Duck Duck Book

17 – encyclopedia of the stateless
05.3.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: social sciences

Encyclopedia of the stateless nations : ethnic and national groups around the world / James Minahan.
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2002.
[MCL call number: R-320.5403 M663e 2002, one copy reference only at Central Library]

I think if you understand what makes reference books fascinating, you will begin to understand what makes many reference librarians tick. An abiding interest in reference materials is part of what drove me to begin this booklist, and the joy that I feel on learning of a new source that provides valuable information in a logical, useful arrangement — well, it is considerable.

When librarians go out to happy hour and make drunken conversation with each other, we often confess and discuss the reference books we have at home (more than one of my librarian friends, for example, has the full set of Library of Congress Subject Headings, four or five enormous red volumes — and I personally own the surprisingly useful Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1998). A good reference work has a perhaps odd combination of facts, figures, and opinions in a useful, accessible arrangement. Great breadth or perhaps great depth can be found there, but the really important part is that you can find what you’re looking for easily — the contents are arranged in a sensible order, the index is good, the appendixes compliment the main text, etc.

Maybe what makes a great reference book is just that when you need it, nothing else will do. In the first number of this booklist, I described a book that was nothing but a compilation of facsimiles of famous people’s death certificates (Celebrity Death Certificates, compiled by M.F. Steen; Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2003). It’s hard to imagine why anyone would need such a book, but my guess is that if you did, there would be no substitute.

Librarians need reference books desperately in our work — where else would we turn to find a list of all the banks headquartered in Oregon or a short analysis of the careers of each of the US presidents or a brief essay on where the wheelchair came from? Reference works are our meat and drink and take them seriously we must.

So when I was looking at the books in the 320 section (political science) of the reference area in the library a few weeks ago, I was pleased to see a reference set that was new to me, on an interesting topic. And when I took it down from the shelf and examined it a little, I was even more pleased. Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations is a well-conceived reference guide to a subject that is often ignored elsewhere: cohesive national and ethnic groups that are without nations or significant self-determination.

Minahan used three criteria to determine whether to include a national group in the book: self-identity as a distinctive group, the display of the outward trappings of national consciousness (the prime example being a national flag), and existence of a specifically nationalist organization or political grouping whose purpose is the furtherance of self-determination.

The book’s four volumes contain entries for stateless nations arranged alphabetically by their names in English. Each nation’s entry discusses its population, homeland, flag, people and culture, language and religion, and national history, and includes a short bibliography. National flags are reproduced, as are maps of homelands. The text is followed by two appendixes; one containing independence declarations, and another detailing the geographic distribution and national organizations of included national groups, arranged by nation. There is also an index.

And this is a book you should be glad to have the library buy for the good of the whole community — the publisher’s list price is $475.00, so it’s not really an affordable addition to the part of your book collection you talk about when you’re at happy hour with a bunch of librarians.


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