Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. At one time, the location of a publisher could be used to get a phone number via directory assistance. This is no longer how anyone would do it, and publishers have frequently moved, been acquired, and so forth, so the location is often highly ambiguous. Authors spend tens of thousands of hours annually looking up or making up publisher locations. I’m staring now at a copy editor’s request that I identify the location of Cambridge University Press—and the editor says it is because you insist on it. Can you give me any sane reason for this collective expenditure of effort and print in 2012? It would make me feel better, as it feels like an empty ritual of no contemporary value, engaged in by a field that is unaware of the digital era. Insistence on archaic rules brings to mind the replicant lament in Blade Runner, “Then we’re stupid and we’ll die.”

A. We are so misunderstood! CMOS is not in the business of insisting on this or that. From our very first edition in 1906 we have stated very clearly that “rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity.” As for place of publication, in scholarly research it can be useful in tracking the development of the literature within a discipline (especially in instances where publishers are old and obscure). In fact, it’s not unusual for an academic to write a bibliography that includes only the place of publication for each work cited, without the publisher. When that happens, the editor or publisher must decide whether to require more information.