Reference Awards 2014

Amanda Duffy, Chair Awards Judging Panel



During the time the call for nominations for this year’s awards was out, I was asked two questions.   Firstly ‘but they don’t produce reference books anymore, do they?’ and secondly ‘what is a reference work?’

The answer to the first was of course they do, they just look a bit different from what the questioner, a retired, non-reference librarian, might think. The second answer was more difficult; I couldn’t give the unofficial answer that many reference librarians use – you know one when you see one. So I hunted around and came up with this definition from the American Library Association “any source used to obtain authoritative information in a reference transaction.” Succinct and to the point, I think this about covers it, giving the judging panel plenty latitude and room for manoeuvre in our discussions.

The ISG Reference Awards aim to recognize excellence, promote awareness of outstanding reference books and products and encourage quality.

Our criteria look for works that are available and relevant to the library and information sector in the UK and which show, amongst other things, accessibility, a high quality of indexing and navigational aids, originality, information currency and accuracy, and value for money.

To be eligible for the 2014 Awards, works had to be published between 1st January and 31st December 2013. Nominations can come from anyone with an interest in reference and information publishing.

The judging panel meets for a busy but very enjoyable day in September to examine and discuss the titles nominated. And thanks, once again, to the members of the panel for their enthusiasm and expertise – and their time.

We had a very interesting batch of books to examine. It is always a pleasure to come across new and unexpected titles or approaches to subjects. So the actual Awards. We have three levels of Award –Winner, Highly Commended and Commended. This year we were able to make our decisions fairly quickly and amicably!

The Library

The panel makes no apologies for making The Library: a world history the WINNER of this year’s awards. It is the first single volume to tell the story of the library as a distinct building type. It covers 82 libraries worldwide to illustrate the architecture of libraries from the earliest times to the twenty-first century. This is a genuine joint enterprise; the authority of the author, an architectural historian, is equaled by that of the photographer.

The very readable narrative closely relates to the illustrations. There is good indexing and a bibliographical essay for each chapter. The design and production is flawless, it is a well-bound, sumptuous book.

There have been earlier attempts to cover this subject but none have come anywhere near this work, particularly with regard to production and design. The only criticism was that there wasn’t a photograph of the British Library (but that comment came from an ex-member of the BL staff, so they were somewhat biased). £48 is an amazingly good price for such a sumptuous piece of book production.

A beautiful and scholarly work which shows, to quote the review from The Times Literary Supplement, ‘of the making of libraries, there can be no end’.

The Library: A World History by James W. P. Campbell and Will Pryce, published by Thames and Hudson at £48 is the clear WINNER of the Information Services Group Reference Print Awards for 2014.


From a world-wide perspective covering millennia to seventeenth century London.

The A to Z of Charles II’s London 1682 is part of a prestigious seven volume series providing fully-indexed maps of London at around 100 year intervals from the Elizabethan to the Edwardian eras.

The reproduction of the maps, crucial to the work, is superb with even the smallest print being clear and readable. For such a complicated venture, the indexing is comprehensive yet straightforward. We found it easy to link from the keys to the individual maps, and have rarely seen anything as clear or well set out. The annotations are authoritative and thorough. The work is well-bound and on high quality paper. This work is an essential source for anyone interested in seventeenth century London and a fascinating volume to dip into for anyone who knows and loves London.

The A to Z of Charles II’s London 1682: London &c. actually survey’d by William Morgan, with introductory notes by Peter Barber and Ralph Hyde, index compiled by Robert Thompson and edited by Ann Saunders, published by London Topographical Society at £26 is HIGHLY COMMENDED in the 2014 ISG Reference Awards.


My librarian friend would recognize the title which receives our Commended Award as it is, what he would call, a real reference book.

The three volume Encyclopedia of Environmental Change lies somewhere between a dictionary and an encyclopedia. It is an authoritative and indispensible guide to the complex facts, concepts, techniques, methodology and philosophy of environmental change. It covers around 4,000 terms, giving succinct and scholarly descriptions. There is multiple cross referencing and an extensive index of over 30,000 entries.

The volumes are well-bound and clearly set out and the division into three volumes makes the work easy to consult. The section on how to use the encyclopedia is exceptionally well written.

It is on the expensive side, so many libraries will, unfortunately, be unable to add it to their collections which is a pity given the topicality of the subject and the authoritative nature of the entries. But perhaps this award will encourage them to take the plunge.

The Encyclopedia of Environmental Change, edited by John A Matthews and published by Sage Publications at £350 is COMMENDED in the 2014 ISG Reference Awards.

However apart from the three titles to receive the awards and related certificates, there was also one other title which although it did not meet all our criteria, we felt deserved a special mention.

So we’d like to bring to your attention Rope and chain haulage: the forgotten element of railway history by Colin E Mountford, published by the Industrial Railway Society at £29.95. A fascinating, wide-ranging and detailed account of a little-known subject. A true labour of love. Sorry, no award but it was a close thing!


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