3. The Parts of a Book
An understanding of the
parts of a book and the purpose of each of these parts can be a helpful
background to a discussion of the specific criteria for evaluating reference
books. This section will present the parts of a book and the next section will
discuss criteria for evaluating reference books.
– This is the person responsible for the contents of the book and whose name
appears on the “title page.” Sometimes there is an editor or compiler
instead of an author, and sometimes the “author” is an agency or other
group. In evaluating a reference book, you can ask yourself if you are
familiar with the author’s name and if that person is an authority in the
field. For example, a book on astronomy by Carl Sagan would appear to be
written by an expert in that subject.
– Titles often can be very descriptive and tell you quite a bit about the
book. Subtitles are especially helpful in this regard. The title,
Best Encyclopedias: A Guide to General and Specialized Encyclopedias,
leaves little doubt about the contents of that book. Not all titles are so
helpful, but many can be good clues. Sometimes the title on the spine of the
book (back edge) is not the same as the one on the title page. That is the
page near the front of the book that has both the title and author, and often
the publisher and place of publication. If you need to know the
"official" title of a book, check the title page. That is the page near
the front of the book that has both the title and author, and often the
publisher and place of publication. In the World Almanac, for
example, the title page is the very first page of the book.
– In a set of several books, each will have its own volume number or letter.
– All copies of a book printed from a set of plates makes up an edition. If
additional copies are printed from the same plates, the book has been
re-issued. But if any changes are made in the book, either bringing it
up-to-date or adding material, it is called a new, revised or second (or
later) edition. As a general rule, using the latest available edition
provides better and more updated material, so it’s wise to check the edition
you are using.
– A series is a number of separate works, which are related to each other in
some way and are issued in succession, normally by the publisher and often in
uniform style with a collective title. Be careful not to confuse the series
title and the book title. A time-Life Book series is The Old West, and
the title of one of the volumes in the series is The Cowboys. Boise State University publishes the Western
Writers Series, and each title refers to an individual author (e.g., Vardis Fisher, Mary Hallock Foote).
- Place of Publication
– The place of publication usually appears on the title page, but sometimes
it is on the “verso” or back of the title page. This can be significant if,
for example, you have a book on gardening and it was published in England.
You might be alert to advice that does not apply to the climate of Idaho.
- Publisher’s Name
– This is usually found on the title page. Like authors, publishers gain
good or bad reputations. For example, Merriam-Webster’s name as a dictionary
publisher generally assures a high quality product.
- Date of Publication
– The copyright date can appear on the title page or on the verso of the
title page. This is one of the most important things to note about a
reference book. Is the material still current?
- Foreword or Preface
– In the foreword or preface, the author states the purpose for writing the
book and expresses thanks to those who assisted in the writing. Knowing the
purpose of the book gives you a good sense of the kinds of questions you will
be able to answer with the book and the kinds of things you won’t expect to
find there. The foreword helps you determine the scope of the book.
- Introduction or
Instructions for Use – This
differs from the preface in that it is about the subject of the book. This
is a crucial part of a reference book. It often gives you instructions you
need to understand how the book works. When you pick up a reference book for
the first time, read the introduction!
- Table of Contents
– This gives a list of the chapters or parts of a book. You can tell at a
glance what material is covered in the book and the order in which it is
presented. Reading the Table of Contents can give you a quick overview of
the book and what it can do for you.
– This is the main body of the book. Check for the arrangement of the book.
Is it alphabetical? Chronological? Is it arranged by subject? What
information is included for each entry?
– This is supplementary or added material that cannot easily be introduced
into the text. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the material in the
appendix since some of the most helpful information is often found there.
– This is a list of unusual, technical, or obsolete terms with definitions or
explanations. It is usually found in the back of a book.
– This is an alphabetical list of topics, names, etc, in a book or group of
books, with references to pages or item numbers where they occur. An index
is to a book what a card catalog is to a library. It lets you locate the
needed information. Try to get in the habit of checking indexes. In an
encyclopedia, for example, while there may be a major article on Idaho, by
checking the index you may also find relevant information on Idaho included
in articles on other topics, such as “Basques” or “Salmon River”.
Our thanks to the Ohio Library Council for granting us permission to use
Module 5, Book Examination Checklist from the Ohio Reference Excellence
Web-based Training (ORE on the WEB),
Now that you have been
introduced to the terms for parts of a book, we are ready to begin the process
of evaluating a reference book.
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