BIBLIO-NOTES:NEWSLETTER OF THE ACRL ENGLISH AND AMERICAN LITERATURE DISCUSSION GROUP

LES logo

#2 -- [1983]

Biblio-Notes (ISSN 1076-8947) is published twice a year by the English and American Literature Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. Paper subscriptions are free to members of the section.

Editor: Will Goodwin, University of Texas at Austin

Copyright 1983 by the American Library Association.


MINUTES: Business Meeting, Los Angeles, June 28, 1983

1. New officers were introduced:
Valmai Fenster, Chair
Craig Likness, Vice-Chair, Chair-Elect
Elaine Franco, Secretary

2. The proposed Bylaws for the Discussion Group were adopted with some minor revisions.

3. The Subgroup on Little Magazines continues to work on its project. Subgroup chair, Charles Brownson was not present and there was no report.

4. The steering committee for the Guide to Selection Tools project has decided to pursue a plan for publication. Committee members are Marcia Pankake, Craig Likness, Bill McPheron, and Bill Allan. Twenty-four different topics have been suggested. The steering committee will regroup these under manageable rubrics. There have not been many volunteers for writing essays. Potential publishers and a tentative timetable were discussed. If ACRL published the quide, would the text have to be approved by ACRL? Does anything emanating from an ACRL body (such as a discussion group) have to go before ACRL for approval? The need for ACRL approval could significantly extend the publication schedule.

Marcia Pankake said that the Collection Management and Development Committee of ACRL is working on a related guide to selection sources. The CMDC publication will include an essay on Literature, but this should not prevent the Discussion Group from treating the subject in greater detail. The CMDC prospectus included a table of contents, list of contributors, and sample chapters.

5.It was decided to keep Biblio-notes as the title for the Discussion Group newsletter. The next issue will Include an updated mailing list of over 70 names.

6. Patricia Case, Chair of the SRRT Alternatives in Print Task Force, asked the Discussion Group to co-sponsor a program on alternative presses, including political and literary publishers. The RASD Women's Materials and Women Library Users Discussion Group and the SRRT Feminist Task Force are co-sponsors.

7. Scott Stebelman suggested that the steering committee consider ways to inform more librarians about the Discussion Group, perhaps through flyers at conferences or letters to libraries.

Elaine A. Franco
Secretary

REPORT OF PROGRAM MEETING, June 28, 1983, ALA Conference, Los Angeles

"Bibliographic Instruction for English Department Courses" was the title of the program presented by the Discussion Group at the ALA Conference in Los Angeles. Maureen Pastine, Library Director at San Jose State University, served as moderator. Panelists were Mary George, Princeton University Library, and William McPheron, Lockwood Memorial Library, SUNY, Buffalo. Both panelists felt that bibliographic instruction for students of English and American literature should not be based on a list of reference tools, but should emphasize the processes of literary research.

William McPheron prefers an approach that emphasizes the types of methodological questions scholars ask about literature. The course he teaches at Buffalo is a full credit seminar in the English Department, designed for beginning graduate students, The course introduces students to the various methodologies of literary research, featuring English Department faculty as guest lecturers on their approaches to literature, from patristic exegisis to psycholanalysis. Although an introduction to reference tools is considered secondary to a focus on the discipline itself, the first part of the course exposes students to the evaluation and use of primary research tools. Most of the basic tools reappear from week to week in the context of the special topics discussed by guest lecturers. The faculty has responded favorably to this type of course. The heuristic approach mirrors their own ways of functioning in the discipline and they find it gratifying to have the opportunity to talk about their own work. Establishing a roster of speakers can be a problem. The structure of the course is flexible, but there is the unpredictability of lecturers taking off on their own tangents. Students appreciate hearing professors talk about their approaches to literature, but some students are not prepared to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Mary George discussed problems involved in teaching an English Department bibliographic course. Some problems stem from the nature of literary research. There is confusion over primary and secondary sources; both are textual and don't look different to students. The quantity of primary materials is so overwhelming that students have a hard time dealing with the secondary. Published criticism represents the results of scholars' thinking, not the process. In literary scholarship there are many schools of thought and a variety of approaches, with no ranking of their validity. Research courses are typically not required and syllabi are not updated. Courses often assume a backgraund in "library logic" that students may not have. No textbooks talk about the process of research. Traditionally a dissertation advisor asks probing questions, but does not assist in research design and strategy. The nature of the research tools used in the humanities is also a problem. They change, split and combine, alter scope, and go out of date. Indexing is not good, abbreviations are confusing, and organization does not facilitate an interdisciplinary approach. In planning an ideal minicourse for advanced students, Mary George would emphasize reasoning and search strategy. Title-based instruction is too specific, too ephemeral, and too problematic. The course would use clearly defined case studies. Design for the course would involve librarians and faculty. The content would include a careful look at the history and growth of English and American literature as disciplines. Students would have a sense of the questions asked and the steps taken in formulating and narrowing a literary topic. The course would discuss the characteristics of types of research tools and the design of a typical research strategy, stressing the importance of bibliographies of bibliographies. The ideal course assignment would include not just a bibliography and research diary, but also an outline of a paper. Students might be grouped by different approaches to literature: genre, period, author, image. The groups could compare their methods of confronting problems.

