Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

From the Front Lines: An Academic Librarian Reports on the Impact of APA's New Electronic References Guidelines

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

From the Front Lines: An Academic Librarian Reports on the Impact of APA's New Electronic References Guidelines

Article excerpt

This column addresses the impact of recent changes to APA style citation on the academic community, which widely uses this style to document its research. The author notes that these changes, especially the wholesale adoption of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for citing electronic journal articles, have caused frustration and confusion for users of APA style, and the problem is likely to worsen as more students and faculty realize what the new changes entail. The column also touches on the problems these changes will create for citation software and online bibliographic management tools like RefWorks, EndNote, and Zotero. Lewis concludes that the American Psychological Association needs to recognize the problems its new changes are causing and institute an interim measure for the millions who use APA style on a daily basis to document their research.--Editor

A common question at academic library reference desks is how to properly cite a source in a specific citation style. Because students and faculty may use a variety of citation styles, libraries often keep copies of the most current versions of major citation styles at the reference desk. While librarians are not necessarily experts on all styles, they will usually be familiar with the styles most used at their institutions. If institutions offer subscription citation tools like RefWorks of EndNote, reference desk librarians will also receive numerous questions pertaining to the use of these tools and their rendering of particular citation styles. Not surprisingly, it is often reference librarians who teach classes or workshops on citation styles and citation tools at institutions of higher learning. Thus academic reference librarians are among the first to deal with the impact of citation style updates. A perfect example involves recent changes to APA style, which is widely used today by many disciplines in the academic community.

In June 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) released an update to its citation style entitled APA Style Guide to Electronic References. This twenty-four page pamphlet, available for purchase as a PDF from the APA website (www.apa.org), does not replace the fifth-edition (2001) manual, but rather revises and updates that section of the manual dealing with electronic resources. Because APA has not released a new edition of its manual and because this electronic addendum has restricted access even when purchased (e.g., libraries must purchase site licenses to post the electronic version and limit access to authenticating users), users of APA style have been slow to realize the changes and their ramifications. In addition, although the update addresses many new types of electronic content and technologies, the wording of the publication itself is at times ambiguous, confusing, and difficult for users to interpret.

APA's most significant change to citing electronic resources is the application of the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). A DOI is a unique alphanumeric code that identifies a specific article or document and provides a persistent link to its location on the Internet. The intent of the DOI is to provide a consistent way for users to find articles and documents on an ever-changing Internet. In a very forward-looking move, APA made the inclusion of DOIs in citations the method of choice when citing scholarly journal articles accessed online. Now, instead of adding a retrieval date and URL of retrieval date and database name when citing journal articles accessed electronically, users are directed to include the DOI assigned to that article by an approved registration agency (see figure 1).

While this change makes sense conceptually, in practice its implementation seems a bit premature. DOIs may well be the wave of the future, but right now not all articles have DOIs. Furthermore, many research databases do not yet include DOIs in their records of articles. At the same time, as many academic librarians will tell you, students at the college and university level currently access the majority of the journal articles used in their research papers from the myriad subscription research databases available through their institutional libraries. …

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