Information Services Group Reference Awards 2015

Amanda Duffy, Chair Awards Panel

The Reference Awards started in 1970, funded by the then Library Association with expertise provided by members of the Reference and Information Services Section (ISG’s predecessor).   Over the years many well-known librarians have been members of the judging panel but only one, Charles Toase, has remained on the panel and contributed the most.

We were very sad then when he had to resign this year because of health problems. He brought to the judging panel the immense amount of knowledge he had of all kinds of reference works – from the multi-volumes from well-known publishers to slim volumes privately printed. He gave his opinion of nominated titles in a quiet, careful manner but always backed by considerable expertise and sound experience. He could tell us when something was original, when it was based on good research and when the contents were accurate and knowledgeable. He also kept us on the straight and narrow as regards works claiming to be new when in fact they were revamped editions of earlier titles and also on the authority, or not, of the authors.

Many of you know Charles from his writings, especially his long-running column in ReferReference Books You May have Missed.   Today it is you we miss on the judging panel Charles – a sincere thank you from us all.

The judging day this year was very busy, very challenging and very enjoyable for all concerned. And my thanks to the members of the panel for their commitment and enthusiasm.

The call for nominations for the ISG Reference Award asks for titles 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 2015 Awards, works had to be published between 1st January and 31st December 2014. They can be in print or electronic format.

Once again the titles we had for consideration covered a wide range of subjects, sizes and formats.   But without too much trouble we came to our decision for Commended, Highly Commended and Winner.


Darwin Online is a freely accessible website containing the complete print and manuscript works of Charles Darwin. In addition it includes the largest bibliographical list of Darwin’s publications and the largest union catalogue of Darwin papers and manuscripts worldwide. The site also provides an extensive collection of related materials such as reviews of Darwin’s books, descriptions of his Beagle specimens, obituaries and recollections and works cited or read by Darwin. There is also a general history and commentary—some from published sources and some prepared for the project. There’s even a section on Darwin on postage stamps.

The site contains at least one copy of all known Darwin publications, both as searchable text (98,000 pages) and full colour images (80,000 images). Most of this material was not previously available on the internet – and definitely not brought together in one place. New items are still being found and added. There is an impressive international range of contributors.

The site is open access and free of charge. The pages are clear and uncluttered with a beautiful front page. There is a good search engine with advanced search capabilities. The site has already been accessed over 3 million times with 400 million hits since 2006.

The project was privately funded by the founder and Director, John van Wyhe, from 2002-5. From 2005-8 the project was sponsored by the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is now supported by private donation.

Darwin Online at is COMMENDED in the 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.


From the concerns of the nineteenth century we move right into the twenty-first century with the Oxford Arabic Dictionary. This work supplants all earlier Arabic/English, English/Arabic dictionaries both in its comprehensive coverage and its use for the modern day.

Based on real modern evidence and computational analysis of hundreds of millions of words of both English and Modern Standard Arabic (the standardized variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech), the dictionary boasts more than 130,000 words and phrases and 200,000 translations. To show how up-to-date it is, we found the Arabic for cyberspace, drone and hacker.

The layout is brilliantly clear; it is spacious and employs a very effective use of bold text. The most commonly used sense of each word is shown first and then real-life example phrases follow; these includes lines such as ‘I’m doing the ironing’ and ‘I’ve gone off coffee’. There are extensive sections explaining the layout of entries, plus tables of Arabic verb conjugations and lists of English irregular verbs.

It’s a big book but very robust with a sturdy binding for a long shelf life. With the importance of all things Arabic in the world today, this work should be on the shelves of all reference libraries. At £65 it represents excellent value for money.

The Oxford Arabic Dictionary is HIGHLY COMMENDED in the 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.


Guidebooks to the World War One battlefields made an appearance soon after that war to assist people with their travel arrangements, accommodation and to tell them what there was to see in the ravaged landscapes of the Western Front. Interest from both armchair historians and visitors in these areas has intensified in recent years. There are many books on this subject but those produced by Tonie and Valmai Holt are leaders in terms of quality and depth of information. Major & Mrs. Holt’s Concise Illustrated Battlefield Guide – The Western Front – North is just one superb example.

The book can be read as a continuous read or an en-route guide.   After a brief introduction setting out the events leading up to the outbreak of World War I, we go straight into the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914.   For each battle over the next four years there is an overall summary, opening moves and then description of what happened. This is followed by high quality maps showing clearly the progress of events. We then begin the tour of the relevant sites – comprehensive, clear and thorough directions complete with GPS co-ordinates. At the end of the book there is a mass of information for the tourist on where to stay and where to eat. There are also numerous useful and well organised indexes and even a Stop Press for the latest changes and details of centenary websites.

The panel were impressed by the amount of information to be found and that it was not only very accessible but extremely well organised. There were many illustrations and photographs and the coloured maps were described by one panel member as ‘lovely’.

The authors have a long pedigree for producing works of reference that are authoritative, based on unique research and yet very practical and accessible. This is a sturdy book and of a suitable size for the traveller. For the amount of information it contains, it could not be beaten on value for money.

Major & Mrs. Holt’s Concise Illustrated Battlefield Guide – The Western Front – North, published by Pen and Sword Military at £13.50 is the WINNER of 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

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