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Michael Bemis's picture

Reference Book Reviewing Checklist



Prepared by Mike Bemis, MLIS

With the assistance of the RUSA CODES Materials Reviewing Committee


Last Revision: January, 2010



TITLE OF BOOK: __________________________________________________________________________


REVIEW FOR: ____________________________________________________________________________


DEADLINE: ______________________________________________________________________________






I.  Authority (trustworthiness).


            A.  Credentials of author/editor (check author info blurb in book, C.V. search online)


                        1.  Education level (Ph.D. is preferred, since emphasis is on scholarship)


  1. Field of study, name of institution and year of graduation


                        2.  Publication history


  1. Other works regarding topic or similar subject as book under review


  1. Awards or other recognition for previously published works


3.  Membership/leadership in professional organizations


4.  Experience/employment (college professor, writer, independent scholar, etc.)


5. Basic question to be answered: how well suited is this person to be responsible for book

     under review?  


            B.  Credentials of contributors


                        1.  Contributors list (names of writers of individual entries, their affiliations, etc.)


            C.  Reputation of publisher and/or sponsoring agency (if any)


  1. Brief note about history of company


  1. Award winning titles of the past


  1. Subject specialty, if any



D.  Preface/Introduction


                        1.  Rationale for producing this work


                        2.  Product is in line with stated objectives


            E.  Currency (up-to-dateness)


                        1.  Bibliography/Further Reading List contains recent titles


2.  Note if title is a revision of a previous work.  Compare representative entries for  

     amount/extent of new material.  If longstanding work, are new editions produced at regular 



            F.  Sources


  1.  Where did information come from? How was it obtained?


  1. Original research?


  1. Rehash of other reference works?


  1. Reliance on experts or other outside contributors?



II.  Scope (breadth of coverage).


            A.  Number of entries


            B.  Length of entries


            C.  Number of volumes


            D.  Number of pages per volume


            E.  Range of material presented (variety of topics)


                        1.  Discuss overall theme or core subject matter; give examples by citing specific entries



III.  Analysis (depth of coverage)


            A.  Journalism's famous five W's: who, what, where, when, why


            B.  Mere listing of facts or emphasis on interpretation and significance of material presented?


            C.  Essential question: what does it all mean?






IV.  Treatment (technique and handling).


            A.  Facts listed are accurate and complete


            B.  Writing is objective (lack of bias)


            C.  Style and level of writing


                        1.  Target audience: adult or child, scholar or layman, etc.


                        2.  General readability of text: concise or verbose, jargon vs. plain English



V.  Organization (arrangement; order of material).


            A.  Alphabetical, chronological, topical, etc.


            B.  Access points (table of contents, indexes, cross-references, etc.)



VI.  Format (physical attributes).


            A.  Page size


            B.  Type of paper (plain or coated, opacity, general quality, etc.)


            C.  Binding (hardcover or paperback, pages glued or stitched, etc.)


            D.  Layout (white space, type size, font, etc.)


            E.  Illustrations (photographs/maps/tables/charts; also, number, size, b/w or color, etc.)


            F.  Note whether or not book is available in other versions (e-book, electronic database, etc.)



VII.  Special Features (distinctive aspects).


            A.  Check for and make note of additions or extras that add value to work, such as: appendixes,                                            bibliography, user's guide, timeline or chronology, etc.



VIII.  Summation/Conclusion.


            A.  Comparison to similar volume(s)/set(s).  Note whether this is a unique work.  If similar titles exist, note amount of overlap/duplication and relative merits for each.  Give full bibliographic information for other books cited in review.


            B.  Suitability of book for acquisition - make recommendation for purchase or not.  If affirmative, list types of libraries/collections for which work would be most appropriate.  







  1. Organize the review into three distinct sections:


            A.  Citation of work under review, giving full bibliographic information.  Example:

                        Chronology of American History. By John C. Fredriksen. Facts on File Library of American

                        History. New York: Facts on File, 2008. 4 vols. alkaline $350 (ISBN 978-0-8160-6800-5).


            B. The review itself.


            C. Reviewer name, job title, affiliation. Example:

                        Robert B. Example

                        Assistant Librarian

                        Anywhere Public Library

                        Anywhere, Minnesota


D. Pay attention to the specified word count for the publication in question



  1. Comparison and Correlation


A.  Check for similar titles from other publishers by using following resources:


1.      American Reference Books Annual (ARBA) – five or six most recent editions

2.      ALA Guide to Reference Books (no longer in print – online version only)

3.      Walford’s Guide to Reference Material

4.      Books in Print

5.      Worldcat Online


B. Comment on relative strengths and weaknesses regarding said similar titles, any overlap of material 

      between the other(s) and if one title is to be preferred over the other(s)


  1. Style and Usage


  1. Consult Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, for questions regarding grammar