Monday, May 04, 2009

New Citation Rules in the 7th Edition of the MLA Handbook

I got my copy of the newly published seventh edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers in the mail a few days ago and have been thumbing through it to see what's new in guidelines for creating a list of works cited. There are a number of notable changes from the sixth edition by Joseph Gibaldi.

Descriptors for Publication Medium

Items cited should now describe the "medium of publication consulted" (136). So if your source was the print edition (of a book, report, article, etc.), then you place the word "Print" at the end of the citation. If the item is from a subscription database or out on the open web, then you place the word "Web" at the end. If it was some sort of a broadcast, then you can use "Radio" or "Television." If it was an audio recording, there are choices like "CD" or "LP." For movies, you have choices like "Film," "DVD," "Videocassette," "Sound filmstrip," "Laser disc," and "Slide program."

There are many others mediums to use, including a bunch you use when you are citing a digital file that you have access to independent of the source where it was originally published, such as "a PDF file stored on your computer, a document created by a peer using a word processor, a scanned image you received as an e-mail attachment, and a sound recording formatted for playing on a digital audio player" (210-211). Here are some of the medium designators suggested for these situations: "MP3 file," "PDF file," "JPEG file," "Microsoft Word file," etc.

Briefer Citations for Items in a Subscription Database

Another key change in the seventh edition is that articles found in a subscription database now have a much more compact citation. Gone are the URL for database (which was always a silly proposition) and the name of the subscribing institution (i.e., the name of the library).
Sixth edition

Carnovsky, Leon. "The Obligations and Responsibilities of the Librarian Concerning Censorship." Library Quarterly 20 (1950): 21-32. JSTOR. Baruch College, Newman Library. 4 May 2009.

Seventh edition

Carnovsky, Leon. "The Obligations and Responsibilities of the Librarian Concerning Censorship." Library Quarterly 20 (1950): 21-32. JSTOR. Web. 4 May 2009.
URLs Not Always Required in Citations

I found this change a bit perplexing. The sixth edition always advised URLs for web resources. The seventh edition now argues that adding "URLs has proved to have limited value, however, for they often change, can be specific to a subscriber or session of use, and can be so long and complex that typing them into a browser is cumbersome and prone to transcription errors" (182). It is noted that people are more reliant on search to find known items on the web than on typing in URLs. The URL should be added as "supplementary information only when the reader probably cannot locate the source without it or when your instructor requires it" (182).

If a student is clearly told by a teacher to add URLs, that's no problem. But what if the instructor just assumes that the student will use the new edition of the MLA Handbook; then the student will need to make decisions about the findability of a web resource. Making those decisions, though, will not be easy for the student, as the Handbook really does not offer guidance about how to assess the probability of someone being able to find a web resource you've cited. If I were an instructor or someone making a guide to MLA citations for the library web site, I would tell students to always include the URL. Even if the URL gets mangled somewhat, the domain name may be in good enough shape that at the very least it offers a starting point for someone wishing to track down the resource.

There is much more that I want to explore in this new edition, which also has a companion web site that I have yet to really nose around in. That site has the full text of the book as well as a couple of case examples showing students moving through the entire research and writing process. When news of this web site became known to librarians, there were interesting discussions on the list of the ACRL Literatures in English Section and on FriendFeed regarding the limited license for access to the companion web site. Basically, it looks like a library that owns a copy of the book can show the online version to students (in reference interactions, classroom settings, etc.) but can't give them the login information.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: MLA, 2003. Print.

Modern Language Association. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: MLA, 2009. Print.


At 10:07 AM , Blogger Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

So I guess I need to buy one...sigh...thanks for the review!

At 5:04 PM , Blogger Kawanna said...

So many new things that will confuse the students. Time to update the guides to make sure we cut some of these things off before they even start! Great review - thanks for the information.


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