Computers in Libraries
Vol. 21, No. 5 • May 2001 

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• DIGITAL LIBRARIANSHIP • 
Librarians as Digital Authors and Publishers
by Péter Jacsó

As I discussed in the introductory installment of this column back in January 2000 [p. 54], one part of digital librarianship is digital publishing. And it is a very important part—one that can enrich all of us as users, because some of the best digital resources are made available by librarians, sometimes with the help of a traditional publisher, sometimes totally on their own. When I am researching a topic I don’t know much about, or trying to find the best ready-reference sources related to, say, regulatory issues of dietary supplements, I almost always start with a Web resource prepared by a librarian or group of librarians. Of course, I am biased toward librarians, being one myself, and, having taught more than a thousand of them, I trust their competence, and I am only rarely disappointed. 

Librarians have always been active in the publishing field, but the Web both opened up new outlets for them and enhanced existing ones. As you will see in the feature articles in this issue, there are many aspects of electronic publishing that concern librarians. I chose a topic that illustrates, very selectively, how librarians have become creative agents in this process. 
 

Web-Borne Publishing
Many of the valuable articles, reviews, and bibliographies written and compiled by librarians are now also carried on the Web freely (so I think of them as "Web-borne," carried like things that are "airborne"). This allows anyone to access those valuable works. True, Web readers get only a fragment of what subscribers get, but this initiative has been a very good start. For example, Information Today, Inc. regularly publishes a couple of feature articles, editorials, columns, and some news items from every issue of CIL and its other magazines (http://www.infotoday.com). You could be reading this piece, for example, online, and you wouldn’t even need to have a subscription to do so. You could even send an e-mail to a friend to alert her about it. Online, Inc. (http://www.onlineinc.com) offers similar free services, and it announced earlier this year that subscribers to any of its journals will have free access to the back issues of all of its periodicals. Such secondary Web-borne services introduce new readers to existing publications; some readers may then turn into subscribers.

Thousands of book and database reviews written by librarians are freely available from Booklist (http://www.ala.org/booklist), which makes all of its reviews available free of charge, beginning with the January 1996 issue. Jim Rettig’s excellent reviews, originally published in the Wilson Library Bulletin between 1995 and 1997, are also available online (http://www.hwwilson.com/rettig/RETINDEX.HTML), and so are his Web-born reviews published by the Gale Group (as I discuss below).

The Association of College & Research Libraries publishes not only the Internet Reviews Archive of College & Research Libraries News for free on the Web going back to 1994 (http://www.bowdoin.edu/~samato/IRA), but also the excellently structured, annotated, and modestly titled Internet List of Resources collection from the same serial (http://www.ala.org/acrl/resrces.html).

CHOICE offers a 3-month free trial of its large collection of much respected reviews (http://www.ala.org/acrl/choice/home.html). This generously long period is more than enough to catch up with reviews about books and databases in your specialization and to persuade your administrators to approve subscriptions to them.

School Library Journal Online has a selective but good collection of feature articles and reviews at its site (http://www.slj.com/articles/articles/articlesindex.asp) that complements the printed publication. Library Journal Digital’s Hot Picks section also has reviews of fiction and nonfiction books, months before they are published 
(http://www.libraryjournal.com/articles/books/hotpicks/hotpicksindex.asp).

LJ Digital is the forum for Roy Tennant’s monthly column discussing highly relevant topics of digital librarianship (http://www.libraryjournal.com/articles/infotech/digitallibraries/digitallibrariesindex.asp), and it has excellently chosen hotlinks to sites related to the topic of the month. 

Library Journal Digital has the Database & Disc column on the Web, with reviews of online and CD-ROM databases by librarians 
familiar with the specialty areas (http://www.libraryjournal.com/articles/multimedia/databasedisc/- databaseanddiscarchive.asp)

Originally, these were concise reviews of CD-ROM products by Cheryl LaGuardia, who shared the column with Ed Tallent. The 
reviews extended to Web databases, and they became longer and more analytic. The entire collection of these reviews is now available on the Web free of charge.

