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Web Citation: A Proposal for Standardized Specification

Magazine article Online

Web Citation: A Proposal for Standardized Specification

Article excerpt

This paper proposes a new standard in HTML/XHTML for creating accurate citations. This is an original proposal by the authors, who are requesting comments for review.

AS every librarian knows, it is diffiHi cult for students and scholars alike to cite Web pages accurately in their footnotes and bibliographies. It is not for lack of trying. The multitude of citation styles-AP MLA, Chicago, and Turabian-and the unique details of each make the task next to impossible. Plus, the citation guides were originally written for printed materials consulted during the research process, not for the electronic sources used by today's students and scholars. Accurate references remain crucial to researchers. As Janice Walker points out in her article "Citing Online: Online Serial Publications and Citations Systems" (The Serials Librarian, v. 33, no. 3/4, 1998: pp. 343-356), "Many of the existing formats for scholarly citations fail to take into account the unique structure of electronic publications, or fail to adequately address some of the specific issues prompted by online publications."


Other people are working on ways to create automatic citations. Peter Jörgensen ("Citations in Hypermedia: Implementation Issues," Information Technology and Libraries, v. 24, no. 4, December 2005: pp. 186-191) discusses implementation issues with extracting embedded bibliographic information such as metadata tags. Groups such as NISO (National Information Standards Organization) [ dards/resources/MI-Citation_Ele ments_vl.xls], IMS Global Learning Consortium [ rlivlpOimsrli_infovlpO.html], and the California Digital Library [www.cdlib. org:8081/inside/diglib/guidelines/mdre qs.htm#mdguidelines] are among those making proposals.

HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is the lingua franca in which Web pages are expressed. HTML, a standard formalized by the World Wide Web Consortium, details how content is to be displayed. The specific browser, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, decodes the HTML expressions and displays the page according to its instructions.

HTML version 4.1 provides the current specification. This version includes mechanisms for style sheets, scripting, embedding objects, improved support for right to left and mixed direction text, and enhancements to forms for improved accessibility for people with disabilities []. It provides no support to assist in the area of citation.

XHTML, a relatively new standard, clears up contradictions and confusions created by HTML's loose syntactic standard. XML, with its origins in document markup, is more syntactically formal than HTML and has become the de facto standard for distributing information between systems. A well-formed XHTML document eliminates the ambiguity that can lead to format confusion. Modern Web browsers all support XHTML and XML in addition to HTML. Billed as the successor of HTML, the current XHTML effort makes no attempt to address issues of citation [].

Web pages are divided into two main parts-the head and the body. The body contains information to be displayed, while the head contains information about the page, such as the title. A later addition to the head portion is the tag, which was designed to provide search terms to be encoded with the page. As search engines locate and analyze the page, the tag information helps them properly index the page. The tag can, for example, contain synonyms for terms on the page so that a searcher can find the page by terms that are not actually in the body text.


We propose that a new capability be introduced to the portion of an HTML page. The new, optional tag would provide bibliographic information to assist researchers in referencing the specific page and its contents.

The tag would treat the page as a container of one or more items of information, each expressed with enough information to render a full and proper bibliographic entry for the page and for the information on the page. …

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