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The Web Library: Building a world-class personal library with free web resources by Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo; edited by Barbara Quint

Jacket: Paperback
Pages: 424 pages
Publisher: Cyberage Books/Information Today, Inc. ; (2004)
Genre: Reference
ISBN: 0910965676

Comments about the author: Web links and Updates: http://library.ccsu.edu/library/tomaiuolon/theweblibrary.htm


Review: This book is dense with timely and useful information.  As its title suggests, it is a guide to many different sources of freely available reliable information.  Eight categories of resources are thoroughly covered; articles and indexes; news sources; reference resources (both ready reference and sites for deep research);  sources of advice from living experts; electronic books; images; museum and exhibition sites; and software and other tools to enhance management of electronic materials.

 In each section, a unique feature is a short transcript of an interview with someone responsible for creative, editorial or management decisions over a free resource.  These include editors of electronic versions of major magazines and newspapers, creators and CEO’s of portals and aggregators, computer scientists responsible for creating databases and search tools, and librarians with a variety of viewpoints.  These candid discussions give important glimpses of the financial and technical decisions that effect whether resources can begin as, remain, or become free resources over time.  Sustainability in the web world is a large unanswerable question, and a challenge that deserves frequent mention.

 The writing is light and readable, with just enough light-hearted imagery.  For example, the chapter on accessing online exhibits is “Pixels at an Exhibition”; the chapter on references resources is titled “Ready or Not: Reference on the Web”.  Online resources are frequently compared to their print counterparts or print precursors.  This makes the information easily digested by those who have a familiarity with the print resources but makes it occasionally cumbersome for the reader coming at these resources for the first time.  In each chapter, the author has achieved an excellent balance between “born-digital” resources, and the online versions of standard established works by government or academic agencies.  For all resources, he provides brief assessment of both the value and limits of a site.

This book delivers what it promises. The world-class personal library created with its guidance is an ever-changing resource rather than a static collection.  This becomes clear after reading this book in its entirety.  Because of the density of information, I suspect more readers will likely read this book in a more piecemeal fashion.  In that case, the enormity and fluidity of the web library may be less evident.

 The author has gathered all the web sites included in the book at a website that he updates regularly.  These free sites are collectively a rich doorway into internet resources.  Throughout their discussion and introduction in the book, a strategy for finding new and already visited sites unfolds.  This is a major asset of the book and adds considerable value beyond the website.

The author is a reference librarian and instructor at Central Connecticut State University, and a frequent speaker at librarian conferences and workshops.  His enthusiasm for his topic imbues the whole book with a sense of the enormous possibilities of the internet, and the valuable content that can be found if one is willing to invest some time in exploration.  In showing hundreds of examples of what is freely available on the web, the author effectively provides a primer in the wealth and the limitations of the web.  Tomaiuolo describes what is available, pointing out ways in which resources might be different from their printed counterparts, or the ways in which a resource is unique as a web-only resource.

Even though the updated website for this book is freely available (an excellent example of what is free on the web), the printed book is well worth adding to a library or personal collection. It compiles the resources into meaningful groupings, and through narrative and interviews, provides important background to readers who may not have thought about internet issues before. For example, the chapter on images contains an excellent discussion of various copyright issues. Each chapter includes End Notes – lists of further reading, not all of which are freely available on the web.  The Web Library is a multi-dimensional resource; full of useful URL’s presented within a meaningful context.  In sum and in its parts this is a highly effective guide for harnessing reliable content on the web.  It will be especially useful for teachers and librarians instructing users in web exploration.

— Reviewed by: Ann Jensen
annjensen@berkeley.edu
Ann Jensen recently retired from a career as a science librarian at the University of California, Berkeley.

 
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