Tuesday, May 5, 2015

buried in bibliography

So now I'm buried in compiling the last bit of work for the Tolkien journal, the annual bibliography of work in the field, this time covering 2013. We have a former grad student who does the first pass through the databases and thus accomplishes much of the grunt work, and then I go through and add more detail. Lots more detail. 2013 was actually a light year in the field (2014 was much heavier), but I spent all of yesterday - apart from one nap, and cooking and eating dinner, from 4 am to about 10 pm - doing online searches for the bibliography, and I'm still not quite finished with what I can do at home. Next step is to look up stuff I need to check up on in online catalogs of libraries, and then go to the libraries, where also they have numerous additional databases I can't check at home. I'm supposed to be done by the end of the week, but I'm not sure that will happen.

The challenge is trying to miss as little as possible - easier if you know the tricks of the trade, such as important publications in the field that tend not to get indexed online - but of equal concern to me is the artificial boundaries set on inclusion. One of these is advertised in our title: we only cover English-language material. But with books published recently collecting translations of papers by Tolkien scholars from countries like Italy and Poland, it's obvious that we're missing a lot. Other artificial limitations are not so specified, and I'm surprised we haven't been called on them. Maybe just nobody is paying attention to what we list. But ever since the advent of the web, the traditional concept of a comprehensive bibliography has ceased being viable, and we may soon get to the point where subjective judgment of the value of the intellectual content may be the only way to put on the limits necessary to create a useful list.

I try not to worry about this too much. I'm just trying to get a lot of work done here.

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