Sunday, July 25, 2010

Vanishing Act

Michael Bugeja and Daniela V. Dimitrova, Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age (Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, LLC, 2010), give us an interesting and compelling research study about one aspect of the implications of the growth of the Internet. The report offered here was started in 2003 when one of the authors noticed his Web citations disappearing. Examining in-depth nine leading journals in journalism and communication in order the determine what is the half-life of a Web citation, the authors sound this warning: “Vanishing online footnotes undermine the building blocks of research, and their disappearance raises concerns about the reliability and replicability of scholarship” (p. 8). They conveniently cite and summarize the research of others who have also examined this issue, lamenting that we seem to have lost the notion of the archive (in other words, the function that traditional libraries served for a very long time but which is now being displaced by virtual journals and other repositories lacking a sense of a long-term commitment to maintaining documents). “Simply by changing and renaming servers," they write, "computer technicians routinely destroy for citation purposes entire archives on a scale as disastrous as the legendary but mysterious fire at the ancient Library of Alexandria” (p. 17). Personally, I wish they had devoted a few pages to the emerging efforts in digital curation and those of some leading academic libraries to create digital repositories; I thinks this would have provided a more hopeful picture, but this is an important study and one that can be readily replicated in other fields.

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