Letters to the Editor

At 'Choice,' Digital Scholarship Gets Respect

July 04, 2010

To the Editor:

In response to Jennifer Howard's Hot Type column "No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No Respect" (The Chronicle, May 23), we point out that the monthly journal Choice has reviewed some 5,000 digital resources to date. Devoted to reviewing academic resources—print and digital—Choice is a publication of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, and has been publishing continuously since 1964.

Every month Choice publishes (in print and online) more than 600 brief critical reviews of scholarly resources—including (since 1997) Internet sites—for the benefit of librarians, faculty members, and students who make decisions about what to purchase or gain access to. In addition to reviews of digital resources, we offer a free monthly Internet-resources newsletter—available through Choice Reviews Online—that identifies new reviewers of Internet resources. And a listing of outstanding academic Web sites is forthcoming (August 2010 issue). Choice's Web site provides detailed information about Choice.

In the Chronicle column, Julia Flanders observes that reviews of digital scholarship should comment on four components that "contribute to the intellectual impact of the resource": content, digital tools, structure of data, and interface. Choice does that, as space permits (we allow 450 words for fee-based databases, 300 for free sites), and with skill. In response to our review of a Rotunda database, the Papers of George Washington, a representative of the University of Virginia Press extolled the Choice reviewer for truly understanding the project.

Choice reviewers are either teaching faculty members or librarians at academic institutions. Their mandate, in reviewing digital resources in particular, is to comment on appropriate user levels (from lower-division undergraduates to faculty and researchers); types of material included (books? government documents? audio/video?); scope; source; update frequency; dates covered; value-added features (search history, saving capability); navigation features; use of plug-ins or downloaded software programs; and the quality of visual images. A lot to cover in 300-450 words, but entirely doable—thanks in part to Choice's subject editors, who scrutinize every Internet review (against the site) and seek elaboration and clarification from reviewers when necessary.

Choice reviewers and editors bring skill and energy to the task because we are cognizant of the scholarly underpinning necessary for a Web site to be appropriate for academic use. We invite faculty members to sign up for a free trial of Choice Reviews Online, available through the Web site, and to take advantage particularly of our advanced search option. There one can limit searches in myriad ways—e.g., format (in this case Internet resources), readership level, interdisciplinary areas (e.g., gender, Native American, Islamic studies), Choice recommendation (five categories, from essential to not recommended). And at Choice Reviews Online one can find reviews of all of the specific digital resources mentioned or alluded to in Ms. Howard's article—Gutenberg-e, the Walt Whitman Archive, History Matters, various Rotunda databases, and the Women Writers Project.

Clearly, at Choice digital scholarship gets a lot of respect.

Rebecca Ann Bartlett
Carolyn Wilcox
Subject Editors
Middletown, Conn.