Elaine A. Franco, Secretary

MIDWINTER MEETING

When ALA Headquarters plans the schedule for Mid-Winter ALA meetings in Washington, D.C., details of the Discussion Group's meeting will be announced in Literary Research Newsletter and College and Research Libraries Newsletter.

MAILING LIST

There are now nearly 100 members on the mailing list which will be made available to those who request a copy and who send a stamped addressed envelope to Valmai Fenster, Library School, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, 53706.

BREAD UPON THE WATERS

Members of the Discussion Group are invited to send to Marcia Pankake copies of their point-of-use tools (such as guides instructing patrons how to use the MLA Bibliography, or how to find book reviews) and/or their annual reports (your summary evaluation of the year's work) by October 15, 1983. I will make copies of them and send back copies of what I receive to those who send in something. I am not a clearinghouse, but I am willing to exchange information with those who similarly are willing to share their work. Marcia Pankake, Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, 309 19th Ave South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55455.

Members who have used databases in the teaching of courses and who are willing to share their experience and knowledge, please contact Valmai Fenster, Library School, University of Wisconsin, 600 North Park, Madison, Wisconsin, 53706.

REVIEW ESSAY OF 1981 MLA INTERNATIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY, by Robert W. Melton, Bibliographer for English and American Literature, University of Kansas Libraries.

To make the most of the available space I have for evaluating the new format and indexing of the 1981 Modern Language Association International Bibliography ( MLAIB), I will assume that readers of Biblio-Notes have already spent some time examining and using it, either alone or with library users, and have read the "Guide for Users" on pages iii-viii of the Bibliography. Given the magnitude of the changes and what its staff admits is a "certain unevenness" in the 1981 volumes' coverage, my approach, to what must be a preliminary evaluation, has been twofold. First, I selected three 1981 articles which I felt would provide a variety of challenges for the indexers and then examined how, and how well, these articles were classified and subject-indexed. I also compared the indexing of these same articles in Arts & Humanities Citation Index ( A&HCI)and Humanities Index ( HI). Second, with no particular articles in mind, I examined the classification structure (chiefly of Volumes I and IV) and the subject indexing for clarity, consistency, cross-referencing, and ease of use. Together, these two approaches allowed me to discover, perhaps serendipitously, strengths and weaknesses of the 1981 Bibliography.

Before I discuss matters relating to classification and subject access, a few words need to be said regarding the new format and layout, for until the inconsistencies in authority control and depth of indexing are eliminated, the most beneficial changes in the 1981 MLAIB are in the improvements to the "old" Classified volumes, not in the new Subject Index. Every reference librarian will welcome the use of varying type sizes, boldface, caps, italics and romans, slashes, parentheses, underlining, generous white space, headlines, and bracketed boldface document numbers to differentiate among the various subdivisions within the classification structure. Librarian, student, and scholar alike will rejoice at having, finally, documents on a particular work listed together and clearly specified, even for minor authors. MLAIB can now, I believe, be used with relative ease by undergraduates (and the reference librarians helping them) to find criticism on a particular short story, poem, novel, or play. (The reference librarian who doesn't immediately remember whether David Mamet is a Twentieth-Century American playwright or a Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical poet can now use the new Subject Index, which refers to the appropriate section of Volumes I-V). Also welcome is the banishment of the listing of festschriften at the beginning of the bibliography with subsequent reference by means of numbers prefixed with "F". Instead, full bibliographic citations are given each time a portion of a festschfriften is cited. Unfortunately, the collection development librarian no longer has a list of those festschriften which are indexed. Perhaps the editors of the 1982 volumes can attach such a list an an appendix.

