Kendra Albert, Larry Lessig and I are finishing up a study of link rot, available athttp://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2329161. Link rot is the phenomenon by which material we link to on the distributed Web vanishes or changes beyond recognition over time. (Wiki discusses link rot here.) This is a particular problem for academic scholarship, which is increasingly linking out to the Web rather than more formal, library-curated sources. That kind of linking makes clear sense, but having materials easily accessible right until they vanish means that academic work (government documents, such as judicial opinions) can end up with sources that can’t be checked or followed up upon by readers.
We found that half of the links in all Supreme Court opinions no longer work. And more than 70% of the links in such journals as the Harvard Law Review (in that case measured from 1999 to 2012), currently don’t work. As time passes, the number of non-working links increases.
Our work builds on other great link rot studies such as that by Raizel Liebler and June Liebert in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, available here (PDF).
In response, the Harvard Library Innovation Lab has pioneered a project to unite libraries so that link rot can be mitigated. We are joined by about thirty law libraries around the world to start Perma.cc, which will allow those libraries on direction of authors and journal editors to store permanent caches of otherwise ephemeral links. Libraries are the ideal partners for this task: they think on a long timescale; they take user trust and service seriously; and they are non-commercial. You can see more about the system at perma.cc. The amazing Internet Archive has lent its archiving engine to the effort, and Instapaper has generously provided an alternative path to parse Web pages to be saved. CloudFlare has kindly ensured that the the system at Perma.cc can scale with use.
We’re grateful to these many institutions and people who have come together to help make the Web work for the ages — the only way this can work is as a peer effort.
Perma’s founding partners are:
- Pence Law Library, Washington College of Law, American University
- Law Library at Boston College, Boston College of Law
- Pappas Law Library, Boston University School of Law
- Biddle Law Library, University of Pennsylvania Law School
- Charleston School of Law Library
- Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School
- Digital Public Library of America
- J. Michael Goodson Law Library, Duke University School of Law
- Florida State Law Research Center, Florida State University College of Law
- The Leo T. Kissam Memorial Library, Forham University School of Law
- Georgetown Law Library, Georgetown Law
- Internet Archive
- Harvard Law School Library
- Ruth Lilly Law Library, Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indiana University
- Louis L. Biro Law Library, The John Marshall Law School
- Louisiana Statue University Law Library, LSU Law Center
- Thurgood Marshall Law Library, Francis King Carey School of Law, University of Maryland
- Melbourne Law School Law Library
- Bodleian Law Library, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
- Harnish Law Library, Pepperdine University School of Law
- The Fred Parks Law Library, South Texas College of Law
- Robert Crown Law Library, Stanford Law School
- Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library, UCLA School of Law
- Grisham Law Library, University of Mississippi School of Law
- Wiener-Rogers Law Library, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law
- Tarleton Law Library, Jamail Center of Legal Research, The University of Texas School of Law
- Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School