Piggybacking on last week’s post about federal information being inaccessible during the shutdown, let’s talk a bit more generally about link-rot. There are several reasons a reference and teaching librarian needs to be concerned about link-rot and other problems based on the transitory nature of websites.
That link you used last week may not be good this week. Before you send a link to someone, double check it. Also, think about whether what you have is a persistent link (see this RIPS Blog post for thoughts on that problem in legal research and reference).
Link-rot applies to teaching. Not just law either. It is important to check links when you are sending students to a site in a distance course or getting ready to show it yourself. As noted in the article above, not even the Supreme Court is immune, or prepared. There are some suggestions to broadly solve this problem, but there is no clear answer yet.
Further, there is more than just common link-rot. There are two, more pernicious concerns for teachers, especially teachers that rely on technology for pedagogy and content.
First, consider ‘website slide’ or ‘interface shifting’. The phenomena seems not to have a name, at least I haven’t found anything in the literature. But librarians, especially law librarians, know it well. We have been hit hard by it recently in the transfer to WestlawNext and LexisAdvance.
It is the “now you see it, now you don’t” nature of interacting with a website, a database, or a library. For Lexis.com, it was no longer having access to the tabs that many people had been using for years. For the Foreign Law Guide, it was having the menus and search functions in a completely different place with little warning. It can be as simple as Bing no longer having any accessible advanced search function. In short, it is when the online steps you practice to demonstrate for class work on Tuesday do not work on Wednesday when you are in front of the class.
What is the fix? Check your websites and search functions right before you teach. Or the week you post an online module. It is not enough to check at the beginning of the semester or even the beginning of the week. Leave yourself enough time, every time, to double check right before you present.
The second concern is a form of link-rot. It is more accurately service rot. We rely on creating content on a web service and having it accessible. If Prezi shut down tomorrow, how much information would you lose? What about LibGuides? Both of those are extreme, but not impossible. If you had a presentation on Xtranormal, you don’t now. If you wanted to know more about Vuvox because the ALL-SIS Newsletter mentioned it being presented at Cool Tools in Seattle (p. 19), you are too late.
How to combat this? Save scripts for presentations in a word processing program. Save everything you can as a PDF, preferably editable. Regularly check on services where you have information that you need to teach and present to make sure they are still up and running.
Overall, be cognizant that what is accessible today, both for research and for presentation, may not be accessible tomorrow.