September 23, 2003

Bibliographic Brouhaha

by Nick Montfort · , 11:04 pm

Scott and I almost got into a bar fight Sunday when discussing the MLA and Chicago Manual of Style bibliographic format for electronic resources.

I find it absolutely silly to require that every electronic resource bear a publication and access date in its bibliographic entry. If I cite an article from an online magazine that was published in May 1998, and I know quite well that the article hasn’t changed since then, there is no reason I should include the date that I looked at it. Doing so adds unnecessary clutter, blurring and obfuscating the publication date of the resource, and simply provides a form of surveillance of scholars and their Web-reading habits. (Do you mostly read on the weekends? Right before your article is due?) Yes, in some cases (malleable blog entries, works like The Unknown) it does make sense to note both when you think something was published and when you accesses it, but that shouldn’t apply to everything on the Web. If someone cites my undergraduate thesis or a dated item on my Web site, they know perfectly well when it was published, as much as they know when the usual book was published by looking at the copyright page.

Scott, let’s hear your problems with this approach again. I know there’s an argument from the standpoint of things like the Internet Archive, but I don’t see how my providing the date of access of that May 1998 article helps you any there. Maybe others (Matt K.?) will chime in with an explanation of why the stylists in Chicago have the right idea here and why I’m off the mark. To me, this requirement seems like an attempt to frame everything on the Web as constantly changing and ever-suspect, and thus in need of up-to-the-minute access info, in opposition to staid and stable print sources.

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