The first of the three articles whose coverage I examined was Alfred Habegger's "A Well Hidden Hand," (1) an essay on the "real deficiencies of reader-response criticism" (2) through an examination of Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth's extremely popular Nineteenth-Century novel, The Hidden Hand. This article was chosen, first, to see how well MLAIB, A&HCI, and HI would index an article on a decidedly non-canonical text, but also to see whether it would be indexed in any way under "reader response theory." All three bibliographies succeeded in the relatively simple task of listing this article under Southworth, and, in MLAIB's case, it is easy enough to find in the "American Literature/1800-1899" section of Volume 1. Disappointingly, none of the bibliographies provided subject access under "reader response theory," despite the author's clear statement that he was using a particular popular text to critique this specific critical approach. In MLAIB,the article is not listed under "Reader Response," "Reader Response Approach," "Reader Response Theory," or "Reader Response Theory--Application" in the Subject Index, nor is it cross listed under either "Criticism--Reader-Response Criticism" or "Literary Theory--Reader Response Theory" as categories in Volume IV (General Literature). It is indexed under "Reception Study," "Popular Novel," "Characterization," and "Treatment of Capitola." A&HCI's Permuterm Index lists it under "Southworth" or "Hidden Hand," and under "Novel/Southworth" and "Novel/Hidden Hand," as well as under the less useful component words "well," "hidden," and "hand." "Southworth" will also, keep in mind, appear in the Citation Index. HI apparently listed the article under nothing but "Southworth." A five-minute search to find it under other subject headings was fruitless.

Several points can be made just on the basis of this example. A major problem with the MLAIB subject descriptors is an apparent lack of authority control and/or adequate cross-references. What, for example, is the difference between "Reader Response," "Reader Response Approach," "Reader Response Criticism," and " Reader Response Theory"? There may be legitimate distinctions to be made; if so, these should be made explicit in the Subject index by means of scope notes. I suspect, however, that many descriptors are so nearly synonymous that considerable combination of terms could be effected. Some headings are too specific. Even the person looking for articles on "Light Bulb Jokes" is more likely to look under "Jokes" than "Light Bulb Jokes." Only one citation is listed under "Unpublished Manuscripts" with no cross-reference to "Manuscripts," under which one finds almost two pages of citations, mostly referring to articles about unpublished manuscripts. Furthermore, some articles on individual manuscripts are entered separately under their own "names" (eg. "Bodleian Ms. Fairfax 14") without being listed also under "Manuscripts." Mark Spilka's article on Lawrence's Sons and Lovers manuscript isn't indexed under" "Manuscripts" at all. "Homosexuality" and "Lesbianism" fail to refer to one another. Neither do "Broadway" and "Alternative Theater." "Syracuse University Library" and "George B. Arents Research Library" are both used with no cross-referencing; they should be combined, as the Arents Library is actually a Special Collections department within the main library building. Many other such examples could be cited.

The problem seems to derive from the practice of using the document authors' own wording as the basis for subject descriptors. If Author X refers to Reader Response Theory while author Y refers to Reader Response Criticism, there is as yet no agreement on which term to use. A subject thesaurus is evidently a considerable way from completion.

The second article I chose to examine was titled "Colloquial Style and Tory Mode," (3) a study of opposing American and British influences on Canadian fiction. This article was chosen because it doesn't deal at length with any single author, and the concepts posited in its title--especially the second--are not immediately self-descriptive. I also wanted to test the way each bibliography treated the subject of cultural or national influence. A&HCI's Permuterm Index adds the enrichment term "Canadian" to the title terms "Colloquial," "Style," 'Tory," and "Mode" so that one can find the article under any combination of those words, but not, however, under "Canadian/Fiction" or "Canadian/Literature." It does not indicate anything about the influence--and cannot unless a relevant word is in the title. HI did index the article--I found the author entry--but after ten minutes I gave up trying to determine how it was subject indexed.

The article was fairly easily located in MLAIB's classified section, under "Canadian Literature/1900-1999/Fiction." (However, the distinction throughout MLAIB between "Fiction" and "Novel," though well-intentioned, may cause more problems than it is worth.) In the Subject Index, the article is found under "Colloquial Style," "American Literature--As Source," and "English Literature--As Source," but not, disappointingly, under either "Canadian Literature (or Fiction)--As Influenced By" or "Canadian Literary Nationalism." If we are to believe the Subject Index, this article is, in fact, the only document published in 1981 on "American Literature--As Source." Since this is highly improbable, two points might be made. First, the editors admit that only about ten percent of journals indexed were indexed in 1981 "to the fullest number of facets applicable." Even so, I would have expected more citations under this (and many other) headings, which leads to the second point. Obviously, most of the decisions regarding the application of descriptors are made by the approximately 175 contributing bibliographers. In such a situation, it is impossible to expect all indexers to apply headings consistently, particularly if the thesaurus is still evolving. The most important requirement for the Editorial Staff is the development of scope notes for all descriptors used in 1981 to serve as guidelines not only for users but for the indexers of the 1982 and subsequent volumes.

