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Most bibliography formats require the city of publication for books. Why? In this digital era, ISBN would be way more important. But even before the digitalization of everything, why was the city of publication important?

I can imagine some purposes:

  1. to distinguish potential same names of different publishers, and
  2. to help book-seekers find the publisher and the book by actually visiting the city or contacting libraries in the city.

I want to know better stories about the 'city of publication'.

  • ISBN, ISSN or DOI is the accurate reference. Citation styles are somewhat grounded in the tradition and thus are either holding unnecessary stuff or missing the unambiguous identifier. – Piotr Migdal May 9 '12 at 13:04
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    Unambiguous identifiers are nice, and we should include them when possible, but they can't replace a clear, redundant, human-readable citation. Plus identifiers have various limitations (they cost money, so low-cost journals sometimes do not use DOIs, and ISSNs have the irritating feature that every journal has two, one for print and one for electronic - this is sensible if you are using them for library ordering purposes, but it forces anyone else to make an arbitrary choice). – Anonymous Mathematician May 9 '12 at 14:10
  • Human readability is nice and useful (and I am not saying that there should be only an identifier!). Also, I like when there are actual titles, not only names, as it makes it easier to guess the content, remember and then search (and also for traditional reasons (saving space on paper) there are often not included, even in e-prints). – Piotr Migdal May 9 '12 at 14:37
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Mentioning the city in the bibliography is important because sometimes the same edition published in different cities would have different pagination, and occasionally even redacted content. Therefore when someone wants to look up the original source, they need to have this additional information available to them.

Another important reason to keep the bibliographic information on place of publication is for reasons of style. Many of us might have bibliographies stretching a century or more, and it would look odd to mention place for some and not for others.

But naturally changes in citation styles are continual, and another element of the citation that is of lessening importance is the page number for journal articles. For one of my publications, I was actually required to remove the page numbers in the in text citation, because the relevant information is easier to find using a search engine rather than by leafing to the correct page in a printed copy.

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    By the way, do you know a good reference for the different pagination/redacted content issues? I don't know much about early publication practices but would love to learn more. – Anonymous Mathematician May 9 '12 at 14:13
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    @AnonymousMathematician A concrete example: Russel and Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd Ed). the US edition is 1152 pages (published 2009), the European edition is 1104 pages (2013); there also seems to be an Indian edition and maybe a Chinese one, too. – David Richerby May 26 '14 at 1:22
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In most cases, mentioning the city in the bibliography is not important. It appears to be largely a legacy of older practices. For this reason, I usually don't include the name of the city in my references, unless there is some particular reason to include it.

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    In older practices, why was it important? – Chang May 30 '12 at 17:52
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    Decades ago, it was not the case that there were just a few, multinational conglomerates doing essentially all the mathematical publishing in the world, for example. Thus, there were small publishers who'd be sufficiently not-well-known that their location needed to be specified. Further, there were no search engines, so it was difficult to find an entity if its location were not known. – paul garrett Oct 10 '12 at 12:32

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