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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
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In January of this year, the Dartmouth Medal was awarded to the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion (Oxford) and its companion database, Berg Fashion Library. The American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association, which selects the winner, noted the project’s “extensive and outstanding multidisciplinary coverage of dress, fashion and its impact on society” and also that the encyclopedia is a “landmark of scholarship that is complemented and updated by the database’s content, including e-books, color images, and articles.”
Berg Fashion Library also received the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair Digital Award. The judges commented on its ambition and good sales figures. They “hailed the breadth of digital innovation” and called the database “an amazing project that has been carefully developed and beautifully executed and will be used for a very long time in its market.” Most recently, the database received the Bookseller’s FutureBook Digital Innovation Award for Best Website, 2011. Berg Fashion Library was praised as “an incredibly ambitious project in terms of output and business model, with a highly successful and beautifully produced result.”
Small Publisher, Big Plans
Founded in Oxford, England, in 1982, Berg has always been an academic publisher concentrating on books and periodicals in the areas of fashion design, social anthropology, cultural studies, and history. In 1998, Kathryn Earle joined Berg as managing director, and in 2002, with a group of private investors, bought out the company. The idea for Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion began with Sylvia Miller, who was publishing director of Routledge Reference. When Routledge dropped the project, Earle and editor Joanne Eicher (Regents’ Professor Emerita, University of Minnesota) picked up where Routledge left off. At that time, in 2003, Berg was a small publisher that employed only 13 people, had no experience in reference publishing, and had never produced an electronic database. But Earle, Eicher, and the volume editors all had a vision and were determined to see the project succeed.
During a five-year development period, three business plans were written, resulting in shareholder and bank support. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC liked one of the plans and bought Berg in 2008. (Although the company will move from Oxford to Bloomsbury’s offices in London, Berg’s name and imprint will be preserved.) Berg Fashion Library, which was developed by iFactory of Boston, is marketed by Oxford University Press worldwide, and Oxford is the imprint for the print encyclopedia in the U.S.
Putting It Together
The 10-volume Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion was published in July 2010, with the online version following in September. Despite Berg’s small size, the statistics for the project are impressive: 3.6 million words, 866 articles, and 2,000 images in the print version. In addition, the online database includes 60 e-books (approximately 5 million words), two reference sources (A–Z of Fashion and Dictionary of Fashion History), and currently 1,600 museum images from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s fashion collection.
Editor-in-chief Eicher is an expert in the anthropology of dress and African textiles. She chose the editors for 8 volumes and edited the first and last volumes (Africa and Global Perspectives, respectively). The volume editors chose the contributors for their areas. Many of the contributors are “local scholars” who have conducted primary research in their specific parts of the world. The topics in each volume were selected by the individual editors and reviewed by Eicher and the publisher. An example of the wide variety of articles with current interest is a comprehensive review of fashion in Libya. Colonel Gadhafi’s bodyguards are well-trained women (who supposedly are virgins) and wear stylish uniforms with fringed epaulettes, fatigues with pleated pants, and black boots.
A number of the articles utilize primary research. A fascinating article in volume 1 (Africa) is entitled “Miss Zahui and Tapa.” Zahui, a self-made fashion designer in Cote d’Ivoire, is credited with using tapa, a fabric made from the bark of the tapa tree. A parallel article in volume 3 (U.S. and Canada) describes the career of designer and researcher Pamela Baker, whose heritage is of First Nations in northwest Canada. New and unpublished research is also part of the encyclopedia and database. A notable example is a long article in volume 10 (Global Perspectives) on “Virtual Worlds.” This appears to be the first comprehensive summary on “immersive environments,” in which fashion and dress may play a major role. Another example of new research is “The Erotic in Indian Dress,” in volume 4 (South Asia and Southeast Asia).
What Comes Next
Although at this time there are no plans to update the print encyclopedia, Berg has big plans for the Berg Fashion Library. The first update went live in March and includes 600 images from the Mode Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, and 230 sample images from the London College of Fashion, Bata Show Museum, and the museum at the SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology. There are also links to three Berg journals: Fashion Theory, Fashion Practice, and Textile. (Abstracts will be provided on the site, but only subscribers to the journals may access the full text.) In a second update in 2011, several articles will be revised, among them “Black Leather Jacket,” “Global Denim,” and “Hair.” Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Collection will be loaded starting this year.
In a world of fewer new reference sources either in print or online, the hard work, will, and determination of Berg have come to fruition in an exciting new resource. Congratulations to the little company that could, and especially the forces who made it happen, Kathryn Earle and Joanne Eicher.
Christine Bulson is Librarian Emeritus, SUNY Oneonta, New York.
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