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  Are current style manuals outdated and out of touch with the citation/information needs of today’s users?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!