MLA abandons URLs. No, really!

URLs removed from MLA style guideAttention thesis writers: Your life just got easier. If you are using the MLA citation system, please note that URLs are no longer required in your bibliographies.

Yes, you read that correctly. Down with URLs!

This topic has been buzzing around the inboxes of gnovis staff, but I will admit that when I first read the news I was stunned. No URLs? How are people supposed to find the twelve websites I referenced in my thesis today?

Yet there it remains. As of the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook, “the MLA no longer recommends the inclusion of URLs in the works-cited-list entries for Web publications.”

Karl Stolley, apparently as disturbed as I am, quickly responded with some insight:

The logic behind this is that URLs are often long and unwieldy (ironically, the worst offenders in this department are often major bibliographic indexes and article repositories, not to mention the mile-longers offered up by Amazon.com), and that retyping URLs is not nearly as efficient as simply Googling for the author and title of a work.

Stolley does an excellent job of laying out the issue. Content isn’t static, URLs are not fixed, many versions exist, Creative Commons just makes the picture messier, etc. What he doesn’t address, and what makes my brain bleed, is this concern over typing.

I can’t really remember the last time I typed in a URL from a piece of paper. Removing URLs based on typeability presumes that paper will continue to be the primary medium for the foreseeable future, and ignores the growing prevelance of PDFs that support “cut and paste”. While I am not under the illusion that paper will magically vanish, I do believe that we will increasingly see works published in multiple formats, not to mention the rise of digital scholarship.

Stolley gets it right when says “the MLA’s decision to make URLs optional is a blow to digital information literacy.” Moreover, it does little to aid digital and new media scholars who need better tools to aid their readers in finding resources, not a citation system that handicaps itself because new media is tricky.

The MLA should provide an alternative. Perhaps a version of TinyURL that captures the content of a website, or links to the WayBackMachine. (And that is just off the top of my head.) In the meantime, I think I am switching my thesis over to APA.

Attention academics: Your life just got a bit harder.

Jed Brubaker

Jed Brubaker's background involves professional and academic work in the social sciences, marketing, technology, and the arts. He received a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah, and is a former master's candidate in the interdisciplinary Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) program at Georgetown University. His current research interests included digital identity and anonymity, Internet culture, and computer mediated communication. Read more on his blog at www.whatknows.com.