in eBooks, Libraries/Info Sci, Ramblings, Tech

Wake up, citation styles!

Everyone, including the New York Times, seems to be hailing Amazon’s decision to add page numbers to the Kindle.

The lack of page numbers (when you can change font size in a book, the number of ‘pages’ in the title grows or shrinks) has been a long-time critique of the Kindle, at least back to Princeton’s 2009 pilot program. The critique often specifically centers on one question: How do I cite a Kindle text in established styles without page numbers?

This always rings hollow to me. The problem isn’t with the Kindle, it’s with the citation styles themselves. Kindles already provide ‘location’ numbers, an identifier linked to each bit of text regardless of font size or subjective page number. Why can’t that just be used instead of a page number? It’s more exact than a mere page number could ever hope to be. And isn’t that the whole purpose of citations? Being able to pinpoint the original source? The APA Style blog seems hell-bent on taking an alternate, overly complicated route instead.

I suppose this is a moot argument. The styles won, Amazon is adding page numbers. And I understand that it’s hard to use a location identifier if you don’t have access to a Kindle. But why should digital text have to constrain itself to the way things have always been? Why are citation styles so inflexible?