The OBO tool is essentially a straightforward, hyperlinked collection of professionally-produced, peer-reviewed bibliographies in different subject areas—sort of a giant, interactive syllabus put together by OUP and teams of scholars in different disciplines. Users can drill down to a specific bibliographic entry, which contains some descriptive text and a list of references that link to either Google Books or to a subscribing library’s own catalog entries, by either browsing or searching. Each entry is written by a scholar working in the relevant field and vetted by a peer review process. The idea is to alleviate the twin problems of Google-induced data overload, on the one hand, and Wikipedia-driven GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), on the other.
“We did about 18 months of pretty intensive research with scholars and students and librarians to explore how their research practices were changing with the proliferation of online sources,” Damon Zucca, OUP’s Executive Editor, Reference, told Ars. “The one thing we heard over and over again is that people were drowning in scholarly information, and drowning in information in general. So it takes twice as much time for people to begin their research.”
OBO grew out of that research, with the goal of helping scholars and students deal with information overload, possibly by skipping Google entirely. The resulting bibliography is fairly simple and lean, which is exactly the point. The messy and often politicized work of sorting and sifting the information has already been done for users, so that they can drill down directly to a list of the main publications in their target area.
“You can’t come up with a search filter that solves the problem of information overload,” Zucca told Ars. OUP is betting that the solution to the problem lies in content, which is its area of expertise, and not in technology, which is Google’s and Microsoft’s.
To trust OBO’s content, you have to trust its selection and vetting process. To that end, OUP is making the list of contributing scholars and editors freely available. Each subject area has an Editor in Chief who’s a top scholar in the field, and an editorial board of around 15 to 20 scholars. The EIC and editorial board either write the bibliographic entries themselves, or they select other scholars to do the work.
The launch version of OBO covers only four subject areas: Classics, Islamic Studies, Social Work and Criminology. But OUP has plans to add 10-12 new subject areas (known as modules) within the next year. Each subject area contains between 50 and 100 individual entries, and that number should grow at the rate of about 50 to 75 entries per year.
And the cost of all this peer-reviewed quality? Why $29.95 a month or $295.00 a year