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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Citation: What’s the big deal?

Citation: What’s the big deal?

The distribution of scientific, scholarly, and professional
information has changed due to the advent of digital publishing forms.
Previously, most journals and data were distributed via analog methods
such as paper. However, that changed during the 1990s as digital forms
of scholarly papers and journals became available. Just as soon as these
digital forms became available, problems and questions arose in the
library community about their use and comparative effectiveness. Some
problems were more particularly focused on the distribution of scholarly
information, and others with such issues as cost, ownership and access,
and determination of quality.

Although there have been many problems with this new method for the
distribution of information, it can be argued that these innovations
have done more good than they have harm. Innovations in digital
publishing have enhanced the “value chain of scholarship” by allowing
more data to be available easier and inexpensively. Many more articles
can be accessed than ever before. However, there are negatives, in one
study it was reported that it took twice as long to browse, search for,
and locate articles in the digital era (Borgman 2007).

It cannot be denied that digital changes to scholarly publishing over
the last twenty years have made the job of libraries and librarians
more complex. For example, instead of buying print versions of journals,
most libraries pay for digital databases. In turn, scholars and
students are dependent upon these databases and do not purchase their
own subscriptions to journals (Borgman 2007). In the past, when
libraries paid for items, they retained them in their collections, but
with the license database model, this is not the case. Does paying for
access mean that libraries are dependent on third party companies? Some
might say that libraries have been dependent on companies for services
such as cataloguing well before the digital era. We are certainly more
dependent on external services due to their breadth and depth of
content. It seems too early to say if the changes to database services
are positive or negative overall.

These complications merely keep pace with the complication that has
consumed the rest of the world. Although technologies change at a rapid
pace, often the institutions that use them do not change as quickly
(Borgman 2007). We cannot expect our profession to remain isolated among
changes in related industries and at the world at large.

One of the more interesting changes in scholarly publication has been
the emergence of papers that are published in lesser-known journals
being more widely cited. Before the advent of digital journal databases,
scholarly information was more restricted because by default it needed
to go through several gates of control before publication and
distribution. Journals gained prestige and articles published in highly
rated journals were often articles that became highly rated themselves.
What does it mean for relatively independent articles and journals to
become more highly cited? To what degree does citation matter in
determining the importance of an article? Often times, an article that
has been peer reviewed is considered better. Peer review as a gold
standard in academic publication could perhaps be changing due to the
widening of the market, resulting in easier discovery for documents that
are given keywords or tags in digital databases. The ‘impact factor’ of
specific journals is declining as the citations are spread more widely
across the field. It is interesting to note some articles that not
published in peer-reviewed journals, ones that would not have wide
circulation were it not for these digital repositories, are actually
being cited just as frequently as ones that were peer-reviewed (Lozano
2012). This, in turn, brings up the question of the value of the
peer-review process.

Citation, on its own, has long been viewed as a marker of quality.
Many frequently cited articles reference frequently cited articles of
the past, creating a chain effect (Corbyn 2010). Another aspect of the
citation chain has been the finding that the more references a paper
has, the more likely it is to be cited by other papers (Corbyn 2010). It
has also been made clear that there are other ways to influence
citation rankings, especially when the articles are searchable within
digital databases (Ale Ebrahim 2013). Some current authors have
contended that including citation information is a burden and
unnecessary when one can Google the necessary information (Parks 2014).
However, some have also lamented the trend of leaving back matter off
printed material, with a note for the reader to go online for a list of
the sources (Heller 2014).

Born-digital documents, and eBooks that do not have page numbers are
creating citation as well as indexing problems. The structures of
digital documents can in theory be very different from analog documents,
although they commonly emulate standards of printed documents.
Libraries must prepare for a shift towards complex digital documents
instead of facsimiles of printed material in databases. The lack of page
numbers and other document segmentation elements have required the
creation of new methods of annotation (Prator 2013). Along with the
shift in format comes a shift in the methods of citation. Though these
methods are shifting, citation does not become less necessary. Even in
very modern contexts, such as rap lyrics, the idea of crediting the
proper author has not become less necessary (Craig 2013).

Does the ability to have articles more widely disseminated improve
scholarly communication? At the very least, we see that it opens access
to those who would not get a chance to see their work widely distributed
otherwise. Could we then argue that the opening up digital scholarship
waters down the content? Instead, we must focus as libraries on
determining the value and quality of content and instructing students
and researchers on these methods. How can we ensure that scholarship in
the digital age is an improvement? We can foster greater collaboration
between libraries and research institutions, and come up with new ways
to mark up digital documents. We can share the cost of digital
publications and realize the value of easy access to data and articles
without taking our current infrastructure for granted.


Ebrahim, Nader, Hadi Salehi, Mohamed Amin Embi, Farid Habibi Tanha,
Hossein       Gholizadeh, Seyed Mohammad Motahar, and Ali Ordi. 2013.
“Effective Strategies for Increasing Citation Frequency.”
International Education Studies 6 (11): 93–99. doi:10.5539/ies.v6n11p93.

Borgman, Christine. 2007. Scholarship in the Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Corbyn, Zoe. 2010. “To Be the Best, Cite the Best.” Nature. doi:10.1038/news.2010.539.

Corbyn, Zoë. 2010. “An Easy Way to Boost a Paper’s Citations.” Nature. doi:10.1038/news.2010.406.

Craig, Todd. 2013. “‘’Jackin’ for Beats’’: DJing for Citation Critique.” Radical Teacher 97: 20.

Heller, Nathan. 2014. “Save Footnotes.” The New Yorker, September.

Lozano, George A. 2012. “The Weakening Relationship Between the Impact Factor and Papers’ Citations in the Digital Age.” American Society for Information Science and Technology 63 (October/11): 2140–45. doi:10.1002/asi.

Parks, Tim. 2014. “References, Please.” The New York Review of Books, NYR Blog.

Prätor, Klaus M. 2013. “Reference and annotation in digital texts:
From citation to “Watson””.   2013 3rd International Symposium
ISKO-Maghreb: 1-7.

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