entries or chapters, a list of reviews, and a general description of content and features.

CRC Press ({http://www.crcpress.com/})
Like most publishers, CRC neglects to include dates in the results list. Searching is limited to author, title, standard number, and full text. However, CRC includes other access points through hot links for authors and related disciplines and through browsing capabilities by broad subject area or alphabetical title list. The "New Publications" section is arranged by discipline. CRC often includes a brief description, key features of the publication, and intended audiences for each item. Reviews are included when available.

Elsevier (http://www.elsevier.com/)
Elsevier provides several desirable features. The site displays the publication date in the list of results upon requesting that results be sorted by date. (Sorting by date becomes a standard step for frequent users as the publication date in the long display is included with the ordering information at the end of the entry.) Elsevier provides a link to "New and Forthcoming Titles." Both search and browse capabilities are available at Elsevier's web site. From the browse form, users can select one or more subject areas and limit by publication type such as reference works or dictionaries. On the negative side, the browse form for all subjects ({http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/subject_area_browse.cws_home/?sh1State=-null-SAR-SAA-SAC-SAD-SAF-SA1-SAI-SAJ-SAK-SAQ-SAP-SAB-SAE-SAL-SAN-SAO-SAG-SAH-SAM&sh2State=&allParents=y&showAll=y}) can be difficult to find. All entries include subject terms, which are not hot-linked, and a description. Some entries also provide reviews, contents, and intended audiences.

Facts on File ({http://www.infobasepublishing.com/})
The strength of the Facts on File web site is its various sub-sections, which can be browsed. Facts on File provides a link to their science reference materials where librarians can browse subject areas. Librarians can also browse just new titles, which includes reference materials. Browsing is also available by type of reference material, such as encyclopedias. Both the new titles and publication types are further broken down by broad subject area, such as "science and technology." Searching is also available.

Fitzroy Dearborn (http://www.fitzroydearborn.com/)
Unlike the above publishers, the Fitzroy Dearborn web site needs tremendous work. While the limited information given about its publications is usually more than what's available on Books in Print, the amount of description is minimal compared to other publishers' web sites. Furthermore, librarians cannot search the catalog online; they can only browse by title or subject. Finally, dates are not only absent from the list of titles but are also sometimes missing in the longer entries.

McGraw-Hill (http://books.mcgraw-hill.com/)
McGraw-Hill could improve its browse capabilities. Librarians can browse the "Encyclopedias and Dictionaries" section, which is only separated into two large categories: encyclopedias comprise one category and dictionaries comprise the other. However, the site provides long descriptions and includes publication dates in the list of results. McGraw-Hill also gives users a choice of sort options in both its basic and expanded search forms. Using the expanded search form, librarians can search within only the new titles, limit by publication range, and search for terms in the description and table of contents as well as standard fields like author and title.

Oryx Press ({http://www.oryxpress.com/})
Oryx includes a link to new and forthcoming publications, which are arranged by month of publication. Users can browse the online catalog by author, title, or subject. The list of subjects includes a category of reference materials. Librarians can also search the catalog, but the search engine looks only for keywords in the author and title fields. Dates are not included in the list of results, and like Elsevier, the publication date is placed toward the end of entries. Oryx, though, does provide long descriptions of its publications and links to information about the author(s). Oryx sometimes provides extensive tables of contents or lists of topics covered, excerpts, and intended audiences.

Wiley (http://catalog.wiley.com/)
Like Elsevier and McGraw-Hill, Wiley provides publication dates in its list of results. Wiley also provides a sort option and date limit on its search form. Although Wiley does not provide a reference section or a new titles section, the web site does provide additional access points through hot-linked subject terms. Users can also browse by subject area. Newer titles in the online catalog include more information than the print catalogs.


As more science and technology librarians use publishers' web sites for collection development activities, one hopes the publishers will improve the availability of search and browse capabilities. Publishers should be aware that users access the sites in different ways and for different reasons. Since published information becomes outdated quickly, publishers should always include dates in the brief display of results. Lastly, publishers should fully utilize the web to provide links to additional information about publications such as reviews, table of contents, excerpts of entries, and descriptive texts. With the minimal reviews available for science and technology reference materials, librarians need as much information as possible about potential purchases. Publishers willing to provide more information may receive more orders than publishers who only give citations and brief descriptions.


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