According to a post at Inside HigherEd, the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers introduces some dramatic changes:
the Modern Language Association no longer recognizes print as the default medium, and suggests that the medium of publication should be included in each works cited entry
the MLA has ceased to recommend inclusion of URLs in citing Web-based works – unless the instructor requires it or a reader would likely be unable to locate the source otherwise. “Inclusion of URLs has proved to have limited value… for they often change, can be specific to a subscriber or a session of use, and can be so long and complex that typing them into a browser is cumbersome and prone to transcription errors. Readers are now more likely to find resources on the Web by searching for titles and authors’ names than by typing URLs,”
These two modifications to a reference work acknowledge the changes that have been encroaching on publishers for years now. First, print is only one medium, and likely not the dominant medium, for scholarship. Second, URLs are a poor substitute for Google.
I lingered over that last point as I read this. Recently, Mitch Joel of Six Pixels of Separation noted that Google is every company’s and every publisher’s home page. It’s where your audience looks for you, and how you rank there tells them a lot about how authoritative you are, how you rank against competing sources, and how digitally aware you are.
The MLA is acknowledging the power of Google, I believe, by stating that all you need to do is describe a resource sufficiently, and users can find it online.
Now, you can say you can use any search engine of course, but get real. It’s all about the Google.
One final point of interest — I recently noted that books might be moving to become services. This style guide promises “[c]ontinuous access [to the companion web site] throughout the life of the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook.”