September 22, 2017

Reference 2005: Introduction

By Mirela Roncevic, Reference Editor, LJ

Ask reference publishers how their print titles are holding up in the age of Google and thriving electronic databases, and you will usually hear, "They are going strong." Judging from the number of reference books that arrive at LJ‘s offices each week, print reference is still being heavily published.

Yes, e-resources, web-based in particular, are here to stay. But, as this ninth LJ Reference Supplement shows, print reference is not dead yet.

According to LJ‘s most recent academic reference survey, conducted jointly with Trendwatch Graphic Arts in fall/winter 2003, academic libraries spend over 25 percent more on electronic reference than they did three years ago, largely because most students prefer the flexibility that comes with doing research online. Nevertheless, academic libraries still spend slightly more on print reference than they did three years ago (see "The Reference Evolution," p. 10 – 14).

Print remains entrenched in public libraries as well. Last year’s public library reference survey revealed that while libraries allocated more money for web-based products in 2003, they still reserved a whopping 72 percent of the reference budget for print. The listings in this supplement attest to the strength of print as well: boasting over 1200 titles from 281 publishers, they consist largely of print volumes of every conceivable size. The listings do incorporate a healthy number of new web-based products, plus upgrades of existing resources, which continue to grow in terms of size, features, and licensing options.

The consensus, then, remains unchanged: when it comes to reference needs, librarians don’t want a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, like the patrons they serve, they want flexibility and value. "Despite the many advantages, you can’t put all your eggs into your electronic basket," says Georgianna Myles of Broward County Library in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. "We need those print sets to fall back on when remote access doesn’t run smoothly or when the computer lines get too long." For Dave Tyckoson of California State University Library in Fresno, it boils down to making the right choices from all the available options. "Communities vary widely, as do their reference needs," says Tyckoson, adding that the question of technology too often drives decisions rather than questions of quality and value.

If the ten houses profiled in this year’s issue are any indication, reference truly comes in all shapes and sizes. Sage, Oxford, and Berkshire, for example, continue the tradition of relying on print to pave the way for electronic, while Facts On File, Taylor & Francis, and Praeger (part of the Greenwood Publishing Group) are in the midst of unveiling large-scale e-products meant to serve as one-stop resources on specific topics. Whatever the model, publishers don’t seem to be putting all their eggs into their electronic basket, even while continuing to invest in it. This à la carte reference trend has held for several years and is sure to become more sophisticated in the years to come.