On Being the Philosophy Subject Editor for Resources for College Libraries

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2009, Vol.33, No. 1

Resources for College Libraries (RCL) is a successor to, rather than a new edition of, Books for College Libraries, 3rd ed. (1988), reflecting in part the changes in publishing that have taken place since the publication of the earlier work (e.g. the greater prominence of electronic formats) and in part changes in the undergraduate curricula. Like BCL, it provides a list of titles that are considered essential to libraries supporting undergraduate programs. Unlike BCL, which was available only in print and revised twice since the first edition in 1967, the electronic version of RCL is revised quarterly, while the print version is revised annually.

RCL uses a team of 60 subject editors who make final determinations regarding content. In addition to subject editors, RCL uses about 220 bibliographers who are recruited by the subject editors and do the selecting for specific sections within each discipline. Finally, RCL uses a pool of referees who provided feedback to the subject editors prior to the first publication and who continue to do so for later revisions. As the subject editor for Philosophy, I decided early on to do most of the selecting for that discipline myself. This allows me to be directly engaged in selection decisions and to heighten my reflective awareness of the publications essential to undergraduate programs in Philosophy.

In the early stages of the project, subject editors were put in charge of replacing LC, which was the organizing system for BCL, with taxonomies that are intuitive to students and teachers of undergraduate courses as well as to librarians. In constructing the taxonomy for Philosophy, the determination of the boundaries between Philosophy and other disciplines was sometimes difficult. Many (perhaps most) disciplines have a “philosophy of” component. Using the undergraduate curriculum as a guide, I included such material under Philosophy if it typically gets taught in a Philosophy Department.

By that criterion, the Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Psychology, and Political and Social Philosophy were included, whereas the Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Culture, and Philosophy of Health were not. Clearly some subjects, though, such as Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Law, Environmental Philosophy, and even Political and Social Philosophy, get taught in more than one department, which is where the difficulty arises. In fact, the problem of overlapping boundaries occurs in a number of areas of RCL due to the new emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, which were not reflected in BCL. As a result, titles that are covered by different disciplines may be listed more than once in the database or print version.

Apart from the difference in subject organization, both the replacement of old and out of print titles with newer publications and editions, and the inclusion of electronic resources have meant that, on average, about 10% of the BCL3 titles were retained in RCL (the figure is close to 15% for Philosophy) and the total number of titles has gone from 49,662 in BCL3 to about 65,000 in RCL.

In the early days of the project, the project editor scheduled formal meetings at ALA with subject editors and set up a Yahoo Group for meeting virtually. This was later replaced by an ALA discussion list. These meetings involved (and still do) information sharing and discussion. They felt like an extension of WESS meetings; a number of the RCL subject editors are in fact members of WESS. The level of participation at these meetings, which at ALA are now more like informal social events, has tapered off, but the spirit of collaboration on a well-managed project, with a community of subject specialists outside the workplace, is still present.

Blake Landor