[APG Public List] Citing Sources - Your Opinion

eshown at comcast.net eshown at comcast.net
Tue Jun 29 13:03:11 MDT 2010

Linda wrote:
>It makes more sense to me to lobby major repositories, such as NARA, to include in their partnering agreements the requirement that the partner provide visible links back to source descriptions provided by the "original" repository.  Those links would be provided to the subscription service by the "original" repository for each record group or collection, or however the home repository deems most accurate.
Linda, four thoughts come to mind when I read your quite-logical suggestion.
NARA does have a style sheet, but it isn't followed by NARA's own varied entities. NARA’s journal Prologue, for example, uses its own style. Those who fill our orders, as another example, rarely follow NARA's style sheet when they identify the records they send us.
Ancestry did have a longtime (retired) NARA staffer on its own staff when it acquired and identified many of the films it has imaged. On occasion, he would post to APG-L to help us understand things.
Considering that providers such as Ancestry have a vast array of these databases (nearly 30,000 in Ancestry's case), with billions of records, the prospect of their going back and tidying up all past citations seem woefully slim.
Even if the 'owner archives' provides an identification of its own materials, that does not relieve the researcher of the responsibility for personally evaluating, amplifying, or emending the citation to fit their own needs. 
Bear in mind that archives (such as NARA), publishers (such as Chicago) and researchers all have different needs and purposes. Archivists are interested in identifying a document to whatever extent enables them to find the document if/when they are called upon to do so. Publishers are often interested in creating the shortest possible citations, in order to reduce printing costs. Researchers, on the other hand, need to identify a document to whatever extent necessary for them to not just relocate the document but to understand the document and its context.
We also need to consider the universal expectation a writer will be consistent in this or her presentation of data.  Any of us who use archival websites know that the staff at one archives will cite something one way, while the staff at another archives will cite the same material in a radically different way. Some feel that Elements A, B, D, and F are essential. Others feel that Elements A, C, E, and G are essential—and then reverse the arrangement to G,E,C,A  Some identify a record using "bibliographic (source list) format." Others identify the same type of record using "reference note" format. 
Aside from the 'trust' issue that you rightfully bring up, if we researchers simply cut-and-paste whatever an archives provides, then we end up with a hodgepodge that (a) will be perceived by others as sloppy or careless; and (b) will be clear to neither others nor ourselves in the future after our recollection of the record set goes cold.
Considering all these factors, IMO, it is still up to us, as researchers, to evaluate each record and whatever identification accompanies it, then create a citation that meets our needs and is consistent with whatever style we are using in our other references. 
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
The Evidence Series
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