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Search tools and scholarly citation practices in literary studies

Carl A. Lehnen (University Library, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Glenda M. Insua (University Library, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 15 September 2022

Issue publication date: 22 November 2022




The wide adoption of web-scale discovery tools calls into question the usefulness and viability of traditional subject indexes. This study examines this question of usefulness in the context of the discipline of literary studies. To what extent can researchers rely on the primary database devoted to language and literature study to discover relevant scholarship, and how does the database's performance compare to other common search tools?


The study uses a random sample of citations from articles published in the flagship journal, PMLA, to see how well the sources cited by literature scholars are covered in various search tools, including the MLA International Bibliography.


Of the search tools investigated, Google Scholar found the largest number of citations, even when limiting to literary scholarship. However, the eclecticism of citations suggests that scholars benefit from using a variety of search tools and methods.


Although other studies have looked at discoverability in certain subject areas, this one focuses on literary studies. An understanding of the relative coverage of different search tools can inform librarian practices and recommendations.



Lehnen, C.A. and Insua, G.M. (2022), "Search tools and scholarly citation practices in literary studies", Reference Services Review, Vol. 50 No. 3/4, pp. 406-418.



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