The Literary Research Guide is a selective, annotated guide to reference sources essential to the study of British literature, literatures of the United States, other literatures in English, and related topics. In it I describe and, in most instances, evaluate important bibliographies, abstracts, surveys of research, indexes, databases, catalogs, general histories and surveys, annals, chronologies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks. When possible, I am rigorously selective, admitting only works that are reasonably thorough, accurate, effectively organized, and adequately indexed or accessible (in the case of electronic resources); in many instances I have had to include works that fail to meet one or more of these criteria because they are the only available resources in their fields. I have based decisions about what to include—as well as evaluations—on my own experience in using these works and on published surveys of research, authoritative reviews, the advice of scholars from a variety of fields, and existing guides to literary reference sources. (In addition to my own publications, I have ties to four other works listed in this Guide: I have been a field bibliographer for the MLA International Bibliography [G335] since 1974 and served twice on its advisory board; I am a member of the advisory board of Literature Online [I527] and of British Literary Manuscripts Online [M1373]; and I was a member of the advisory panel for Early English Prose Fiction [M2103]. I trust that none of these affiliations has swayed my evaluations of these works.)
Since the Guide is intended as a vade mecum for researchers—from advanced undergraduates to experienced scholars—pursuing a topic at a more than superficial level, I have omitted elementary works (such as collections of plot synopses or excerpts from criticism and handbooks that consist of little more than brief critical commentary). Readers who lack basic library skills or require an orientation to using literary reference works should begin with Baker, Research Guide for Undergraduate Students (B80). I have omitted general critical studies as well as publications devoted to a single author or literary work, since such materials are readily identifiable in library catalogs and in the sources listed in various period sections.
Although a majority of the entries are for works published and available by May 2009, I have included some significant works in progress or in press when authors have provided detailed descriptions or extensive samples. Users should watch for these unpublished works but regard my citations and annotations as provisional.
The Guide is organized in divisions for general literary reference works, national literatures, and topics or sources related to literature. Each division is variously subdivided, and each subdivision classified by type of reference work. The table of contents offers a detailed overview of the divisions and subdivisions, each of which begins with an outline of its organization. Where possible, I use the following organization:
Guides to Reference Works
Histories and Surveys
Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias
Bibliographies of Bibliographies
Guides to Primary Works
Guides to Collections
Guides to Scholarship and Criticism
Surveys of Research
Dissertations and Theses
Guides to Primary Works
Guides to Scholarship
Studies of Language
Histories and Surveys
Guides to Primary Works
Guides to Scholarship
(Research Methods, Guides to Reference Works, Histories and Surveys, etc.)
Under each heading, truly seminal works appear first, followed by important works that, while not seminal, are noteworthy for their accuracy and value as research tools, then the remainder in alphabetical order by author, editor, or title (for an anonymous work or an edited one better known by its title). I use the letter-by-letter system to alphabetize entries.
At a late stage of work on the first edition, I numbered entries in increments of five and left two or three entry numbers open at the end of each section or division to accommodate insertions as well as to preclude complete renumbering in succeeding editions.
I describe a work fully under the most appropriate classification and provide cross-references in related ones. (Cross-references cite entry numbers; a number followed by a means that the work appears in the annotation rather than citation.) Thus users of this Guide must be certain to examine the See also references in each classification.
An entry consists of two parts: the citation and the annotation. Citations generally follow the form recommended in the second edition of the MLA Style Manual (U6400) but add the following: a commonly used acronym or short title, pagination for a single-volume work, the URL for a World Wide Web site, and Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal Classification numbers. For pagination, I cite the final printed arabic page number in a book. My sources for Library of Congress and Dewey numbers are Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication information or Library of Congress cataloging records in WorldCat (E225); in some few instances I have had to rely on less accurate sources. I omit classification numbers for microform publications and CD-ROMs because most libraries have individual systems of cataloging and storing works in these media. Users should remember that these classification numbers are merely general guides, since libraries vary in their cataloging practices.
