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International encyclopedia of information and library science. (2nd ed.), edited by John Feather and Paul Sturges. London: Routledge, 2003. xxxii, 688 pp. ISBN 0-415-25901 150.00

To begin with, I have to declare and interest, in that I have contributed the entry on 'information management' to both editions of this encyclopedia. However, I shall try not to let that fact bias my approach.

The first edition of the encyclopedia was published in 1997, had 492 pages and cost, if my memory is correct, 75.00 Given the changes in the field (however we might define it) since planning the first edition began in 1991, the almost 40% increase in the number of pages is probably not surprising; the doubling of the price, however, is rather surprising. I reckon that with the increase in pagination and a 2% per annum increase in costs since 1997, the book is about 30.00 over-priced.

So, what do we get for our money? The encyclopedia is built upon twelve major articles, eight of which are in common with the first edition: communication, economics of information, informatics, information management, information policy, information theory, knowledge industries and organization of knowledge. Four are new: information professions, information society, information systems and knowledge management. Curiously, given the title of the work, Line's article on 'library and information services and institutions' has been dropped: I say curiously because I have a feeling that libraries are likely to be around a good deal longer than the flawed idea of 'knowledge management'. Koenig's article on the subject is a game attempt to get order out of chaos and has the occasional touch of humour that the km literature tends to lack, but it fails to distinguish effectively between 'information' and 'knowledge' and maintains a definition of 'tacit knowledge' which suggests that such knowledge can be found in personal files! Personal files are a local information resource and if a document (electronic or paper) is found there it would be recognized in information management (and, indeed, in information systems) as an information object, not knowledge.

Also curious, to my view, given the significance of the subject, is the lack of a major entry on information retrieval (IR). There is a mid-sized entry (four and one-third columns) on the topic by Järvelin, which is a good summary, but surely the subject deserves at least the same amount of space as, say, the seventeen columns devoted to 'information theory'? As the editors note, they have made judgements about the relative significance of topics, but in this case, the judgement seems rather odd. There is also a lack of entries on specialist topics within the information retrieval field: for example, you will not find an entry for 'chemical structure retrieval' or 'chemical compound retrieval', both of which have significant bodies of research literature. They could have been dealt with in a more extensive article on IR.

The twelve major articles are supported by many more shorter pieces (such as that on information retrieval) and then by short entries that define basic concepts, methods, and objects and provide biographies of notable figures. Typical of the short entries are 'fixed location', 'floppy disk', 'fonds' and 'forgery'. There is an effective system of see and see also references (signified in a text by a word in small capitals) which enables the user of the encyclopedia to move from major topic to minor topic to simple entry. For example, the long article on 'economics of information' includes references to 'databases' (a mid-sized article) and the short entries, 'Shannon' and 'telecommuting'.

Of course, in any review of a work of this kind one will inevitably find entries that are less than satisfactory. I chanced upon the entry for 'chain indexing' (on which I wrote a programmed text many years ago) and I wondered how anyone was supposed to make sense of it. Chain indexing is essentially a process of analysing a classification number, but the entry does not provide any such number in the example it provides. Even worse, that example is the concept string: technology>agriculture>farming - I would be interested to know which classification that hierarchy came from. Thus, it could have been illustrated by a simple Dewey class number, say, 326, which is analysed as, 300 - Social sciences; 320 Political science; and 326 Labour economics. The chain index is then constructed as:

  • Labour economics: Political science: Social sciences - 326
  • Political science: Social sciences - 320
  • Social sciences - 300

Of course, the principles of chain indexing can be employed independently of a formal classification scheme and various types of 'string indexes' have been derived from the general idea.

No doubt others will find other entries that are less than helpful, but, given the scale of the work and the enormous amount of editorial effort that has gone into its preparation, I would not suggest that minor flaws are a reason not to buy or use the encyclopedia. It is an excellent work, to which I have turned on numerous occasions since it was first published in 1997 and every library ought to have a copy. However, do not throw away the first edition, but keep them side by side, since there are entries in that edition that are omitted from the latest.

The list of contributors fully justifies the word 'international' in the title and reads like a 'Who's who' of the library and information world.

A final word: please could the publishers return to the classic restraint of the first edition for the book cover, the new cover is much less attractive and, given the loss of Line's article, somewhat misleading as to the orientation of the book.

Professor T.D. Wilson

How to cite this review

Wilson, T.D. (2003) Review of: International encyclopedia of information and library science. (2nd ed.) London: Routledge, 2003.   Information Research, 8(4), review no. R107    [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs107.html]