Rethinking the ‘biblio’ in bibliography – referencing for 21st century academia

For years, academia relied solely on books, and eventually journals. A referencing system (or multiple variations thereof) grew up around this, and for years it was fine. And then there was the internet. It has become very apparent to me of late that traditional scholarly methods of referencing are in dire need of an overhaul to accommodate new technologies – and I’m not just talking about working out how to reference a podcast in the Harvard system.

I’ve recently been exploring Twitter and Facebook in the Flipboard app on my iPad, and the interface has got me thinking. Imagine reading a paper or thesis where the in-text references and quotes are all hyperlinked. Imagine being able to pull the referenced media up in a pop-up and immediately access and make commentary on it. Imagine immediately being able to see a source in context. Imagine being able to reference an ephemeral source, like a tweet or hashtag stream, or embed widgets and media directly into a document.

The problem with scholarly referencing as it stands is that it is linear, stand-alone and limited. Currently we are still lucky if the bibliography includes hyperlinks to web articles that are actually clickable. When people need to reference a new type of media, somebody creates a way to reference it in the traditional way and thinks no more of it. And yet, the web has been interconnected, interactive and layered for years now. The technology to create a more dynamic and relevant style of referencing is easily available – why not begin to use it?