Use it or Lose It: The MLA Bibliography Database

Use it or Lose It: The MLA Bibliography Database (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

In “Understanding the Economic Burden of Scholarly Publishing,” Cathy N. Davidson makes the case for preserving traditional university presses. If scholarly publication was financially lucrative, she points out, then there wouldn’t be university presses to subsidize the cost of producing monographs. She sees the symbiotic relationship between libraries, academic scholarship, and university presses.

If you are a provost trying to save money by asking your university press to bring in more revenue (making cost a major goal in book acquisition), then you are in an untenable position if you are also trying to maintain quality-based publishing standards for your faculty.

Matt Kirschenbaum points to John Unsworth’s “The Crisis of Audience,” which ponders the troublesome fact that humanities scholars aren’t consulting the very monographs their chairs and administrators expect them to produce.

Just a few hours ago, my boss forwarded an e-mail to the English faculty, warning that, because the university library had recorded only 119 hits on the MLA Bibliography during the month of September, our subscription to that service might be dropped. I recognize that library funds are limited, and that good steward of library resources will naturally try to cut those services which are least in demand… Still, the message is — use it or lose it. If I have to make a mental note to force my undergraduates to use the MLA Bibliography, is that perhaps a sign that I might be able to get by without it? But this is the first week of October — my 200-level literature students haven’t even submitted the first draft of their “close reading” paper. Should I rush their introduction to literary research, just to pump up the number of hits to the MLA database? Probably not.

It’s not simply a matter of laziness… the library of the small liberal arts school where I teach simply isn’t as well-stocked as those of the University of Toronto and the University of Virginia, where I studied. It’s simply easier to access those online materials (particularly for someone whose subject area and personal habits mean I spend a lot of time online). Which brings us back to Davidson’s point — I am, it would seem, part of the problem.