Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How the varying format of e-books make citations difficult

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed points outs that because the pagination for e-books differs (or is non-existent) depending on the device (e.g. Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, etc.) it makes it difficult for scholars trying to accurately cite to those sources.

The trouble is that in electronic formats, there are no fixed pages. The Kindle, developed by Amazon, does away with page numbers entirely. Along with other e-book readers, the Kindle allows users to change font style and size, so the number of words on a screen can vary. Instead of pages, it uses "location numbers" that relate to a specific part of a book.

Other devices, like the Sony Reader, which reflows text based on font size and model of device, have different methods, so the same passage might have a different identifier. Things get more confusing when readers come in various screen sizes.

One solution suggested by the Chicago Manual of Style is to use "section and paragraph numbers, along with section titles, if page numbers are not available. Another alternative: listing the chapter name or heading over a section of text, or even writing a short, searchable string of text in the citation to help users find it." 

I can see lawyers running into the same problem as they increasingly rely on free search engines such a Google Scholar which don't use the same pagination as West.  Sure, attorneys can later get the correct pagination for Bluebook purposes by looking up their cases again on Westlaw prior to finalizing their court briefs but that's time consuming, expensive and repetitive.  I predict that there will be increasing pressure to reform citation rules so that attorneys can reference cases and other materials in the public domain without having to pay money to later look up the West pagination in order to comply with Bluebook form.

You can read more about the citation issue in the non-legal academic world here courtesy of the CHE.


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