Multivolume works can seem complex and difficult to cite because they present the writer with an abundance of bibliographic information—some essential, some optional—that can be managed in a variety of ways. But you cite these works just as you would any other work: follow the MLA template of core elements. Keep in mind also that you can use optional elements.
Let’s say you want to cite André Berger’s essay “Climate Model Simulations of the Geological Past,” which appears in an edited collection titled The Earth System: Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. The Earth System is volume 1 of Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, published in five volumes.
Cite the volume independently from the multivolume work.
Begin by listing the author and the title of the essay. Then list the title of the individual volume as the title of the container, the names of the volume’s editors in the “Other contributors” slot, the publisher, the publication date, and the page numbers for the essay:
Berger, André. “Climate Model Simulations of the Geological Past.” The Earth System: Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, edited by Michael C. MacCracken and John S. Perry, Wiley, 2002, pp. 296-301.
Include the multivolume work as a second container.
In a second container, list the title of the multivolume work and any relevant publication details. Here, the general editor appears in the “Other contributors” slot, the edition appears in the “Version” slot, and the number of the individual volume appears in the “Number” slot. Note that you include the publisher and publication date as part of container 2 (not, as above, as part of container 1), since it is the last relevant container the information applies to:
In the optional-element slot at the end of the entry, you could list the total number of volumes (5) and, if applicable, a series name and number (World Environmental Issues 23):
Berger, André. “Climate Model Simulations of the Geological Past.” The Earth System: Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, edited by Michael C. MacCracken and John S. Perry, pp. 296-301. Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, general editor, Ted Munn, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Wiley, 2002. 5 vols., World Environmental Issues 23.
Treat facts about the multivolume work as optional information.
An alternative method for citing this type of work is to follow method 1 and then use the optional-element slot at the end of the entry to indicate that The Earth System is volume 1 of Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change. You can then provide any additional pertinent details you choose, like the general editor’s name:
In the examples above, some bibliographic information is essential and some is optional.
Method 1 shows a works-cited-list entry that provides all the essential information: the work you cite and the publication facts for the work it appeared in.
Methods 2 and 3 present optional information. In method 2, the container system is used to supply this information. In method 3, the final optional-element slot supplies it. Whether to use method 2 or 3 will depend on what information you believe your reader needs to understand your use of the source.