Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Volume 37, 2003

Colin Harris declares himself a veteran reader of the ARIST, assesses the kinds of reviewing it performs and balances the strengths and weaknesses of this long-standing publication.

ARIST is a remarkable institution. For 37 years, since Carlos Cuadra edited the first volume in 1966, it has provided expert overviews of current developments in information science and technology. I was a keen user in those early days; the first five volumes included chapters on 'information needs and uses' (by Menzel, Herner, Paisley, Allen and Lipetz) which provided invaluable help to a young researcher. If it wasn't exactly standing on the shoulders of giants, it was certainly an opportunity to enjoy the perspectives of expert reviewers and to avoid much of the digging and sifting that would otherwise have been required. Cuadra edited ARIST for ten years; his successor, Martha Williams, edited it for a staggering 25 years. This, volume 37, is the second to appear under Blaise Cronin's editorship.

It is not possible for any individual to assess the accuracy and other qualities of all papers in a single volume, such is the range of topics covered; it is that range, combined with the reputation of its authors wherein lies the strength of the Review. This year's review has eleven chapters: Information retrieval and the philosophy of language; Natural language processing; Indexing and retrieval for the Web; Electronic journals, the Internet and scholarly communication (jointly authored by Rob Kling, who sadly died earlier this year); Visualising knowledge domains; Museum informatics; Music information retrieval; The concept of information; Task-based information searching; The role of trust in information science and technology; and Information and equity. These eleven themes are quite different from the thirteen in the 2002 volume which, in turn, were quite different from the nine in 2001 and the eight in 2000, (the latter two editions under Martha Williams' editorship). The chapters differ, too, in their nature and purpose. Indexing for the Web is a relatively recent issue; the literature reviewed covers about a five-year period, weighted towards the more recent, as you would expect. The concept of information reviews the development of thinking over forty years (and most of the historic names are there). Both types of review have a valuable place.

This variety is both a strength and a weakness: a strength in the sense that the review covers an awful lot of ground; a weakness in the sense that the probability of the theme in which you are interested appearing in any one year is rather low. On the other hand, the review does offer all information professionals an opportunity easily to maintain at least a passing acquaintance with a very wide range of matters that help to shape our future, something they might otherwise be unable to undertake.

This is an impressive work of authorship and editorship: nearly 600 pages, reviewing an estimated 1600 published works, (I didn't count them!) Cronin and his Associate Editor, Ralf Shaw, and the international Advisory Board that guides them, are to be congratulated, as is Information Today, Inc., for maintaining a stimulating and useful 37-year-old tradition.

Author Details

Colin Harris
University Librarian
Manchester Metropolitan University
Email: c.harris@mmu.ac.uk

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