When we deal with printed materials, like books in a library, we often work from physical clues as well as our notes to relocate something. Having a proper citation would help, but sometimes the clues we remember (section of the library, the color of the book, partial title) will lead us back to it.
In the online environment, if a user has kept copious notes about how a particular piece of information was found, then the user will be able to find it again. However, often a valuable nugget of information is found without keeping track of how it was found. And once found, a user may assume that he won't need to find it again, which means that clues that would help in relocating the information are not kept.
When teaching user about the digital library, we need to talk to them about keeping basic information about what they have found and used, so it can be found again. We need to also inform them that these digital libraries are constantly changing and that the basic information will be important if the source must now be accessed through another means. (For example, in a newspaper database, an article may be deleted due to copyright constraints or a change in the publisher's agreement. If the correct citation information is kept, an article could be retrieved from a hardcopy version of the newspaper or perhaps another electronic source. In addition, having the correct citation would facilitate discussions with database provider about the article, if necessary.)
Given the changing online environment, the information -- that should be kept -- makes sense. It is an expanded citation that includes basic information about the electronic resource used: the source's URL and date of access. The URL is important so that someone can go back to the same source (or the spot where it should be). The date of access is important in case the page/information has change or been removed. Having the date answers the basic question of when the user saw the information ("It was there? When did you see it?")
Many digital libraries contain information on citing electronic sources. However, these are often on a page that users must search out. Help users by creating obvious links on the digital library's home page and in other sections of the site. Include examples that would aid users in citing your specific collection (e.g., materials you have digitized and placed online). Give them the tools they need so they can keep the right clues to refind the materials.
Some database vendors (or information aggregators) provide citation help. For example, Thomson Gale has a page that would aid someone in constructing a proper citation from its databases. IIn addtion, this information could be used as a framework for citing materials from another vendor's database.
There are many resources on the Internet that will help users create proper and meaningful citations. Two excellent resources are:
Using the LANDMARKS Citation Machine, the MLA citation for this blog posting would be:
Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources, 2003 Update has chapters on using the Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago and Council of Science Editors (CBE) styles to citing electronic/online information. This source is well formatted with easy to follow examples.
The LANDMARKS Citation Machine provides easy-to-use forms that a user can complete in order to have it generate the correct citation for the materials. Citations are presented in both MLA and APA format.
Hurst-Wahl, Jill. "National Library Week Tip #3." Digitization 101. 13 Apr 2005. 13 Apr. 2005 http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2005/04/national-library-week-tip-3.html. [Note that the first date listed is the date of publication and the second is the date of access.]With the information in this citation, anyone would know exactly how to refind this posting and would know when I had accessed it.
Helping your users cite your digital library is indeed a form of marketing, since it helps them remember your library and the sources it contains. It also gives them a basic tool -- the ability to retrace their steps. Make sure your digital library gives them the right tools for the job.