The always reflective and thoughtful Karl Fisch published this provocative blog post in response to a Twitter comment from an equally thoughtful and talented educator, Meredith Stewart:

The Fischbowl: Dear MLA and APA via kwout

In a Twitter conversation we engaged in this morning , Karl expressed that he would prefer students spend more time interacting with ideas and content than the mechanics of citation.   He also questioned why we still include some pieces of publication like city for a book and argued that for databases, only the original source information needed to be included in a citation.

I agree with Karl that we should not be obsessing about the number of spaces after the period in a citation or other minutia (although I’m not sure I am of the same perception that classrooms across the United States are actually spending an inordinate amount of time is being spent on the nitpicky details of citation these days—do you see this obsession with details in your school/academic environment?)   And while MLA is my citation style of choice, I’ll be the first to tell you I have issues with some of the style guidelines in the 7th edition.  While I also agree with the emphasis on students spending their intellectual and creative energies on transacting with the ideas in the information sources, I would also argue the mechanics of citation have been mitigated by the proliferation of free and paid subscription tools like NoodleTools and Zotero.

CC Image via

In addition, I would argue that while we could probably rethink the inclusion of some bibliographic data, other sources, such as database sources, really need both layers of citation (the database as well as any original publication info).  These posts, along with subsequent Twitter talk, raise some important questions that are most definitely discussion worthy:

1.   What is the purpose of citation?  Where is it relevant outside of the academic world or professional publishing?

2.  What pieces of information are critical to include in a citation for assorted information sources in today’s information landscape?  Are there pieces of bibliographic data we once included that are no longer relevant in today’s world?  Are current style manuals outdated and out of touch with the citation/information needs of today’s users?

3.  Should the academic world (or world at large for that matter) revolt and demand one standard citation format?  You can revisit an earlier post on this blog related to this question by visiting this link.

4.  Do you agree with Karl’s assertion that “Anything that needs a “third party [fillintheblank] manager” is an inherently flawed system”?  In this particular thread, we were discussing how many of the databases now allow you to export the citation to a third party citation manager.

5.  How, if at all, is the proliferation of social scholarship and emerging sources of authoritative information, shaping the need for citation to evolve?

The exchange of ideas also has me thinking about how citation looks through the lenses of a librarian compared to that of a teacher or a student.  Information that may be especially important to one person through a certain set of lenses may not seem as significant to another; in addition, not all students and teachers/professors may have an awareness  of and/or access to either a subscription based citation manager or knowledge of free citation tools.  Yet how do we come to consensus on some common standards if we  could remix and reinvent the concepts and principles of citation?

What do you think about these questions/issues?  Please share your response here on the blog!

10 thoughts on “Is It Time for an Extreme Citation Style Manual Makeover?

  1. The purpose of a citation is so somebody reading your article can see where you got your information and go read that original source.

    If you keep this idea in mind, then it’s obvious that today’s citation styles are seriously outdated. However, creating new citation styles is far from a simple matter.

    Online information is ephemeral, and this often makes it hard to find again. It is also often not freely available to everyone because of various access restrictions. And all of these factors are in a constant state of flux, always changing and moving.


  2. As a Technical Services Librarian in a public library, I’m all for catching our technologies & methods up to the times. There’s lots of “stuff” in MARC records that could be left out given the way patrons search for items these days. No one gives a crap about who published the author or from what studio came the movie. All they really want is title, author or series, and MAYBE a description of the book.

    In the case of an online resource for citation, really, the MLA and APA are out of touch with reality. There is no need for all that other junk when you can provide a link to the site from which you obtained the information!


  3. Buffy,
    I agree with your sentiments. The digital age has (in many cases) left academia in the dust. You are SPOT ON on the obvious answers you are leading us to with your numbered questions. What I like about that is that we can take these questions to our individual institutions and answer them on a local basis. The only place I’d disagree is on question #3: why would we want to impose a universal standard when that idea has gotten us to this point in the first place?

    You are a true visionary.
    – JP from


  4. If we’re teaching kids to be information-format-agnostic, it seems ridiculous to insist that they learn different citation styles for specific subjects/teachers. How to punctuate a citation seems to create more barriers to the process of acknowledging the original source.


  5. I could care less about punctuation in a citation. Thank the Lord for citation tools like NoodleBib.
    The value I see in teaching citation is that it scaffolds students through source evaluation. More than a few times I have overheard “Dude, if it doesn’t have an author, copyright date or sponsoring organization you just can’t use it!”
    More than that, citation teaches them not to be so gullible in a copy/paste mash-up world. They really do become more sophisticated users of information after they understand and have had authentic and assessed experiences with research bibs. Ideally this will make them more personally accountable throughout their lives.


  6. I agree with JP – as long as proper credit is given, does it really matter if it’s MLA or APA or Chicago or whatever?

    What we should be teaching students is information evaluation and plagiarism. There are some forms of plagiarism that come across as fully innocent but fall under the definition of the act.


  7. What a great conversation. I am not sure where I fall in this discussion although I am leaning towards simplifying the citation format and process as much as possible. I do like the comment that Robin makes about how the process helps students evaluate a possible resource and makes them accountable for the research sources they choose.


  8. I agree that the whole idea of citation styles is outdated and unnecessarily tedious, but as a librarian in a community college where many students are sorely deficient in the most basic of skills, forcing them to prepare a list of works cited can actually be a valuable exercise in attention to detail and following directions. And even though many students do figure out that there are citation generators out there that will do most of the work for them, just getting them to think about what *kind* of source they need to cite (is it a book, journal, magazine, newspaper, blog entry, website?) can be a good lesson.


  9. I disagree with discarding any of the required information on the basis that patrons do not use it. Even if they do not use what is in the MARC record, I have often found that the MARC information is the only way to find what a patron is truely looking for. When the patron remembers the title, author, and year incorrectly, but gets the studio or a chapter title right, how would you get a lead without them? Keep the extra info for the people who know how to use it; don’t discard it because not enough people use it. I also agree with Robin about how it forces students to evaluate their sources.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s