eReviews: MLA International Bibliography, September 1, 2012

Modern Language Association (MLA) International Bibliography

ProQuest; free trials

Content Modern Language Association (MLA) International Bibliography is an annual bibliography of books and articles on topics such as modern literatures, literary theory and criticism, linguistics, language teaching, dramatic arts (film, radio, television, and theater), rhetoric and composition, the history of the book, and folklore. The file currently consists of more than 2.3 million citations from 4400 journals and other sources, with approximately 66,000 new book and article records added annually (updates take place nine times per year).

Material dates from 1926 onward and covers the literatures of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. Users can save searches, view search history and lists of bookmarked articles, access a searchable directory of periodicals, work in “My Archive” (a researcher-created area in which to save annotated records for future use), and export records to bibliographic software packages.

Usability The main search screen is clean and easy to use—particularly helpful is that the title bar includes the ProQuest name but emphasizes the database title; researchers will never be in doubt that they are searching the MLA International Bibliography. Beneath the database name are links to the basic and advanced search areas, and a screentop toolbar traces recent searches, selected items, and saved material, all available at a single click.

There are a couple of literary-themed illustrations mid-screen and “Want to Learn More?” and “Search Tip” windows at screen right. (While having the “Search Tip” up front is great, it would be even more useful above the “Want to Learn More?” window, since researchers need to know right away how the file works.) In contrast, many other databases make users guess or delve into documentation to learn search protocol.

I started with a basic search for “Stephen Greenblatt” and got 353 results. At that point it occurred to me that I also have access to the EBSCOhost version of the MLA International Bibliography (ow.ly/cSJGD) and it would be intersting to perform a few head-to-head searches to compare results between the two. The same basic search in the EBSCOhost version of the database returned 338 results. An advanced query of the name under “Author” turned up 102 results in both versions.

Limiting the results to peer-reviewed material was easy to do in ProQuest (checking a box below the search function accomplished it with one click) but a little more involved using EBSCOhost (it required selecting “Scholarly/Peer Reviewed Journals” from the limiters list, then scrolling down and clicking “Update” to get the narrowed list). Both versions uncovered 33 results.

Next, I tried a naive basic search in ProQuest, “women Shakespeare,” to approximate undergraduate searching. The search revealed 1031 results in ProQuest and 219 using EBSCOhost. EBSCOhost’s “Help” area offers “Basic Search” tips, which revealed the need to place a Boolean “AND” between the terms; unfortunately, undergraduates will likely accept the 219 results as given, as not many students who use these files take the extra steps necessary to get a better result. Performing the suggested Boolean search in EBSCOhost Basic returned 987 results, which was better, but still 44 fewer than found using ProQuest’s access to MLA.

A basic search for “palimpsest Archimededs” found no results in either version; both suggested (rightly) that perhaps I was searching for “palimpsest Archimedes.” The only difference here was that ProQuest automatically did the correct search and displayed the results, while EBSCOhost instead hyperlinked the correct phrase to click in order to do the search.

The last investigation I tried using both vendors’ versions of the database showed very different results. A basic search of ProQuest MLA for “Plato’s republic” found 46 results, but the system suggested a better search term, “Plato republic,” automatically offering a link to 183 results. A search of EBSCOhost MLA for the term found 28 results but gave no suggested prompt for “Plato republic” (although out of curiosity I did the search and got 31 results).

The material in the MLA International Bibliography is top-notch whether you serve it up via ProQuest or EBSCOhost, but head-to-head searches revealed the strengths of the ProQuest MLA in comparison to the EBSCOhost version. More is not automatically better, but ProQuest consistently turned up more pertinent material than
EBSCOhost found, and the ProQuest interface is clearer, faster, and easier to use for this file.

Try as I might, though, I couldn’t link into the MLA Directory of Periodicals in the ProQuest version, although the home screen promised access to it. In contrast, the link into the directory is up front and immediately accessible with a single click in EBSCOhost (it is helpfully placed next to the link to the thesaurus).

Pricing ProQuest’s fees for MLA International Bibliography are based on an institution’s FTE or on the number of simultaneous users requested, though other factors (such as location or the size and membership of a consortium) can affect the annual rate. Annual access charges start at about $4100, with individual quotes available on request. (Annual subscriptions to the Gale version start at $1000 for school, $4200 for public, $4100 for academic, and $2050 for community college libraries.)

The file is also available from ProQuest as an integrated component of Literature Online, which permits cross-searching of the MLA with the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL) and a collection of more than 350 full-text journals.

Verdict I’m impressed by the search results I got using the ProQuest version of MLA—enough for me to recommend that, whichever version of the MLA you may have subscribed to in the past, you get a trial subscription to the other and do some head-to-head searching to discover which version best suits your needs. As platforms change, it behooves us to recheck file performance and researcher needs, so sit a few of your researchers down with both versions and see which they prefer, since it’s their use (or disuse, or misuse) that matters most.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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