Materials you are considering for purchase. It is difficult to evaluate a resource in any format (print, CD-ROM or DVD) if you canít actually see it. You will want to know something about its accuracy, currency, authority, and, for books, the general look and feel. Here are some options for getting that information:
Flyers and catalogs: Chances are good that you get untold stacks of promotional material from various publishers. These are good sources of information for finding out what is being published and even what the content is. Sometimes a sample page or table of contents is included. However, remember that these are sales brochures first of all, and the intent is to get you to buy their products. Therefore, while you can learn a lot about the material from these brochures, donít purchase materials based solely on the recommendation of the publisher.
Bookstores and larger libraries: If you live near a large community, or if you get a chance to visit one occasionally, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to examine the reference sections at bookstores and libraries. You can examine items that may have piqued your interest because you have seen the flyers. You can also compare similar sources such as dictionaries, thesauri, or atlases, or resources on any subject that is lacking in your library. And remember that you can always consult your colleagues, ask them what resources they use and find helpful.
Exhibits: Probably the best opportunity in Idaho to see exhibits is to attend the Idaho Library Association conferences. Vendors, including publishers and distributors, display a variety of resources, both print and electronic. You can examine the books, try out the electronic products, and ask questions of the representatives. Developing good relationships with vendors of reliable publishers can be an effective way to build your collection. An honest vendor wants to earn your trust and will try to help you purchase materials appropriate to your collection. Beware the salesperson, in person or by phone, who tries to sell to you before listening to your needs.
Reviews: Book (and other product) reviews are essential when making purchase decisions. Some of the best review sources are the journals Booklist, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book (for childrenís books), and Choice (for more scholarly works). All these journals except for Choice appear in full text in EBSCOís Academic Premier, one of the LiLI databases. (Some of these journals will be discussed in subsequent sections.) The descriptions of materials you find in Publishers Weekly (also in EBSCO in full text) are not critical reviews because they come from the publishers themselves. Some library journals contain few or no reviews; a good example is American Libraries, an American Library Association publication with news, feature articles, and ads for job openings.
If you are evaluating print and electronic reference materials for possible purchase, be cautious. Look for errors. Ask yourself: What will this resource add to our collection? Is it written at a level appropriate for our needs? What does it contain that is not found in other sources?
In the following sections we will present criteria for evaluating reference sources. After the self-evaluation is a discussion of general criteria for all formats, an explanation of the parts of a book, and then a discussion of criteria for specific formats, print and electronic.
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