Literary Research Guide/B

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Guides to Reference Works

Guides to reference works identify and (in the better ones) evaluate the handbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies of bibliographies, national bibliographies, surveys of research, bibliographic databases, review indexes, and other resources—print and electronic—important to research within a discipline. They are the essential first sources a scholar consults when planning how to approach a research problem.

General Guides[edit]


Guide to Reference. Bob Kieft, gen. ed. 12th ed. American Library Association.Amer. Lib. Assn., 2008. 5 Oct. 2012. <>. Updated regularly. Former title: Guide to Reference Books.

A selective guide to general and specialized reference works that focuses on the “best reference sources.” The principal criterion determining inclusion is “usefulness”; for an admirably detailed explanation of selection criteria, see Entries are organized by six extensively classified sections: general works; humanities; social and behavioral sciences; history and area studies; science, technology, and medicine; and interdisciplinary fields (including communication and media studies, cultural studies, and gender studies). Each section includes an “Editor’s Guide.” Entries can be browsed by subfield. Advanced Search allows keyword searching of the entire text or by keyword(s) in the title, author, annotation, and publisher fields. Searches can be limited by subfield, date, and LC and Dewey classification range. In both Browse and Advanced Search, results can be sorted in ascending order by author, date, or title and can be marked for addition to a public or private list, printing, e-mailing, or exporting. Entries consist of a citation, annotation, and links to related works or subfields; a few cite reviews. In addition, users can add a public or private note to a record and find public lists that include it. Although descriptions are now more evaluative than those in previous editions (the level of evaluation is not uniform across sections), many annotations still rely too uncritically on quotations from prefatory matter to describe scope or purpose, and too few compare similar works; many annotations ignore important limitations or weaknesses or fail to link related records. More clearly focused on resources for academic libraries, the new edition omits many works of dubious value that cluttered the pages of the eleventh edition and improves coverage of foreign language titles, but it also overlooks important works (e.g., Dictionary of Old English [M1690]). Despite its shortcomings, Guide to Reference remains useful to literature scholars for its general coverage of reference works essential to research in areas related to literature. Although claiming to be “updated on an ongoing basis,” few subfields include works that appeared after 2008. Users can also consult “Selected Reference Books” in various issues of College and Research Libraries. Since the new Guide emphasizes recently published works, the earlier print editions remain useful. For the genesis and publishing history of Guide to Reference Books (along with a selective bibliography of studies and reviews), see Stuart W. Miller, “‘Monument’: Guide to Reference Books,” Distinguished Classics of Reference Publishing, ed. James Rettig (Phoenix: Oryx, 1992) 129–37.

Complemented by The New Walford Guide to Reference Resources (B65). Although now dated, Louise-Noëlle Malclès, Les sources du travail bibliographique, 3 vols. in 4 (Genève: Droz, 1950–58), is an occasionally useful supplement to Guide to Reference because of its extensive coverage of Continental publications and older works. More current but less thorough is Marie-Hélène Prévoteau and Jean-Claude Utard, Manuel de bibliographie générale, new ed., Collection bibliothèques (Paris: Cercle de la Librairie, 2005; 524 pp.). Researchers should ignore Bowker’s Best Reference Books: Arranged by LC Classification Number, 3 vols. (New Providence: Best Books–Bowker, 2005) and Bowker’s Best Reference Books: Arranged by Subject Heading, 2 vols. (2005), which offer uncritical lists that include in the literature section or under literature subject headings a substantial number of works that are not reference books. For timely notices of new and revised reference books, see American Reference Books Annual (K745) and Choice (K750).


The New Walford Guide to Reference Resources (TNW). Ed. Ray Lester. 3 vols. London: Facet, 2005– . Z1035.1.W33 001′.02.

  • Vol. 1: Science, Technology, and Medicine. 2005. 827 pp.
  • Vol. 2: Social Sciences. 2008. 699 pp.
  • Vol. 3: Walford’s Guide to Reference Material: Generalia, Language and Literature, the Arts. Ed. Anthony Chalcraft, Ray Prytherch, and Stephen Willis. 7th ed. London: Lib. Assn., 1998. 1,186 pp. (A new edition—The Arts: Visual Arts, Music, Language, and Literature, ed. Peter Chapman and Helen Edwards—is scheduled for 2014.)

