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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2003

Book Reviews

Using the Agricultural, Environmental, and Food Literature

K.T.L. Vaughan
User Services Librarian
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Health Sciences Library

Using the Agricultural, Environmental, and Food Literature, edited by Barbara S. Hutchinson and Antoinette Paris Greider. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2002. 533 pp. $125.00. (ISBN: 0824708008)

Using the Agricultural, Environmental, and Food Literature, edited by Barbara S. Hutchinson and Antoinette Paris Greider, is the first generalized reference text to cover these three subjects in one volume. In the past few years several texts have been written about literature sources in environmental sciences, notably Environmental Information: A Guide to Sources by Nigel Lees (British Library Science Reference Service, 1997), but sources for agriculture and food science information have been scarce since a flurry of activity in the late 1980s. Hutchinson and Greider have done a good job of dividing a somewhat cumbersome and interdisciplinary field into small enough chunks that academic and corporate libraries will be able to identify the major gaps and needs of their collections.

The editors have selected fifteen areas under the umbrella of agriculture, environmental science, and food science for particular notice. In the Introduction Greider presents an excellent overview of the complexity of these fields due to the growth in study areas and in reference sources. Topical chapters are in alphabetical order by subject, which results in a rough grouping of subjects. Only one chapter, "Grey Literature and Extension Resources," deals specifically with a format of literature rather than a subject. It could possibly have been placed at the end of the volume so as not to break up the flow.

The sixteen chapters are:

  1. An Introduction to the Literature and General Sources
  2. Agricultural Economics
  3. Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  4. Animal Health and Veterinary Sciences
  5. Animal Sciences and Livestock Production
  6. Environmental Sciences and Natural Resources
  7. Farming and Farming Systems
  8. Field Crops
  9. Food Marketing
  10. Food Science
  11. Grey Literature and Extension Resources
  12. Horticulture
  13. Human Nutrition
  14. Rural Development and Sociology in the United States
  15. International Rural Development and Sociology
  16. Soil Science

Each chapter begins with a brief overview and (often) a definition or description of the subject covered. The chapter authors then move, at their discretion, into a treatment of the available literature on that topic. This treatment may include suggested subject headings and call number ranges to search in addition to key databases, journals, monographs, symposia and/or conference proceedings, theses and dissertations, and government reports for the library to consider purchasing. In addition, some chapters have sections for major web sites of interest; others integrate Internet resources with other formats. It is particularly helpful to have the variety of international resources listed in addition to materials published in North America. The content of each chapter was left to the discretion of the authors, and there is some limited overlap among chapters.

Most of the authors are librarians who hail from a mixture of land grant and major research universities, but with representatives from federal agencies and private institutes. The editors are well known in the field of agricultural information. Hutchinson is the director of the Arid Lands Information Center at the Office of Arid Lands Studies (University of Arizona). Greider is the director of the Agricultural Information Center at the University of Kentucky. Both are very active in the U.S. Agricultural Information Network (USAIN), as are many of the chapter authors.

A minor quibble with Using the Agricultural, Environmental, and Food Literature is with its uneven editing. Not every chapter is arranged according to the same outline, a fact that is acknowledged in the Introduction but that can also get in the way of easy browsing. In addition, since the editors let annotations stand as written, certain information contained in some chapters is not noted in others. This is clearest in the Introduction, where major sources in agriculture are listed. Each author contributed at least one entry. Some listings include a "cited date" for items retrieved from the Internet; some do not. Some listings are prone to run-on sentences ("Current Contents is available through the Institute for Scientific Information and several other vendors and coverage varies with the service."). The titles of some resources are italicized, while others are not. Subheadings such as "Related Sources to AGRICOLA" are confusing because not all entries after them pertain to the heading. However, these minor points will only distract that rare person who reads this volume cover to cover, rather than using it as a reference.

Since it is in fact a reference work, this is an excellent text for major academic libraries to own, particularly ones affiliated with land-grant institutions. The major strengths of Using the Agricultural, Environmental, and Food Literature lie in the breadth of coverage, including the big picture view of agriculture and related fields, including economics and sociology.

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