by Dave Chapman, Editor, Observer's Handbook
The Observer’s Handbook is one of Canada’s oldest scientific publications, having first appeared in 1907. It soon became a regular publication and now enjoys an annual print run of 8000 copies. The Handbook has earned a reputation as a solid reference for amateur and professional astronomers alike, even in this Internet age with information literally at our fingertips. As a benefit of membership, every RASC member receives a copy in the autumn of each year. To some, it is just another book, but to many, the receipt of a new edition of the Handbook is a happy day indeed.
The number of Handbook editors has been surprisingly few, as some served for many years, and I am only the seventh! Now we serve very sensible terms of five years. I feel that a tremendous legacy has been passed to me, and it is a huge responsibility, but I am encouraged by the support I have received from my fellow RASC members, including two previous editors who I count as my friends and who are less than one hour’s drive away. On top of that, over the Internet, there is a large and diverse team of contributors, copy editors, assistants, and proofreaders—all of us volunteers, by the way—who have been doing their jobs for a while, and for the most part know exactly what they have to do. Producing the Handbook every year is truly a community effort, and I am pleased to be a part of that community.
The labours of this large team frees the editor for other pursuits, such as deciding what content is appropriate, sometimes recruiting new contributors for new articles (or as replacements for those who have moved on), thinking about the direction of the publication, choosing cover illustrations, and so on. Apparently, the editor is also ultimately responsible for assembling the whole darn thing into a single document, a job that is supposed to be made easier by a computer software package. Last year I ascended a steep learning curve (actually several distinct learning curves!) and found unexpected challenges. This year (touch wood) there has been less learning, and more planning, and the entire enterprise seems a lot more manageable.
There are significant changes in the 2013 edition, and I hope you will agree that they are changes for the better. There are FOUR new contributors: Dr. Louise Edwards (The Deep Sky—From Near To Far), Kathleen Houston (Astronomical Sketching), Tenho Tuomi (Digital Astrophotography), and Chris Beckett (Wide-Field Wonders). I am very excited about bringing these new contributors into the fold and introducing this new material, which freshens the Handbook. One big change is moving Star Clusters into the Nebulae and Galaxies chapter and renaming it to The Deep Sky. With Louise Edwards' new introduction, this revised chapter now seems less of a hodgepodge of observing lists and more comprehensive. I am also evolving the content in small, almost unnoticeable ways. If you haven't cracked open your Handbook, give the 2013 edition a look!
Nothing is being altered without consultation, and the overall guiding principle is that the Observer’s Handbook is a handbook for observers. The Handbook is your handbook, and we welcome suggestions, comments, and the occasional pat on the back. As aptly expressed by the editor of the Journal of the RASC, we have entered a new era of publishing. We have been entrusted with maintaining tradition while embracing new technology, all the while seeking the right balance between the two.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2012 December 12