Blog Post

Adapting Print Citation Styles for Digital Projects: Open-Source and Subscription Designations

First of all, thanks to those of you who responded to my introductory blog post on web citation. You three have helped me to narrow in on a few key questions that will certainly merit discussion in upcoming posts. I'm hoping that others will join our conversation as it continues.

For today's post, I will be discussing The Map of Early Modern London's decision to indicate not only a medium designation (as required by The MLA Handbook) but also additional information about the accessibility of that web source. For example, a periodical publication accessed through an online distributor would be cited something like this (I've bolded the relevant part):

Archer, Ian. "City and Court Connected: The Material Dimensions of Royal Ceremonial, c. 1480–1625." The Huntington Library Quarterly 71.1 (2008): 157–80. Web. Subscr. ProQuest.

Note that a hyperlink to the web page appears under the "ProQuest" (also note that unlike the MLA Handbook we have decided not to italicize the distributor because we consider them as publishers, which MLA does not italicize). Next, for open-source material, we cite something like this:

Blome, Richard. "ALDGATE WARD with its Diviſion into Pariſhes. Taken from the laſt Survey with Corrections & Additions." Map. London, 1720. British Library. Web. Open.

Note this time that a hyperlink to the page appears under "Open."

Now if you try to click on each of these hyperlinks, you will probably notice that the first one stops and asks you for login information (unless you're on a university campus with a ProQuest subscription) while the second one takes you directly to the appropriate page on the British Library website. That's because Archer's article is only available online through subscriptions to distributors like ProQuest, while the British Library makes Blome's map accessible to the public.

By indicating the difference between the accessibility of these sources, MoEML makes it easier for users to determine how to acquire a source. A few HASTAC forums have argued on behalf of open accessibility in scholarship (see especially Openness in Academia and Democratizing Knowledge), but the current reality is that a lot of scholarly information remains behind subscription walls. As a courtesy to our readers, we want to indicate as accurately as possible how to access the information that we cite.

I have asked MoEML's general editor, Janelle Jenstad, to comment below about why this practice is important for our readership, so keep an eye out for her comments. And make sure to leave some comments of your own. Does this seem like a reasonable practice? Have you seen different solutions to this problem? Is it even a problem, or are we taking courtesy too far? How important is it for readers to quickly ascertain whether a document is open-source or subscription-based? I'd love to hear your thoughts.



Hi Cameron, great project! 

I have a small observation regarding hyperlinks to subscription-based material: The link you provide for the first source is :

As you can see, it's tied to your institution. So when I click on it from my institution, Northwestern, even though we have a subscription -- it takes me to the login page for the University of Victoria. Persistant links to sources in databases like these are typically done like this, so I'm not sure if there's a way around it for your project -- perhaps we have to petition proquest to make it easier for us to share links between folks across institutions.



Thanks Beth. That's a great point. I had not even realized that the "durable URL" that ProQuest provides is institution specific. I'm really glad you pointed that out and I am going to contact someone at ProQuest. I'll have to keep an eye out for this problem with other distributors.




This is such a thoughtful post, and so useful for scholarship! Hyperlinking leverages small spaces and in this case, while a hyperlink cannot immediately grant access to a space it allows concealed spaces to appear to scholars.

I wonder if there is potential for such hyperlinking to make demands of a scholar. I’m thinking of a more dynamic citation form, one which prompts participation and gets scholars clicking on links. As a whole citation, any hyperlink stands out and creates visual noise in a bibliography. I’m curious to know if this ‘noise’ pushes scholars who might not already need the source, to seek it out. 


I really like the way you're thinking in terms of space, Hema. That's a great way of describing notions of "here" and "there" when we're thinking of making connections between different parts of the Internet. That language could be very useful.

And I am really interested in your idea of links crying out for attention. Are hyperlinks hyperactive? Making source material readily available to the user through hyperlinks certainly encourages scholars to seek out source material (in the way that leading a horse to water will usually make it to drink). I notice that some Wikipedia pages have mouseover pop-outs for their footnotes now, crying out "read the source material!" I wonder whether they have had more 'clicks' on reference material for these pages.