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Service Addresses "Link Rot" in Legal Journals

Law Library’s Library Innovation Lab project targets broken links in legal journals.


October 29, 2013—Link rot occurs when hyperlinks to a source in an article break, leaving scholars without access to important information.

To address the problem, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science and vice dean for library and information service at the Law School, worked with the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, the Digital Public Library of America, Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School and the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School to devise and develop, a service that allows users to create citation links that will never break.

According to a study Zittrain conducted with Kendra Albert, a Harvard Law School student, approximately 70 percent of all links in citations in three Harvard law reviews published between 1999 and 2011 no longer point to the same material.

"As scholarly activity and sources rightly migrate to the open and distributed web, libraries and universities have a crucial role to play to ensure these sources don't simply evaporate,” Zittrain said.

“The legal implication of link rot is that—in a system based on precedence—it becomes impossible to verify that what an author said is true. In this citation-based field, broken links undermine scholarship,” said Kim Dulin, associate director for collection development and digital initiatives and co-director of the Innovation Lab.

“The idea is simple,” Dulin continued: A user visits the site and uploads a link to be preserved. archives a copy of the referenced content and assigns it a new link that will persist on the servers. If the link is later referenced in a citation published by a journal using the service, the archived version will always be available.

Read a recent article in the New York Times about links in Supreme Court decisions and