Beyond the informative content, the easy navigation and live referencing add considerable appeal to these Web-borne resources. Then come the Web-born resources, both as solo acts and team work by librarians. Most often, these Web-born publishing activities are independent from traditional publishers. In some cases, a publisher provides editorial support and sponsors the Web-publishing activity of librarians in order to get more traffic to its site. 
 

Web-Born Publishing
This is the category where publishing by librarians fully blossoms. While the sources mentioned above had or still have their roots or equivalents in print publications, there are many sources that were born on the Web, and there are resources that are somewhere in between. For example, I use the Web to publish a series of annotated screenshots that make up an HTML storybook. Although these are self-contained, they also complement some of my print reviews that cannot accommodate that many illustrations, let alone so many in color. One such complementary (and complimentary) digital picture book about one of the disappointing databases I wrote about in the March 2001 installment of Péter’s Picks and Pans in ONLINE. It offers a guided tour that illustrates what I think is so wrong with the Restaurant Row database (http://www2hawaii.edu/~jacso/extra)

The Gale Group offers reviews by four librarians/library educators every month about reference books and databases, along with Jim Rettig’s archive, free for anyone (http://www.galegroup.com/reference/reference.htm). These reviews are written for the Web and have no printed counterparts. 

Some librarians have bypassed the print world and have become famous via their Web publications. The best example for this scenario is Gary Price, a librarian at George Washington University, whose Web sites offer a variety of ready-reference sources, such as lists of anything you can think of (http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/listof.htm) and a large collection of searchable free databases (http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/direct.htm). On the side, he recommends various Web software tools that you are likely to use daily once you learn about them. Price deservedly made himself a name in just a few years after he graduated.

Greg Notess’ name became recognizable far beyond his home state of Montana through his columns at ONLINE and DATABASE, but it is his own information-rich Web site, the Search Engine Showdown (http://searchengineshowdown.com), that made his 
name WWW—World Wide Well-known. It offers a plethora of unique searchengine statistics, charts, tables, and narrative evaluations, spiced with frequent news.

If I say Drudge, most people think of Matt Drudge, the guy who has become famous, or infamous depending on your perspective, via the Drudge Report (http://www.drudgereport.com). I am not an avid reader of his report, but I do consult the site of his librarian father, Bob Drudge. Although I disagree with some of his choices, his site, the RefDesk (http://www.refdesk.com), is overall a comprehensive directory of mostly very good Web reference sites.

I had no idea where Cortland, New York, was until I found Margaret Vail Anderson’s site, Digital Librarian (http://www.digital-librarian.com/reference.html), which is a simple but rich collection of the Web’s best reference sites. Marylaine Block’s superb solo performance—a list of links to the Best Information on the Net (BIOTN)--has set a high standard, put the name of the O’Keefe Library of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, on the map, and fostered an entire chorus line of reference librarians who maintain and enhance this excellent collection (http://library.sau.edu/bestinfo/Default.htm).

Carole Leita’s project, known today as the Librarian’s Index to the Internet (http://www.lii.org), started as a collection of bookmarks used in her daily work at a library in Berkeley. It has become the best-organized, most efficiently searchable, highly selective, richly annotated directory of the best Web reference resources, with contributions from 80 librarians across California. 

Such sites are not only informative, but they are also very inspirational for other librarians. Undoubtedly, there are bad sites that are created by librarians, and that bothers me a lot because they siphon attention from the good sites. The one that I find the most irritating is the Davis Free Internet Encyclopedia that boasts a librarian as one of the creators. I can’t even start to count the ways in which it is disappointing, but I have a Web site that tries to illustrate my reasons for discontent (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~jacso/extra).

The good sites that I’ve listed above are not only very useful, but are also very inspirational for students of library and information science. I bet you won’t be surprised if, as a farewell, I link you to a collection of my students’ Web guides to highly specific topics, which they created in my first Digital Librarianship course 2 years ago (http://hypatia.slis.hawaii.edu/~jacso/DL/webliography). The fact that students of other library schools have also created impressive Web sites tells me that this creative participation aspect of digital librarianship will grow ever stronger.
 
 

Péter Jacsó is associate professor of library and information science at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Information and 
Computer Sciences. He is also a columnist for Information Today. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.

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