LJ Talks Reference Awards with Librarian Sara Duff

Librarian Sara Duff, vice-chair of RUSA CODES and chair of Notable Books, shares her thoughts on RUSA’s reference committees.

Librarian Sara Duff (acquisitions and collection assessment, Univ. of Central Florida), vice-chair of RUSA CODES and chair of Notable Books, shares her thoughts on RUSA’s reference committees. Sara was a member of the Dartmouth Medal committee in 2016–18 and chair in 2018–20.

RUSA’s Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) supports two reference committees, Outstanding Reference Sources and the Dartmouth Medal committee. How do these committees understand reference and approach evaluation and selection?

The work of both the Outstanding Reference Sources and the Dartmouth Medal committees is rooted in a deep appreciation for reference books and materials. As a member and then chair of the Dartmouth Medal committee, I was struck by how we considered each work with care and reverence. A common refrain during our discussions was to remember that the [volume] in question may have been the culmination of a lifetime of study and work; considering the time the author poured into the work, it felt right to honor that with careful attention. Reference works can take years to come together, particularly if they are about topics that are new or have not been well documented.

What are the overarching criteria employed by these committees as they make their selections?

On the Dartmouth Medal committee, we weren’t necessarily concerned with whether a title would appeal to general audiences. The winner may not have been a highly circulating book, but it will be an important tool for the researcher who needs it. The Dartmouth Medal committee is particularly interested in books that address new subject areas or feature different angles or approaches. The committee also considers the resource’s basic usability. For example, is it laid out in a clear, logical fashion? Is the bibliography complete, or are the references/notes well documented?

Outstanding Reference Sources differs from the Dartmouth Medal committee in that this committee provides a selection list of notable reference titles for small and medium-sized college and public libraries. The annotated list can be used as a collection development tool and represents a broad range of titles and interests. That’s actually the wonderful thing about this list—as with other selection lists, there really is something for everyone.

What are some of your favorite reference works and why?

We’ve had some incredible works submitted to the Dartmouth committee! I particularly loved The Music of Central Asia, edited by Theodore Levin, Saida Daukeyeva, and Elmira Köchümkulova and published by Indiana University Press. Though it is only one volume, it is incredibly detailed and includes a website with video and audio examples (musicofcentralasia.org). I also loved the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, edited by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood and published by Bloomsbury Academic. This work features many beautiful photographs and is a joy to flip through.

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