The world faces shortages of many things. Information is not one of them. The trick is how to find reliable, authoritative stuff you can really use when every Google search produces a year’s worth of reading. Oxford University Press has a new service that it says will help you swim through the sea of knowledge without drowning in it.
This week the press unveiled Oxford Bibliographies Online, which it describes as “your expert guide to the best available scholarship across the social sciences and humanities.” The beta version covers only four subject areas–classics, criminology, Islamic studies, and sociology–but several more are in the works.
“Each module is a dynamic bibliographic tool containing a hierarchical body of interwoven entries designed to help students and scholars move through the most important scholarship, commentary, and resources in a specific area of research,” the press says. Translation: Oxford has hired teams of expert scholarly editors to pull together what they consider essential/useful resources in their fields and to write introductions to each subject. It’s all peer-reviewed, too.
You can browse a list of topics within each discipline or search by phrase or keyword. Look up “Cicero” in the classics section and you find an overview/introduction by Catherine Steel, a professor of classics at the University of Glasgow. From there you can click through to material about Cicero-related topics, e.g. the Ciceronian textual and editorial tradition, the Roman statesman’s speeches, letters and other works, translations, and biographical and historical information. Or–caveat lector–you will be able to click through to all that good stuff once Oxford’s programmers get a few glitches worked out.
Reviewing Oxford Bibliographies Online, the Ars Technica blog described it as “the anti-Google.” It says, “Each entry is written by a scholar working in the relevant field and vetted by a peer review process. The idea is to alleviate the twin problems of Google-induced data overload, on the one hand, and Wikipedia-driven GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), on the other.”
Ah, but there is a catch. Expertise costs money, and publishers need something to sell. Unlike Wikipedia or Google, Oxford Bibliographies Online is not free. Subscription rates vary depending on whether you want an individual or an institutional subscription. How much will libraries and individual scholars decide Oxford-approved expertise is worth?—Jennifer Howard