Using the MLA International Bibliography to Guide the Research Process

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In a recent webinar presented by Research Information, Angela Ecklund and Farrah Lehman Den of the Modern Language Association (MLA) shared an overview of the free online teaching tools developed for use with the MLA International Bibliography. Claire Buck, Professor of English at Wheaton College, also described how she integrates the Bibliography into the curriculum to engage students in the research process.

Among other courses, Dr. Claire Buck teaches English 290: Approaches to Literature and Culture, a required course for majors and minors in English and Creative Writing at Wheaton College. Dr. Buck assigns each class a critical reception study that includes a group assignment using the Bibliography to research literature published about an author and/or a specific work over multiple decades. Each group graphically presents its findings and points out trends. According to Dr. Buck: “The exercise teaches students what different sources and bibliographies can do to build a rich picture of the life of the work.”

Understanding the MLA International Bibliography: An Online Course

Circa 2012, the MLA began posting tutorials online for using the MLA International Bibliography. The tutorials alleviated the need for individual faculty members and librarians to create and update their own instructional videos.

Spurred on by the popularity of the tutorials and by a desire to build an even more robust learning experience for students, last year the MLA launched a free, Creative Commons licensed, five-unit course called Understanding the MLA International Bibliography. The course teaches students the scope and purpose of the MLA International Bibliography and how to use it and other databases effectively for college-level research.

There are five course units with one or two video tutorials followed by progression questions:

  1. What is the MLA Bibliography?

  2. Searching

  3. Limiting Searches & Advanced Searching Techniques

  4. Peer Review

  5. Understanding Search Results & Locating Full Text

The units build on one another, so they must be taken in order. Learners earn a badge for completing each unit. This gamification aspect has contributed to the popularity of the course among students.

In 2018, four subject-focused modules were added:

  1. Linguistics

  2. Folklore

  3. Rhetoric & Composition

  4. Film, Television & Radio

The MLA Style Center: Writing Resources from the Modern Language Association

The expert-created resources for teaching MLA style, research skills, and writing are available on the MLA Style Center website, including an instructor’s guide to “Understanding the MLA International Bibliography: An Online Course” and several lesson plans and assignments. 

Engaging Students with the MLA International Bibliography: The Scholarly Conversation Project

The Scholarly Conversation Project is one such assignment and teaches students how serial publications are presented in databases and how to read them chronologically. Students work in small groups, select one journal from a list of titles and capture and analyze subject metadata by decade. This analysis unearths observations that lead to thought-provoking questions.

Watch the Research Information webinar for more detail about the course, “Understanding the MLA International Bibliography” and the ways it is used in instruction.

To request a free trial of the MLA International Bibliography with Full Text on EBSCOhost® or EBSCO Discovery Service™, please contact your EBSCO representative, or visit