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The How and Why of Reference Publishing

Author Karen Christensen
Track Free Knowledge and Access to Information
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Karen Christensen is cofounder and CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, a publisher known for specialty encyclopedias, where her primary responsibility is building relationships with experts and organizations around the world. She is also an expert on environmental issues and community building, and has served as academic editor of well-known reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Community: From the village to the virtual world (Sage 2003). She is the author of a number of popular environmental books, including The Armchair Environmentalist, which have been translated into French, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.

Karen is also coeditor on the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport (four volumes, 2005) and Global Perspectives on the United States (three volumes, forthcoming), and is working on a new interactive online edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. She is particularly interested in new technologies for social networking and will be speaking about social networking in China at the first Global Information Industry Summit in Amsterdam in September 2006.

This presentation forms part of the following panel:
A well-known Internet sociologist e-mailed me recently to ask why there is a glut of print encyclopedias. He'd been asked to edit two new ones that very week. Yet when I explain what I do at dinner parties, people often say, "You mean people are still publishing encyclopedias?" In spite of the Web and Wikipedia, some parts of the reference business are thriving. I'll try to explain why, and talk about what an encyclopedia publisher actually does and how I build relationships with experts in fields as diverse as world history, community, sustainability, and future studies. The creation of knowledge networks and tapping into international communities of experts is the key to building unique global resources, whether online or in print. I'll air some dirty laundry about reference publishing (many encyclopedias are not written by experts at all, and a surprising number are not fact-checked), and we'll discuss why and how Wikipedia is different from encyclopedias planned by a publisher and written by commissioned experts.
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