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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 1998

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Book Reviews

The World Wide Web for Scientists & Engineers: A Complete Reference for Navigating, Researching & Publishing Online

Margaret Henderson
Director of Libraries
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor, New York
henderso@cshl.org

The World Wide Web for Scientists & Engineers: A Complete Reference for Navigating, Researching & Publishing Online. Brian J. Thomas. Bellingham, WA: SPIE-The International Society for Optical Engineering, 1998. 357 p. (ISBN 0-8194-2775-6 softcover).
Many people might wonder at the need for another book on the World Wide Web, especially one that claims to be 'complete' but there is much about this book that makes it a worthwhile purchase.  The Table of Contents, Preface, Introduction, and the Introduction to Web Publishing (chapter 7) are all available online, through the SPIE site. [{http://www.spie.org/pm61/}]

The best thing about this book is the writing style.  Brian Thomas writes in a very easy to read style without talking down.  His explanations are clear and jargon free, or at least as jargon free as one can be when writing about the WWW. He also makes wonderfully wry comments about Microsoft and other companies and how the WWW is supposed to work.  Most scientists or engineers with some familiarity with computers will probably enjoy reading this book.

Thomas does a good job explaining the basics and manages to include useful pointers, such as the domains used in e-mail addresses, discussion list netiquette, differences in listserv software and how it effects use, and differences between listservs and newsgroups.  There is an excellent chapter on WWW searching, explaining clearly the differences between search engines like Alta Vista and Yahoo.  This chapter should be recommended to everyone who can't find what they want when they do a 'Net search.  The author also suggests that you read the search engine help screens and explains why; each search engine has different ways to indicate Boolean logic and fields.  There is an appendix of search engine comparisons, which is very useful,  taken from Calafia Consulting (http://calafia.com/ especially their Search Engine Watch http://searchenginewatch.com/).

The chapters on web authoring are basic but they do mention interesting future developments in HTML and WWW authoring.  Thomas cautions against using all sorts of fancy tags and graphics in web pages because we don't know what the future will bring and we don't know the capabilities of the browser being used by the reader of the web page.  He does explain how to used basic HTML tags and gives examples of a few fancy things that can be done even without an HTML editing program.

The second half of the book is a resources section filled with hand-picked URLs in 22 major technology areas.  Thomas has chosen sites that contain useful materials or can be used for further online explorations.  Most of the URLs are major, stable sites, i.e. associations, government sites, university departments, major meta-sites, databases, and a few big lab group sites.  There are a couple of problems with the 'Medical' sites. This is the only area where many of the URLs are journal sites.  There are few free full-text journal sites left and many of the journals listed are now subscriber only access which makes them much less useful.  At least one journal title has changed and that was back in 1995.  And more importantly, PubMed {http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi} is not on the 'Biology and Biotechnology' or the 'Medicine' lists.

Despite these small problems, this book can be recommended to anyone who needs a good, practical overview of the World Wide Web.  It could also be used by librarians designing an internet course.  The progression from WWW overview to web authoring is logical and the author touches on most of the areas that will be of interest to new WWW users.

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