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Issued by the Literatures in English Sectionof the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association

#35 Spring 2000
ISSN 1076-8947

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Editor: Scott Stebelman
Gelman Library
George Washington University
Washington, D.C. 20052

Chair, 1999-2000: Catherine A. Larson
University of Arizona Library
1510 E. University
Tucson, AZ 85745

Chair, 2000-2001: William Wortman
280 King Library
Miami University
Oxford, OH 45056


   EALS Top Ten, or Those Reference Sources One Should Not Weed!

The Reference Discussion Group of the English and American Literature Section met during the San Antonio ALA Midwinter Conference and, among other topics, discussed articles we might like to see in upcoming Biblio-Notes. The group decided it would be fun, and perhaps even instructive, to survey the EALS membership to learn literature librarians' favorite literary reference sources. We decided to distribute the question via the EALS listserv and to keep the question very broad. Members were encouraged to list up to ten important or useful literary reference tools, whenever published in whatever format with no definition of "literary reference" given. 

The message went to 354 people on the listserv, resulting in 24 responses. Although this is a rather paltry response rate, it was sufficient for tabulating results into some sort of list. As seen below, a number of titles received the same number of votes. In cases of ties, all titles with the same rank are listed below in alphabetical order. As a result of so many titles winning the same number of votes, our top "ten" list has expanded to a top 25 and the rankings only reach nine! This list, however, includes all titles receiving more than one vote. Those ranked at number ten are the 60+ titles each receiving one vote. For the sake of brevity and in the belief that everyone reading this article would recognize these sources, the decision was made to forego a descriptive annotation. Instead the relevant entry number from The Literary Research Guide, 3rd edition, by James L. Harner.(New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1998) is provided. This important resource (see item number six below) provides complete bibliographic information, as well as a thorough description of thousands of tools of our profession. 

Each resource listed below includes the rank on the list, title, number of votes, Harner entry number, and particularly illuminating comments sent with the title. 

1) Modern Language International Bibliography of Books and Articles on the Modern Languages and Literatures (MLAIB); 16 votes; Harner #335 

2) Oxford English Dictionary;15 votes; Harner #1410 ("A goldmine of literary as well as linguistic information. A vast resource, through its quotations, for studying not merely the history of words, but also the history of culture, ideas, folkways.") 

3) Dictionary of Literary Biography; 11 votes ; Harner #600 (Two respondents specifically mentioned their preference for the print over the electronic version.) 

4) Contemporary Authors: A Bio-bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television, and Other Fields; 7 votes; Harner #595 ("Great starting point for biographical information on many authors who may not be part of anyone's canon yet.") 

4) Oxford Companion to English Literature/Oxford Companion to American Literature; 7 votes; Harner #s 1330/3210 

5) Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry; 6 votes; Harner #1235 

6) Gale stuff variously described as the Gale Criticism Series ( Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism, Contemporary Literary Criticism), the Gale Suite ( Contemporary Authors, CLC, Dictionary of Literary Biography), or the Literature Resource Center/Galenet, the online versions of the Gale titles. Voters lumped the Gale titles together rather than voting for specific sources such as Contemporary Authors or Dictionary of Literary Biography as listed above; 5 votes 

6) Literary Research Guide by James L. Harner; 5 votes ("Can't imagine doing my job without it. In fact, I've recommended it to so many grad students that it's now often used as a text in English 200." "This goes without saying. Bails my butt out all the time.") 

6) A Reference Guide for English Studies by Michael J. Marcuse ; 5 votes; Harner #90 ("This is already ten years old, and Harner's guide is updated more frequently. I still prefer Marcuse's arrangement, however, and his contextualization." "This one also mostly for my own use, rather than the patron, but it has a lot of helpful info about editions. Good adjunct to Harner." "For its broad scope complemented by a fine index.") 

7) large online catalogs (such as WorldCat, 4 votes/ RLIN-EUREKA, 2 votes/Harvard/NYPL, LOC/Melvyl 

7) Short Title Catalogues or English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC); 4 votes; Harner #s 1990/1995/1377 h 

7) Voice of the Shuttle web site by Alan Liu; 4 votes; Harner p. 73 

7) A Handbook to Literature by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman; 4 votes; Harner #105 

8) Expanded Academic ASAP database (part of InfoTrac by the Information Access Company) 3 votes; Harner #387 ("I use this database because so many students are doing interdisciplinary research and need a database covering a variety of subjects. Useful for the faculty too since they're often working in fields outside their expertise.") 

8) MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing; 3 votes; Harner #6400 

8) Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL); 3 votes; Harner #340 ("I find many materials here that I don't locate through MLAIB.") 

8) Essay and General Literature Index; 3 votes; Harner #380 ("Still provides access to all those wonderful essays that MLAIB and ABELL don't cover. My vote for the most underused reference tool.") 

9) Books in Print (and related databases on amazon, borders); 2 votes; Harner #4225 

9) Literature Online (LION) by Chadwyck-Healy; 2 votes (Only resource garnering rather negative comments while being suggested: "With grave reservations--it may be there, but it stinks." "I know this isn't a popular one with EALS members.") 

