vol. 26 no. 3, September, 2021

Book Reviews

McLeish, Simon (ed.).Resource discovery for the twenty-first century library: Case studies and perspectives on the role of IT in user engagement and empowerment. London: Facet Publishing, 2020. xxxii, 203 p. ISBN 978-1-78330-138-6. £64.95.

It took some time for me to read through the book that would have been at the core of my research and teaching activities at the start of the career. It is written by eighteen international experts, academics, information professionals, and consultants who have submitted twelve chapters on various aspects of discovery systems. The delay in sitting down with it on my lap was caused by all kinds of dealings with people and I somehow suspected that these will be absent from the book about innovations in search technologies. I was wrong to some extent. First of all, one needs to note the energy levels generated by the collaborators on this book. The overall impression from it is a high level of professional commitment, interest in various discovery systems and their output, benefit they bring to people, optimism and even humour. So, most of the authors' presence is felt in the book.

As is usual to the collections of chapters they are of different nature and though devoted to the same topic take rather different, sometimes quite distant approaches and discuss a variety of topics. Some of them are very general and reflect on the possibilities of Google, linked data or the semantic web in discovery systems as introductions to the topic, so one wonders why they are not placed at the beginning of the book. Others present case studies of a particular libraries or activities of information resource producers of rather different nature. There are presentations of a linked data project in the National Library of Singapore, innovations in discovery systems by the IEEE, but also investigation of user needs at the University of Oxford involving actual users of discovery systems and other interested parties, and a case of Blacklight as an open source tool used in discovery at the University of Hull. Thus, one can see that people as users of discovery systems are rarely met openly (except in the University of Oxford investigation), though they are a constant latent presence in most of the chapters.

In short, I thought that the book has succeeded in pulling together different threads important for resource discovery, such as modern acquisition modes, resource ownership, catalogues and other discovery tools, users of libraries, contributions of academics, publishers, technology developers and librarians to the present day situation of resource discovery in very developed countries. It could have been more coherent, but I appreciate the difficulties in structuring such collections logically.

The Foreword for the book is written by Lorcan Dempsey and most probably his lively style can explain the impression of energy that I had from the book—he sets a certain mood for the whole reading experience. In his Foreword he suggests that at present we can identify two trajectories in the ongoing discussion: the peeling away of library discovery from the local collection and the peeling away of library discovery from the local audience (p. xxii). It is an interesting observation, especially if we contrast it with the statement by McLeash in the Introduction to the book stating that successful discovery rests on the following:

  1. Understand your resources.
  2. Understand those who might wish to use these resources. (p. 2)

It prompts that actually the discussion of effective discovery systems incorporating all kinds of new possibilities become both very general and overarching and at the same time very specific and targeted. There are technologies that can cater to both possibilities if we know what to use when for what and for who.

I also have enjoyed the final chapter of the book presenting a variety of future scenarios invented by W. Horstmann, D. De Roure and S. McLeash. First they have presented two future possibilities of an open academic environment (good) and a closed one (bad). As I have worked with several future scenarios myself, I tend to know that in both cases there are negative and positive sides, especially for people. The fact that they were so strictly opposed may be one of the reasons that all of the presented scenarios are slightly nightmarish, even those that should be inspiring confidence in the future. Nevertheles s, they were fun to read and to argue in my head with their respective creators.

I am sure that most academic librarians would be a direct audience interested in this collection of chapters. Another possible public for different chapters may include students and their teachers looking for interesting and up-to-date teaching and learning material.

Elena Maceviciute

University of Borås
March, 2021

How to cite this review

Maceviciute, E. (2021). Review of: McLeish, Simon (ed.).Resource discovery for the twenty-first century library: case studies and perspectives on the role of IT in user engagement and empowerment London: Facet Publishing, 2020. Information Research, 26(3), review no. R724 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs724.html]

Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.