The British counterpart to Guide to Reference (B60), but more international and comprehensive in coverage. Entries in vol. 3 are organized by the Universal Decimal Classification system; those in New Walford are organized by “subject parts, subject groupings and subject fields.” Annotations in vols. 1 and 3 are sometimes evaluative and helpfully identify related works, especially supplements or titles that have been superseded; annotations in vol. 2 seldom refer to other works or reviews. Three indexes in vol. 3: authors and titles, subjects, electronic resources; two in vols. 1–2: topics (i.e., subjects) and authors and titles. Vol. 3, the one of most interest to literary researchers, is judicious in its selection and evaluation of works, is current through early 1998, and has been carefully proofread (unlike the volume’s fourth edition). Unfortunately, however, many works that exhibit major shortcomings are accompanied by only a brief descriptive comment.

Although New Walford and Guide to Reference are ultimately complementary works, Guide to Reference is more current. The Literary Research Guide offers more current coverage of sources for the study of language and literature, but both Guide to Reference and New Walford are essential guides to reference sources necessary to research in related areas.

Specialized Guides[edit]


The Reader’s Adviser. Ed. Marion Sader. 14th ed. 6 vols. New Providence: Bowker, 1994. Z1035.B7 016.028. CD-ROM.

  • Vol. 1: The Best in Reference Works, British Literature, and American Literature. Ed. David Scott Kastan and Emory Elliott. 1994. 1,472 pp.
  • Vol. 2: The Best in World Literature. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 1994. 1,122 pp.
  • Vol. 3: The Best in Social Sciences, History, and the Arts. Ed. John G. Sproat. 1994. 1,127 pp.
  • Vol. 4: The Best in Philosophy and Religion. Ed. Robert S. Ellwood. 1994. 1,054 pp.
  • Vol. 5: The Best in Science, Technology, and Medicine. Ed. Carl Mitcham and William F. Williams. 1994. 975 pp.
  • Vol. 6: Indexes. 1994. 823 pp.

Ostensibly a guide to the best editions, studies, biographies, and reference books in print at the time of compilation (along with a few out of print); however, the lack of discrimination in the selection of works, the variable quality of evaluations, and the emphasis on books in print render this work virtually useless as a critical guide, especially for the lay reader. In effect, Reader’s Adviser is a repackaging of noncurrent information from Books in Print (Q4225a). Indexed in vol. 6 by persons, titles, and subjects. Author sections are also indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565).

Even more useless is The Best Books for Academic Libraries, vers. 3.0, CD-ROM (Best Books, 2005), an uncritical conglomeration of titles. Its print predecessor—The Best Books for University Libraries, 10 vols. in multiple pts. (2002)—is an egregious waste of paper that lists titles by Library of Congress classification. See Bateson and Meserole, Guide to English and American Literature (B85), Year’s Work in English Studies (G330), Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (U6133), and American Literary Scholarship (Q3265) instead.


Taylor, Archer. General Subject-Indexes since 1548. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1966. 336 pp. Pubs. of the A. S. W. Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliog. Z695.T28 017.

A historical and critical account of important subject indexes in Latin and European vernacular languages published through the 1950s. Organized by century, the full descriptions, which illustrate uses in modern scholarship, offer helpful introductions to earlier reference works now little known but still essential to research in many periods.

See also[edit]

Carter and Ritchie, Women’s Studies (U6580).

Literature Guides[edit]

The following works cover two or more national literatures. Guides devoted to a single national literature or period appear in appropriate sections under the heading “Guides to Reference Works.”

For a discussion of 71 literary reference works that need to be written or revised, see James L. Harner, “Literary Reference Works: Some Desiderata,” Scholarly Publishing 21.3 (1990): 171–83.


Baker, Nancy L., and Nancy Huling. A Research Guide for Undergraduate Students: English and American Literature. 6th ed. New York: MLA, 2006. 96 pp. PR56.B34 820.72.