My third document-- Arnold Weinstein's "The Fiction of Relationship"--was chosen because it is an example of an article which uses several literary works to serve as illustrations of its author's thesis--a not uncommon type of article in the field of comparative literature, for example. In addition, the title itself, as Weinstein points out, is deliberately ambiguous, thus requiring indexers to read closely and carefully. Both MLAIB and HI fail to provide any subject access to the authors of the six novels the article discusses ( Manon Lescaut, Werther, Madame Bovary, The Good Soldier, To the Lighthouse, and Boris Vian's L'Ecume des Jours.) It is understandable that MLAIB would classify this article only in Volume IV under "Genres/Fiction/The Novel," but it is quite disappointing not to find the article listed in the Subject Index under any of the six authors. Nor is it listed under "Fiction/English Literature/Novel/1900-1999," even though two of the six novels discussed fall in this category. (It is subject indexed only under "Relationships/Genre/Novel/1700:1999" and "Self/Genres/Novel/1700-1999.") Once again, I gave up after ten minutes of fruitless searching in HI for this article. In A&HCI's Permuterm Index, it is retrievable under either "Fiction/Relationship" or vice-versa, but not under "Relationship s." (This points out one of the weaknesses of the permuterm concept.) But this article serves to illustrate one important point to remember about A&HCI, which is that the Citation Index can and should be used as a subject index when the subject is a particular literary work, since A&HCI includes implicit as well as explicit citations to cited literary texts. Thus, all six of the novels Weinstein discusses are access points in the 1981 Citation Index. Librarians and scholars alike should hope that subsequent MLAIB's will index "deeply" enough to include any literary work which is discussed at some length as an example in a critical document. Not only will there be those who want to find everything on a major author (such as Woolf); perhaps more importantly are those who are trying to find anything on a relatively unknown writer such as Vian. The person looking for criticism on Vian will find nothing in the 1981 MLAIB even though at least one source discusses one of his novels at some length.

Other deficiencies or quirks were stumbled upon simply by examining the classification structure and the subject descriptors without looking for how or where a particular document was indexed. A few examples will be mentioned. Why, for example, are there two sections on "Film" under "American Literature/1900-1999"? (documents 7148-7171; 7191). Document 7323 is certainly misplaced: the document is a bibliography of articles in periodicals; it is not a bibliography about Twentieth-Century American periodicals, as its placement in the classification suggests. Richard Wright's Black Boy is classified as both "Autobiography" (see 9375) and "Novel" (9378). A certain amount of confusion results from having both a section on "Themes and Figures" in Volume IV and an index in which some themes are used as subject descriptors while others are not. There is only one document under "Sexuality" in the "Themes and Figures" classification, but there are some forty-two documents listed under the same word in the subject Index. Who is to say when a concept is a "theme" and when it is a "subject"? And, again, the problem of authority control: surely in all of 1981 there was more than one document dealing with "Sexual Stereotypes"; if so, they were indexed under other descriptors. Some of these examples may seem trivial by themselves; I am simply pointing out the range of problems the user will encounter.

Although I have focused so far on quirks and deficiencies in the Subject Index, it is nevertheless the case that it is, overall, an extraordinary improvement over no Subject Index at all. For example, librarians involved in collection development can now quickly find articles on a particular small press by looking under either the name of the press or the heading "Publishers." The undergraduate who is looking either for criticism or literary works dealing with "Mother-Daughter Relations" will find five good leads; this would have been virtually impossible in previous volumes. Bibliographers, rare book specialists, database searchers, and instructional librarians will find much of interest under such headings as "Professional Topics/Computer-Assisted Research, "Professional Topics/Research Tools," and much of the "Bibliographical" section, in Volume IV.

In short, use the Classified Volumes with more ease and pleasure. Approach the Subject Index, as you would any other newborn, with caution. Bibliographers, reference, or instructional librarians who have good relations with their English departments should consider organizing formal or informal instructional sessions for faculty and graduate students. We all know the reluctance of English professors to try anything new, but the MLA is now nudging them, and us, into the age of computer-assisted bibliography. The indexing of the Bibliography may not be fully reliable for several more years as the thesaurus is developing, but instruction in its format and capabilities should begin now. The Editorial Staff (as well as the Mellon Foundation and NEH, which funded the development of the indexing system) is to be congratulated for making so major a change in one year as it has. I see no reason why the problems I have pointed out cannot be fully rectified by the 1983 or 1984 volumes.

REFERENCES

1. Alfred Habegger, "A Well Hidden Hand," Novel, v.14, no.3 (Spring 1981). 197-212.
2. Ibid., p.197.
3. T.D. MacLulich, "Colloquial Style and the Tory Mode," Canadian Literature, 89 (Summer 1981), 7-21.
4. Arnold Weinstein, "The Fiction of Relationship," Novel, v.15, no.1 (Fall 1981), 5-22.

This newsletter was printed at the Library School, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Back to the LES homepage

Comments may be directed to the Web Editor at ruotolo@virginia.edu. Last update: 15 September 2011