"There are a lot of specifiers who either don't care or are not aware that lighting is more complex than picking a number out of a book. This book is an effort to make people think, and to remind them of what the issues are," says Naomi Miller, one of the authors the ninth edition of The Lighting Handbook, published by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

It is called a "handbook," but "encyclopedia" may be a more appropriate term: It weighs a hefty 7lb. But for the first time it is available as a CD-ROM, weighing less than 4oz., much less than its big brother and with all the same information on lighting: explanations of concepts, techniques, applications, procedures, and systems, and detailed definitions, tasks, charts, and diagrams. Thoroughly revised from the last edition (published more than six years ago), the Handbook features many new photographs, color illustrations, and charts. Its Glossary of Lighting Terminology, which promotes a common language for designers, specifiers, and engineers, includes definitions adapted from ANSI/IES standards and clearly indicates those terms that do not appear in the ANSI standard.

The CD-ROM is great for fast topic searches and the interface is similar to the commands used with a web browser, including the ability to bookmark (and you don't have to copy pages from the 29-chapter tome). The CD-ROM is designed for PCs operating Windows 95, 98, or NT, and is not compatible with MAC- or UNIX-based operating systems.

Lighting Handbook topics have been grouped into five sections. The Science of Lighting includes chapters devoted to color, optics, and vision. Lighting Engineering provides information on light sources, luminaires, and the all-important topic of lighting calculations. Specific chapters within Lighting Applications include retail, educational facilities, lighting for public places, and an entire section devoted to theatre, television, and photographic lighting. Special Topics includes chapters with extensive information on lighting controls, maintenance, and energy maintenance.

Part III of the Handbook contains its most controversial section, Chapter 10, Quality of the Visual Environment, co-written by Miller, Terry McGowan, Veda Ferlazzo Clark, Dawn DeGrazio, Markus Earley, Hayden McKay, and Jennifer Veitch. You wouldn't think that a chapter devoted to lighting quality would be the subject of so much discussion among members of the lighting community. Think again.

Chapter 10 replaces the former illuminance recommendation table. As the IESNA information brochure reads, "It is a new procedure for determining the quality recommendations for lighting design. The focus is on quality and features a different way of addressing design issues, as well as new lighting levels." The chapter challenges the reader to consider technical issues beyond the measurement of footcandles on the surface in a particular area.

Miller (president of her own self-named lighting design firm) explains, "Quality of the Visual Environment is a big push to think of lighting holistically, rather than as a simple number. There has been a lot of support for an approach that gives the reader more information than just illuminance. Some of the material in Chapter 10 is simple and straightforward, and even for an architect it should be possible to go through it and pick up a lot of information about these quality issues." By comparing Chapter 10 and the relevant chapter within Part II that encompasses a particular application, a designer/specifier can determine the appropriate lighting levels for a particular environment.

"The old system (Specified Values, in the eighth edition) was more succinct in what it said. The new system is more discursive, but it's not more subjective - and who's to say which is better," says David Kinkaid, lighting consultant. He continues, "This is a total revamp of the old system, and on the very first page there is a notation about light quality, not quantity - that's a design issue, and unfortunately engineers deal with quantity. Engineering-wise, we need a set of numbers to use in creating a design. Sure, the argument can be made that a professional needs to take the time to develop the number, but for smaller projects, this can be a problem."

Miller acknowledges this by adding, "a designer or specifier will need to put in more time. Certainly, everything is more complex than what it was, and quality will play a larger role. It's like learning computer software: We all have to keep up with the times, and with education, and take continuing education courses for maintenance of LC certification."

But as Kinkaid implies, merely raising the issues of quality does not ensure that other professionals involved in building design or renovation projects will even consider them, much less adopt them, especially on smaller projects that do not have a budget for a lighting designer or specifier.

With new issues to consider, and CD-ROM technology handy, perhaps it's time to increase the frequency of new editions. Certainly via the web a complete chapter could be updated, and, as with encyclopedias, a "yearbook" could be issued, updating the print edition. Perhaps a subscription service could be instituted, and different chapters updated according to need rather than on a fixed schedule. One thing is certain: The ninth edition of the Lighting Handbook, representing a phenomenal amount of work on the part of many individuals, remains a cornerstone of the library of any serious lighting professional.

The IESNA Lighting Handbook, Ninth Edition, is available from the IESNA, Marketing Department, 120 Wall Street, 17th floor, New York, NY, 10005; phone: 212/248-5000 ext. 112, fax: 212/248-5017; the website is www.iesna.org, for online ordering. The Handbook is available for $250 ($425 non-member) for the print edition; the CD-ROM is offered at $250 ($425 non-member), and a package price of $319 ($519 non-member) is also available. Additional pricing and membership information is available from the IESNA. The Handbook editor-in-chief is Mark S. Rea, Ph.D., FIES; the managing editor is Judith Block.