November 2013 Editorial

The Core Mission, Reimagined

Photograph of Mark Cummings

Marcus Aurelius admonishes us (most recently by way of Anthony Hopkins) to ask of each thing, What is it in itself?  Because the definition of Choice’s core identity, its mission, is important in shaping our vision of the future, I recently spent some time reading early issues of the magazine in the hope of learning our founding editors’ thoughts on the matter.  The selection of current titles was, of course, foremost, but these same issues offer ample suggestion of a mission more expansively conceived, particularly in the many introductory essays concerned with “basic lists” and bibliographical guides.  Reviewing the literature in the social and behavioral sciences in the April 1966 issue, for instance, Kenneth Kister focused on the critical role of bibliographic scaffolding for navigating the “paper jungle”(!) of publishing.  Earlier still, a series of articles in our very first year of publication surveyed bibliographical resources in various academic disciplines.

It is difficult to say exactly when these less formal discussions became the full-fledged bibliographic essays of today’s issues, but it is clear that an attention to bibliographic rigor was viewed from the outset as integral to the mission of Choice.  This concern remains central to our identity even now, especially now, as Kister’s paper jungle gives way to Borges’s library of Babel.

Like their predecessors, today’s bibliographical essays offer a window into Choice’s core aim, shaped by a set of guidelines designed to help librarians make informed choices about their collections as a whole.  First and foremost, we stipulate that the essay be both descriptive and evaluative.  We ask that authors establish a historical and interdisciplinary context; discuss prominent scholarship in the field; and survey important scholarly trends, “focusing on distinctive methodologies and provocative departures from disciplinary trends in [their] field.”  And we stipulate that each work cited be annotated.  After all, a bibliography is not a playlist.

Not surprisingly, the contemporary essays also reflect the diversity and complexity of modern culture and scholarship.  Gone are the sweeping attempts to survey the literature of an entire discipline; indeed, the scope of these essays suggests that the very taxonomy of the traditional academic disciplines is under stress.  The multidisciplinary richness of contemporary scholarship can be glimpsed simply by reviewing the astonishing list of subjects covered in our essays over the past decade.  “A Cosmogony for the Twenty-First Century,” “Social and Cultural Histories of Crime and Criminality,” “Food Studies: A Multidisciplinary Guide to the Literature,” “A Parliament of URLs: Medieval Resources on the Web,” “Alchemical Histories: Understanding Contemporary Conservatism in the United States,” these are only a few of the 110 such essays, eleven each year, we have published during that period.

In essence, the “thing in itself” revealed in our bibliographic essays—the core mission of Choice—is not simply the selection of titles but a concern for a family of related concepts: content curation, taxonomy, metadata, and collection management.  Our Books for College Libraries and its modern successor, Resources for College Libraries, are logical outgrowths of this concern, and as we look toward new publishing horizons, these are the competencies we shall draw upon in the initiatives to come.—MC