Book Review: The Web Library
The Web Library: Building a World Class Personal Library with Free Web Resources by Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo, Barbara Quint (ed.) Information Today Inc, 2004. ISBN 0-910965-67-6 Price £20.99
One question this book doesn't answer is how many hours the author spent researching it. From the point of view of the reader I can assure you that you can get lost in its richness and spend weeks investigating the sites and resources listed in it. Many people are sceptical about Web directories because they go out of date so readily but this issue has been addressed by the author as well through the companion Web site.
Whatever topic you think of, Nicholas Tomaiuolo has it covered - from scientific pre-prints and weblogs to breaking news, e-book, images, toolbars and plug-ins. The author's meticulous and intelligent approach answers a lot more questions than the titles of the chapters suggest. There is room for comment, jargon-busting asides, the occasional story and humour.
Although written by an academic librarian, this is not a book for librarians alone. Anybody interested in the Web will find it fascinating in its breadth of coverage. These are not common everyday sites that even librarians or addicted surfers already know. In fact the only complaints posted by Amazon reviewers about this book were to do with the fact that it kept disappearing from their desk at work.
What makes an otherwise daunting book to review, given its dense factual content, becomes enjoyable because of the interviews with professionals slotted in the appropriate sections. Just as questions about business models, viability of resources and copyright pop into your head, they are answered by exciting insights from an array of professionals ranging from the Smithsonian Institution to the Museum of Modern Art. There are interviews with a professional travel photographer, numerous Web library professionals and with my personal favourite, the founder of Project Gutenberg - Michael S Hart. His project is not guided by altruism he simply says. "I want the world this way". His vision of what is possible has made thousands of texts available to anyone connected to the Internet, and his ambition is to add 200 new titles every month during 2004. It is a metaphor for what drives free Web content.
At the end of each chapter there is an estimated saving from accessing resources on-line but also a little pointer to the intrinsic value of Web-based resources, listed under the heading 'priceless'. If you buy a copy of this book and use even a small fraction of the resources listed in it you will be saving more than money and shelf space, you will be saving hours of frustration trying to locate appropriate free or low-cost sites to answer your query.
The book is also well presented with numerous screen shots and comparison tables, clear page layout and a list of all the sites under appropriate headings as an appendix.
The author is realistic about what is missing from the Web and points to resources which for strong commercial reasons will never be available free, such as sensitive business information, copyrighted materials and today's edition of your favourite magazine in full. But there is so much out there for free already and the vastness of it is breathtaking.