An introduction for undergraduate students to the use of electronic and print versions of major bibliographies of bibliographies, bibliographies and indexes of criticism, book review indexes, text archives, biographical dictionaries, concordances and quotation indexes, dictionaries, and literary encyclopedias. Particularly noteworthy is the detailed explanation of how to search an OPAC. The thorough explanations are accompanied by screen shots and reproductions of entries from the reference works. An appendix provides a highly selective, descriptively annotated bibliography of reference sources, including several not discussed in the text. Sound selection and clear, helpful explanations make this an ideal guide for introducing undergraduate English majors to library research.


Bateson, F. W., and Harrison T. Meserole. A Guide to English and American Literature. 3rd ed. London: Longman, 1976. 334 pp. Z2011.B32 [PR83] 016.82.

An evaluative survey of the best editions and criticism of important authors as well as the reference works, literary histories, anthologies, and special studies essential to the study of a period. In addition, there are chapters on general works, modern literary criticism, and research techniques, as well as “interchapters” offering historical perspectives on the medieval, Renaissance, Augustan, and Romantic periods. Readers will disagree with some of the frequently trenchant evaluations; many authors are treated more fully elsewhere; and all sections are outdated; but no single work encompasses so much, so successfully, and so conveniently. Literature scholars sorely need a new edition. Review: Rodney L. Smith, Seventeenth-Century News 36.1 (1978): 23–24.

For recent works see Year’s Work in English Studies (G330), Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (U6133), and American Literary Scholarship (Q3265). Reader’s Adviser (B70) offers broader, but far less discriminating, coverage.


Marcuse, Michael J. A Reference Guide for English Studies. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. 790 pp. PR56.M37 016.82′09.

A selective guide to reference works (current through 1985 but with some publications as late as 1989) important to the study of the English language and literatures in English. Entries are organized in 24 variously classified divisions for general reference works; libraries; retrospective and current national bibliographies; guides to serial publications; miscellaneous topics (including dissertations, microforms, reviews, indexes to anonymous and pseudonymous works, and films); historical sources; biography and biographical references; archives and manuscripts; language, linguistics, and philology; literary materials and contexts (including folklore, mythology, the Bible, proverbs, quotations, and symbols); literature (a miscellany including sections for literary dictionaries, various foreign literatures, children’s literature, and women and literature); English literature (with sections for general works as well as various new literatures in English); medieval literature; Renaissance and early seventeenth century; Restoration and eighteenth century; nineteenth century; twentieth century; American literature; poetry and versification; theater, drama, and film; prose and prose fiction; literary theory and criticism, rhetoric, and composition; bibliography; and the profession of English (including sections on research guides, scholarly writing and publishing, computers, and careers). Within a typical section, guides and reviews of research appear first, then bibliographies, and then other reference works; many sections also include unannotated lists of journals and frequently recommended studies. Reference sources are fully annotated, usually with descriptions of a work’s history, purpose, scope, and organization; comments on uses; a judicious evaluation; and references to related works, many of which are not entered separately. Three indexes: persons; titles; subjects (with works appearing in the lists of recommended studies indexed in only the last). Given the principles determining placement of a work and the sometimes confusing organization, the subject index offers the best access to contents. Thorough in its annotations, usually judicious in selection and evaluation, and covering some non-English language works, Reference Guide for English Studies is a valuable complement to the present Literary Research Guide and a trustworthy companion for the novice as well as for the advanced scholar. Users must remember that Marcuse is current only through 1985 and thus cites many superseded editions or works and describes editorial policies or taxonomies that are now quite different.

For a comparison of the first edition of this Literary Research Guide and Marcuse see the review by Robert Schweik, Analytical and Enumerative Bibliography ns 4.4 (1990): 171–83.

See also[edit]

ALS (Q3265): Chapter on reference works since the volume for 1977.

Thompson, Key Sources in Comparative and World Literature (S4850).

YWES (G330): Chapter on Reference, Literary History, and Bibliography in vols. 66–72 (for 1985–91); in addition, some chapters survey reference works, and the Bibliography and Textual Criticism chapter (which begins with vol. 76 [for 1995]) evaluates some reference works.