9) Literary Resources on the Net web site by Jack Lynch; 2 votes 

9) MLA Directory of Periodicals; 2 votes; Harner #615 

9) New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature; 2 votes; Harner #1385 

9) Poole's Index to Periodical Literature; 2 votes; Harner #4150 

9) Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature; 2 votes; Harner #400 

9) Twentieth-Century Short Story Explication comp. By Warner S.Walker; 2 votes; Harner #1090 

Any surprises on the top "ten" list? No, not really, but some titles might provoke another look at something used less frequently than one's own personal standards, and one would certainly think hard before weeding any of these resources from the reference collection. The more idea-provoking list is that of 60+ titles which received one vote each--everything from the Arts and Humanities Citation Index to Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind by Richard Maurice Bucke, 1901. 

Abby Yochelson
Library of Congress

   Cost of Reference Works Increases: The Case of Gale

The subject of journal prices is an old one for librarians. We all know the prices are going up and going up dramatically, illogically, outrageously. It is an old song and one we are by now accustomed to singing. However, there is a new verse to add, one that I have been hearing in the background the past few years and it is getting louder and harder to ignore. This particular verse pertains to the cost of reference series, particularly those concerning literature and literary criticism.  They are standards that I use often and do not want to cancel; however, the cost has been increasing and is starting to make serious inroads into the English budget line. The ones I can pinpoint information on most easly are the literary criticism series, Contemporary Literary Criticism, Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, as well as their cousin, Contemporary Authors. In the table below the costs for the past 6 years are given for ease of comparison.

Literature and Literary Criticism Reference Series' Costs
Year 20c 19c CLC CA
94 440 325 549 325
95 586 443 571 445
96 623 620 823 496
97 792 658 786 649
98 1120 965 1069 977
99 1342 1192 1282 1384

All four of the titles have nearly or more than tripled their price in just six years. This does seem a bit extravagant in ordinary terms as I can't think of any household items that I purchase regularly that have had such a large price increase; however, compared to the cost of some periodicals it is chump change.  What makes this somewhat intriguing is that the number of volumes published annually in each series has been erratic. A review of the volumes per publication year illustrates this:

Literature and Literary Criticism Reference Series' Number of Volumes Per Year
Year 20c 19c CLC CA
94 4 6 6 4
95 6 3 5 4
96 5 5 5 4
97 7 7 8 5
98 5 8 7 8
99 8 14 12 13

Thus, the price increase would seem justified in some cases as the number of volumes has tripled as well. However, in most cases the change in price is not always reflected in the change in number of volumes published in a given year. The cost for NCLC and CLC both went up in 1995 although fewer volumes were published that year. The price jumps in 1998 and 1999 are similar although the increase in volumes published that year is more dramatic in 1999. To be fair the publisher is not shrinking the size of the volumes, as a quick check of two of the series revealed that the number of pages per volume has remained fairly steady. For the most part there are simply more volumes per year per series. One wonders if there is simply more to say about the topics covered in the voumes, or if the increased interest in diversity means that more authors are being chosen for study, or if some authors are simply being re-researched. (In the recent past my library cancelled a standing order for the Dictionary of Literary Biography and chose to pick the volumes on a case by case basis as more and more of the topics covered were of less and less relevance to our curriculum.) A fuller study clearly needs to be done. I would be interested in hearing if other librarians are hearing complaints from their collection management colleagues about the cost increases of these and other reference serials and how they are responding.

Julie Still
Rutgers University, Camden, NJ

   EALS Executive Committee Members

  • Past Chair (1998/1999)
    Rob Melton
    350 Watson Library
    University of Kansas 
    Lawrence, KS 66045-2800
    Tel. (785) 864-3378
  • Chair (1999/2000)
    Catherine A. Larson
    Social Sciences librarian
    University of Arizona Library
    1510 E. University
    Tucson, AZ 85745
    Tel. (520) 621-4926
  • Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect (1999/2000)
    William Wortman
    Miami University
    Miami University Libraries 
    Oxford, OH 45056-9734
    Tel. (513) 529-3936
  • Secretary (1999/2000)
    Stephen Ennis
    Curator of Literary Collections
    Emory University Libraries
    Robert W. Woodruff Library
    Atlanta, GA 30322-2870
    Tel: (404) 727-6887
  • Member-at-Large (1999/2000)
    Heather Martin
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    135 Sterne Library
    Birmingham, AL 35294-0014
    Tel. (205) 934-6364
  • EALS-Web Editor 
    Margaret K. Powell
    Sterling Memorial Library
    Yale University
    P.O. Box 208240
    New Haven, CT 06520-8240
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  • EALS-L List Moderator 
    Kathy Johnson 
    Love Library
    University of Nebraska
    Lincoln, NE 68588-0410
    Tel. (402) 472-2553
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    Scott Stebelman
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    Silver Spring, MD 20910
    (301) 585-6950

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