Electronic resources and BibTeX

BibTeX is many things to many people, but we principally use it as a bibliographic file format.

This of course produces a whole slew of problems when it comes to online resources, for the simple reason that BibTex predates online resources.

Traditional paper media have a whole set of conventions we understand about the differences between a book, a book chapter, a paper, and a conference paper, all of which BibTeX handles well by using @article, @book and so on.

Strict BibTex only really has the @misc format to incorporate url’s and so on but that works quite nicely, as we can see with using BibTeX for dataset citation, the only problem being that if everything is @misc we lose the distinction between articles, datasets and conference presentations and so on. Using the newer BibLaTeX standard allows UTF-8 characters, but really does not add anything – you end up with a generic @online type instead of simply coercing @misc to do your bidding.

This is not just a BibTeX thing – all reference managers in common use are still firmly bedded in the paper era – Endnote has similar problems distinguishing between various sorts of electronic resources.

There is another problem with online articles.

In the old days your research paper was published in only one place, and consequently had only one incarnation, and hence one citation.

With open access material you may find the pdf of the journal article in a variety of locations, the journal publisher’s site, your institutional repository, or some specialist collection, in other words you can have multiple instances of the same document, and each instance will have a different url.

This of course would play havoc with citation counts. The simplest solution is to implement a rule that the copy published in the open access journal is the primary one and that secondary copies are just that, and consequently the url cited is the one derived from the digital object identifier, and not the one generated by the local document server – logically the copy in your local repository is the analogue of the xerox of the journal copy you got from your local library’s document supply service.

So, in the case of a dataset, or a conference paper or something only published locally the doi should resolve to the local instance, but where it’s published elsewhere it should resolve to the journal doi …


About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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