MLA Guide to Undergraduate Research in Literature. By Elizabeth Brookbank and H. Faye Christenberry. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2019. 137 p. $16 (ISBN: 9781603294362).

Though the Modern Language Association (MLA) is most known for their style guides, the MLA Guide to Undergraduate Research in Literature is part of a small collection of pedagogical treatises the MLA offers for literature and composition instructors, offering entry points to various foundations of most English coursework.

They state that this guide is meant for undergraduate researchers or instructors, but it would be weak as an assigned reading for undergraduates. Its best use is for English teachers hoping for guidance on teaching literary research papers and especially instructional librarians who work in library or composition classrooms. Because the book describes the research process in similar ways to how it is often imagined in library information literacy discourse—with notions like brain storming and keywords, changing research questions, citation management, and conducting Internet searching—it works well as a foundation for research instruction curriculum.

Though it contains similar concepts to information literacy discourse, it differs from something like the ALA’s popular cookbook series and similar guides,1 which offer activity ideas for undergraduate library instruction in general, normally reducing humanities to a singular tradition. The MLA Guide to Undergraduate Research in Literature dives deeply into all facets of literary research exclusively, promoting subject-specific databases outside of the MLA’s own MLA International Bibliography. Importantly, it tackles particular problems posed in literary research, such as how to research a piece of literature that has not been written about in scholarship or how to conduct advanced literary searches using logic specific to literary criticism, such as theme. It focuses less on activities and more on concepts, though it does include examples and prompts for the classroom.

It is wise to include this book as the foundation of library instruction for the English classroom, following the chronology it offers for literary research and some of its discussions of things like describing contextual primary sources. Rather than basing instruction ideas purely on information literacy guides coming from library publishers, this book speaks to the English community’s needs, as written by the English community itself.— Elliott Kuecker, Instructional Librarian / Liaison for First-Year Composition, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia


  1. K. Calkins and C. Kvenild, The Embedded Librarian’s Cookboo. (Chicago: American Library Association, 2014); N. Fawley and N. Krysak, The Discovery Tool Cookbook: Recipes for Successful Lesson Plans (Chicago: American Library Association, 2016); H. McClure, P. Bravender, and G. Schaub, Teaching Information Literacy Threshold Concepts: Lessons for Librarians (Chicago: American Library Association, 2015); R. Pun and M. Houlihan, The First-Year Experience Cookbook (Chicago: American Library Association, 2017).


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