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Scammell, Alison (ed.). Handbook of information management.. 8th edition. London: Aslib-IMI, 2001. 546 p. ISBN 0-851-42457-0. 50.00 (40.00 to institutional members)

The Handbook for information management produced by Aslib is in fact the 8th edition of the Handbook of special librarianship and information work. In the introduction, the editor Alison Scammell explains that:

"the title has been changed to reflect a broader spectrum of managed information services and structures...; to emphasise the diverse nature of information work... [and] information availability across a variety of delivery channels".

The publication that includes 26 chapters on various topics faithfully serves this purpose and provides a pragmatic approach to information management in an organisation. Unfortunately, the efforts to disclose the widening field of information profession have completely over-ridden another function of a handbook - to present a structured view of professional functions, responsibilities and duties, to aid the practitioner to identify the gaps in his competence and get the basic knowledge to close those gaps easily. It is especially clear when comparing this edition with the first six editions of the same handbook, which had a clear structure of consistently presented sections. The 8th edition is in fact a loose collection of papers rather than a reference work of any description.

A close inspection allows one to identify several areas that are covered in the handbook:

  • legal issues like copyright, data protection, freedom of information, etc. affecting information work (chapters 20-24);
  • management issues like staffing, financial planning, project management or marketing (chapters 2, 6, 7, 14-16);
  • information resources (chapters 1, 8, 10-12, 25);
  • information management tools (chapters 3, 5, 17, 18);
  • information services (9, 13, 19); and
  • information users (chapters 4, 26).

Some contributions fall under two or more areas. It seems that the area of information users and needs is somewhat neglected in the Handbook, but it is present explicitly or implicitly in most chapters on information resources and services.

The interest in the increasing number and variety of electronic resources is explored from various aspects. E.J. Eastwood and S.R. Tompson provide the most complete overview of the digital library issues, concentrating on the current trend of maintaining "a local hybrid library": its architecture, components, maintenance, relation to other library resources, and impact on users. A short paper by A. Muir complements it by introducing to the main research areas and programmes of digital libraries. The issue is further expanded in the chapter by M.E.Bates "The use of the Internet in special librarianship" and in most of the chapters on information resources. Most of them have a transparent structure and can be used by practising professionals for useful tips to be applied in everyday work and to gain deeper theoretical insights.

The chapters on the main issues of management of information service tend to focus on strategic and operational aspects. Some of them are clearly practice oriented (Performance measurement and metrics, Financial planning, Project management, Marketing the information service) and most newcomers into the profession or those who lack knowledge in any of these areas will find a comprehensive and useful introduction to them. On the other hand, some chapters are more generally oriented and aim to serve as the guides to general principles of new approaches to management, i.e. to deal with knowledge management strategies and ideas. Guy St. Clair struggles with the relation between knowledge management and special librarianship, acknowledging that:

"while many are not comfortable with the substitution of 'knowledge' for 'information' (or vice-versa) such casualness in the management community is now something that most people accept."

All his honest efforts to draw the line between knowledge and information proves only the fact that there is no difference between the two from the point of view of management. Regretfully in the list of the five core competencies of a special librarian (p. 66) the author fails to mention the need to understand the users' needs. Another chapter dealing with knowledge management is written by N. Munn "Knowledge management: working at the speed of 'e'". As usually happens with papers on KM it is very difficult to see any difference between KM and information management (compare the aims of KM and IM on p. 160 and p. 111) and in this particular case even less between KM and IT management. A close look at the list of skills of the knowledge manager only reveals basic competences needed by any manager.

The set of the papers on legal issues is of a descriptive nature, but serves the purpose of introducing the main areas for further consideration and investigation in a particular context.

The authors belong to the corps of practitioners (10), consultants (12), and academics (7) thus strengthenning the professional bias of the publication. The claim (the text on the fourth cover) that "the contributors come from around the world and reflect the global nature of the subject" is an evident exageration. Apart from a co-author of D. Nicholas (Tom Dobrowolski from Poland), one South African representative (Ina Fourie), and one Australian (Susan Henczel) the rest come from the United Kingdom or United States of America. Thus, the Handbook reflects mainly Anglo-American practices. However, the basic principles and a big part advanced experience can be applied in different countries.

Dr. Elena Maceviciute
Swedish School of Information and Library Studies
Högskolan i Borås
March 2002