3.126 MLA bibliography (101)

Thu, 15 Jun 89 22:09:02 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 126. Thursday, 15 Jun 1989.

Date: Thu, 15 Jun 89 09:24:16 PDT
From: cbf%faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU@jade.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: MLA bibliography

I originally sent this directly to MLA, with a
copy to Randy Jones in his capacity as a member
of MLA's hi-tech advisory committee, but it occurred
to me that it might be interesting for Humanist as
a whole:

Let us suppose that an MLA member who has been subscribing
religiously to MLA since the middle 60's and has bought the
complete bibliography all of those years now wishes to begin
work on an article on the devil in medieval Spanish literature.

He is in for a rather tedious bit of spadework, regardless of
what format he chooses to use. If he turns to his own collection
of the bibliography, it will take him several days--at a
minimum--to go through the medieval Spanish section on the
offchance of finding a relevant title. The only way he'll
know if it is relevant is if the word "devil" or something
similar is mentioned in the title, at least until he gets to the
volumes which have
the subject index. He will also want to go through the general
literature/thematic section, the medieval Latin section, as well.

In order to note the references for retrieval from his library, he
will have to (1) write them down or (2) xerox the relevant pages.

If he chooses to abandon his 25-years' worth of printed bibliographies,
he can have an on-line search conducted by his librarian. Since
he's a faculty member, he can probably afford it or find a way for
his university to pay for it. If he were a graduate student, he
probably couldn't afford it. If he wants to have the search
downloaded to a diskette to save re-keying, it will
cost more because it will probably take more time. Even if it
is downloaded to a diskette, it will have to be re-formatted
manually because the format <emp>supplied by MLA</emp> DOES NOT
CONFORM to that required by the MLA Style Manual. He wishes,
wistfully, for a program that would download the citations into
a bibliographical data base manager for incorporation into his
own local bibliographical data base. (He is aware of Pro-Cite,
but he needs a UNIX-based version.)

If his university should have subscribed to the CD-ROM version,
he would go to the main library (since it is highly unlikely that
there is more than 1 copy of the disk available) where he would
be able to tailor a search strategy to find relevant citations
as well as take advantage of serendipity. The problem of
downloading into a suitable data base manager would still remain,

So much for my scenario. That's pretty well the way things
stand at present; and to my mind it's a very unsatisfactory
state of affairs. I can suggest two proposals that might

1. MLA should offer site licenses for the CD-ROM disk at
a reasonable price. Any large university would like to be
able to make it available in a variety of sites, typically
in the various literature departments as well as in the
library. At $1495 a site, that isn't going to happen.

2. MLA should offer its members the choice of the complete
printed bibliography--which contains only the information for
that year--or the CD-ROM disk, with all of the information
in the data base, FOR THE SAME PRICE.

The only way to build up a market for this product is to make it
possible for individuals to buy it. They are not going to do so
until it's financially feasible. MLA might also consider cutting
a deal with one of the CD-ROM player manufacturers for
a reasonably priced CD-ROM drive to make it easier for non-
technically-experienced users.

In terms of bibliographical data base software--any software--, when MLA
adopts a package for a specific task it should ensure that it
is the best available one by issuing a "request for quotation"
and negotiating a price such that any member can get it
more cheaply via MLA than from his own institution. I do not
believe that that is currently the case. When issuing an
RFQ, the MLA should take advantage of the expertise available
in sister organizations (e.g., the Assoc. for Computing in
the Humanities) or even work together with such organizations
to develop specifications jointly.

Charles B. Faulhaber
Department of Spanish
UC Berkeley CA 94720
bitnet: ked@ucbgarne
internet: cbf@faulhaber.berkeley.edu
telephone: (415) 642-2107