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5.3 Linking to online resources

As the amount of material, both scholarly and otherwise, is made available and accessed in electronic format, it is increasingly common to reference online resources. As noted above, one of the key purposes of referencing is to enable the reader to discover a copy of a resource, and often for online material this means providing a link or identifier.

Given a reference to a resource it is desirable to provide a link to the online version of the resource whenever possible. When integrating references into a learning environment consideration should be given to providing links to the resource online.

However, there are three significant problems when giving references to online materials.

Firstly, the volatile nature of web resources means they are subject to both change and deletion. A link to an online resource that works today, may not work, or not link to the same material, by tomorrow.

Secondly, and especially applicable to scholarly resources online, is the “Appropriate Copy Problem”. In brief, this problem arises when a single resource (e.g. a journal article) is available online through multiple providers, but that access to the resource through each provider is only available via subscribing institutions. This means that the copy an author has access to, may not be the same as the one a reader has access to, and so an author provided URL may not work for the reader.

Finally, providing links to online resources, even ones to which the reader has access, may sometimes result in an apparent ‘dead end’, as the user can be faced with a login screen which leaves them confused as to how to access the resource. The issues of providing a consistent user experience when logging into online resources was the subject of a recent JISC and JISC Collections study.

These three areas are discussed in more detail in the following sections.

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