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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2011

Book Reviews

Science and Technology Resources: A Guide for Information Professionals and Researchers

Peter Larsen
Physical Sciences and Engineering Librarian
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, Rhode Island

Copyright 2011, Peter Larsen. Used with permission.

Bobick, James E. and G, Lynn Berard. Science and Technology Resources: A Guide for Information Professionals and Researchers. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.

This slim but heavy and well-constructed volume is a new entry in the venerable genre of library literature, "the subject resource guide." Based around a single subject, these guides attempt to look at all aspects of a given discipline, profession, or area of study and compile a list of essential research tools. This particular resource looks at its subject (rather obviously, science and technology) via type of tool -- journals, encyclopedias, handbooks, patents, standards, etc. Each section begins with an overview of the category, a bit of history and development, then follows with a discussion of specific examples and suggestions toward effective use and collection development. The central chapters are surrounded by a number of concise and well written essays on the scientific publishing cycle, history of the literature, differences in information-seeking behavior of engineers and scientists, plus a series of short chapters that focus on specific disciplines and their particular resources. An extensive index and some brief front matter complete the volume. The book is clearly and concisely written, attractively constructed, and copiously illustrated with diagrams, copies of pages, screen captures, and the occasional photograph.

There are two basic problems with this product, however: audience and timeliness. Who is intended to read Science and Technology Resources? According to the title, librarians and researchers, but the explanatory sections are more detailed than the latter would likely desire and repetitious of material with which the former is already well acquainted. The readers most likely to embrace this book in its entirety are librarians of some experience who have suddenly been thrust into managing a science collection with no previous background in the sciences, which seems like a narrow market indeed. To be fair, there is a second group -- students in science and technology reference courses -- who would appreciate the depth of detail, the clear explanations, and the broad and encompassing scope. Which raises the question -- why wasn't this reworked and marketed as a textbook?

The second issue is more severe -- thirty years ago, this sort of catalog of basic resources was a definite boon to subject librarians, especially as the number of positions shrunk and fewer librarians were left in charge of more and more varied collections. However, with the rise of electronic resources, problems emerged -- resources appear and disappear quickly, and interface designs change even more rapidly. While the screen captures in the book remain current at the time of this review, it is likely that some will be incorrect within a year and almost certain that the majority will be changed with five years or so, making the fixed nature of this paper book a liability rather than an asset. The lack of attention to Scopus is a case in point; this major competitor to Web of Science gets less about half a page of coverage, despite its growing usage. The chapter "Current Awareness and Web 2.0" seems, if anything, even more dated and ephemeral. Perhaps the utility of this sort of comprehensive paper resource is at an end. A halfway dedicated group of librarians (perhaps some STS committee, for example) could create an equally useful but more dynamic resource as a wiki or some other kind of web-based tool, rendering large pieces of Science and Technology Resources redundant. Or, alternatively, a paper resource with expanded sections discussing the various types of tool with general consideration of their strengths, weakness, and efficient selection and use could be supplemented with an online collection of bibliographies of specific resources that could be updated regularly, if one prefers a more commercial solution.

There are other minor complaints -- the section on biographical resources seems extremely dated, as those tools (along with society and institutional directories) get increasingly less use due to competition from the Internet. In contrast, other sections, specifically those on standards and patents, could stand considerable expansion, due to the complexity of their selection and/or use. Additionally, the entries on individual resources lack pricing information, which adds an annoying extra level of work to the ordering process for a librarian or other user interested in purchasing.

Despite these various shortcomings, Science and Technology Resources is not without a potential market. As noted above, it would serve as a textbook in the right kind of reference course. It would also be a useful guide for a librarian beginning a career in science or engineering librarianship. Finally, established librarians might well find it useful to review individual sections as the need arises. It will likely find a home more on office shelves than in the circulating stacks.

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