Subject Encyclopedias Dead or Alive
Posted by: Admin
Just finished reading an interesting article, "'The Rolls Royce of the Library Reference Collection': The Subject Encyclopedia in the Age of Wikipedia" in the latest issue of Reference and User Services Quarterly. The author, John W. East (University of Queensland in Australia) questions whether subject encyclopedias still have any value even online, never mind in print. He presents a chart showing articles downloaded from 30 subject encyclopedias available on Gale Virtual Reference Library at University of Queensland in 2008, noting that the results were "disappointing for a large university" that had invested a lot of money in the titles. He goes on to look at ways in which librarians can promote subject encyclopedias so that they are more heavily used. He surveyed the web sites of 20 libraries, and found just one, North Carolina State University Library, that he felt did a good job of providing access to its subject encyclopedias.
Another point--West reminds those of us who still sometimes rail against Wikipedia that in fact Wikipedia has been instrumental in keeping the encyclopedia concept alive.