Editorial January 2013
This issue of Choice contains the 49th edition of Choice’s popular annual feature, the Outstanding Academic Titles list. The 644 titles in this year’s list are members of an exclusive club, representing less than 9 percent of the titles reviewed by Choice in 2012, and less than 3 percent of the titles submitted. If your library is looking for a few good titles to add to the collection, the OAT list was compiled for you.
Now widely recognized, the OAT list entered the world with minimal fanfare in the April 1965 issue of Choice under the heading “Outstanding Books of the Year.” It was accompanied by a brief introduction, presented here in its minimalist entirety. “During the first year of publication CHOICE reviewed 3,397 books, considerably in excess of the 2,500 to 3,000 originally planned. Certain titles stood out as being of permanent value or of such topical importance that they belong in every academic library. The editors have selected 297 of these which they think no college library should overlook, although it should be emphasized this is a suggested and by no means a definitive list. All of these titles are from Vol. 1 of Choice (March 1964-February 1965).” (Choice, April 1965, Volume 2 Number 2, page 77.)
The second list, published in May 1966, appeared under the heading Outstanding Academic Books (OAB). This is the name by which it was known until January 2001, when it became the Outstanding Academic Titles (OAT) list, reflecting the addition of electronic resources to the mix.
Over the years the OAB/OAT list has become an established feature of the academic landscape while simultaneously becoming ever more selective. In the introduction to the May 1966 list, which included 443 titles, the editors noted, “As is well-known, there were 28,595 titles published in the U.S. during 1965, only a .5 percent increase over 1964 (Publishers Weekly, January 17. 1966). Obviously, librarians need to take a hard, informed look at this conglomeration of mere penmanship and good or creative writing in order to maintain quality.” (CHOICE, May 1966, Volume 3 Number 3, page 185.)
The 1965 OAB list was nothing if not the product of a clearly warranted “hard, informed look.” Its 443 titles represented a mere 1.55 percent of the 28,595 new titles published in the US that year. As with its predecessor, the 1965 list consisted entirely of high-quality titles spanning the entire undergraduate arts and sciences curriculum, all carefully selected by the Choice editors from among a much larger and unwieldy universe of new materials. It is easy to understand why collection development librarians quickly found such a list invaluable.
And now fast forward to today’s publishing scene, in which the 600 books on the 2011 OAT list represented a miniscule 0.17 percent of the estimated 347,148 new book titles published in the US that year, the last year for which complete figures are available. (Bowker press release, “Publishing Market Shows Steady Title Growth in 2011…,” June 5, 2012.) Where might an overworked collection development librarian in search of a few good titles turn for help amid such a tidal wave of new materials? For one suggestion, click here.