I cite the most recent edition or corrected reprint of a work, noting an earlier one only when it retains independent value. For unrevised works, I cite the earliest edition (making no attempt to list reprints). For works published independently in two or more countries, I give the publication information for the copy I consulted (although I do record a variant title). For multivolume works published over a number of years, place and publisher are those of the most recent volume. Rather than give the editor, edition, and year of works revised annually or biennially, I cite the title, place, and publisher of the most recent edition, the year of initial publication, and the frequency. I generally record separately published supplements or continuations in the citation; where appropriate, titles of individual volumes of a multivolume work appear in a list following the citation. In some instances, I include a parenthetical note on revisions or new editions in progress or announced for publication—some of which will be delayed or will never appear. For electronic resources, I cite—when needed and if known—the title, author or editor; version number, publisher, date of access, URL or medium (CD-ROM), and frequency of updating. For Internet resources, I attempt to cite the URL of the log-in page (alternatively, a home or information page); most researchers, however, will access subscription-based sites through a library’s OPAC or electronic resources page. I give the current title of a resource and usually record up to two earlier titles; for those with numerous title changes, I simply note that the title varies.
The annotations. The second part of an entry is the annotation, which does the following:
- describes the type of work; its scope, major limitations (with particular attention to criteria governing selection), and basic organization (with details of significant changes in a multivolume work); parts of a typical entry; type and number of indexes; electronic version and its interface; and aids to its use (such as detailed evaluations; historical studies; and separately published supplements, indexes, or lists of additions and corrections);
- offers an evaluation (with particular attention to coverage, organization, accuracy, or accessibility) combined, usually, with a description of the work’s important uses in research;
- lists significant reviews that more fully define the importance or uses of the work or its place in a scholarly tradition, detail its deficiencies or strengths, or provide significant additions and corrections;
- notes related works, including supplementary, complementary, or superseded ones not accorded separate entries in the Guide.
Because many electronic reference resources are available from more than one purveyor, I evaluate the standard search interfaces of the major database aggregators or vendors (entries I510–35). In evaluating an electronic resource, I kept in mind the following questions (some of which are borrowed or adapted from the Minimal Guidelines for Authors of Web Pages prepared by the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Information Technology).
Does the resource
- identify author(s) or editor(s) and provide contact information?
- identify, if appropriate, designer(s) and contact information?
- identify the institution, group, or organization funding, sponsoring, or publishing the database and contact information?
- provide a statement of copyright (and contact information for copyright permissions)?
- provide a privacy statement that indicates what information is collected on users and how that information is used?
- note any special software requirements (and provisions for users with special needs)?
- provide a precise description of scope (e.g., what kinds of documents are included or excluded; what years are covered; what languages, if any, are excluded)?
- offer a description of sources of data (e.g., are records based on firsthand examination of documents or are they taken secondhand from other sources [a list of which should be included])?
- indicate who (author, professional abstracter, volunteer) writes abstracts for and indexes documents?
- describe editorial practices that might affect search strategies and capabilities?
- spell out the frequency of updates?
- explain record structure?
- explain the relation to any print version (e.g., what is omitted, what is added)?
- provide a way for users to report errors and omissions?
- explain how the database complements, supersedes, or mirrors other resources?
- provide a help file that explains search techniques and alerts users to quirks in searching?
- provide a site map?
- offer a description of the taxonomy of the database if it replicates a print source and allows browsing based on the taxonomy?
- provide a way of sorting records by accession number or date and identifying records added within each update?
My initial plan was to provide a kind of scorecard (based on the preceding questions) for each electronic resource, but it soon became apparent that only a minuscule number of the Web sites or CD-ROMs would receive more than five affirmative responses. To avoid lengthy repetitions of the litany “This site does not identify or provide…,” I discuss such omissions only when they substantially affect the quality or accessibility of a resource. Because many electronic resources based on a print ancestor inexcusably fail to offer an adequate discussion of editorial policy or scope, I have retained my discussions of printed versions.
Although I attempt to keep annotations to a reasonable size by emphasizing major points, important or particularly complex works receive lengthier treatment. The annotations—which will offer too much information for some users and too little for others—are meant to allow researchers to determine what works will best suit their needs (and at the same time alert them to major strengths and deficiencies), but the annotations cannot substitute for a careful perusal of the works themselves.
It is the fate of every bibliographer to produce a work that includes errors and is outdated before the last keystroke of the final draft is saved. Even worse is the lot of one who prepares a selective critical bibliography, for he or she will inevitably omit important works, misjudge others, and fail to notice every new work or revised edition. I therefore append the bibliographer’s infrequently heeded plea that those who use the Guide inform me of outright errors, suggest additions and deletions, and point out disagreements in matters of judgment.