03 February 2009

Intrepid Times Reporter Braves H.W. Wilson's Web

In "To the Lighthouse of Periodical Literature", NY Times City Room reporter Corey Kilgannon infiltrates H.W. Wilson's venerable Bronx fortress, but is denied entry to its roof-topping lighthouse. I'm a great fan of this type of urban exploration article and applaud Mr. Kilgannon for his bibliophilic investigative choice and his entertaining writing style.

Did you sense a "but" coming? Here it is. I've heard from former Wilson employees that its offices are, indeed, stuck in a time warp. Kilgannon's description of Wilson publications reflects this old timey notion, only briefly touching on the company's e-resources and never once mentioning WilsonWeb by name:
In short, the company puts out the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, the once-familiar thick green books some older readers may have used at the library to find magazine articles, pre-Internet. Mr. Daly said the company still prints the books, and a good deal of other indexing and reference material, although most contents are also published electronically.
He later describes a "warehouse-looking floor which contained pallets holding shrink-wrapped stacks of books". Although this backward-looking -- dare I say, retrospective? -- approach serves the article's purpose, it doesn't reflect accurately on 21st century indexing and abstracting services. On the other hand, H.W. Wilson is a safe distance from the cutting edge....

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