Some Kansas schoolteachers have worked all summer to locate the few good websites that they will assign for student lessons. The frustration will come over the school year as up to one-third of the websites disappear, a problem called “linkrot.”
Teachers are getting accustomed to lots of linkrot. While a book or printed journal can be reliably found in a regular library year-after year, teachers are learning that many websites they used last semester, that may still be present when class began this fall, will disappear during this semester. It is just like going into a library and pulling nearly half of the books off the shelf each summer!
Researchers have looked at the type of missing websites. By the end of two years, nearly half of “dot-com” references are lost, about one-third of the “e-d-u” websites are gone, and one-tenth of the “dot-gov” websites have disappeared.
Computer enthusiasts are asserting we will access everything through the internet.
Futurists predict the end of printed journals, printed books, and library buildings.
But while many cyberbooks are being added to one end of the online bookshelf, there are virtual volumes rapidly falling off the other end of the shelf.
“Here today, Gone tomorrow” is a better way to describe the Internet. According to research in the prestigious printed journal Science, publishing medical and science journals only online poses serious problems.
Medical researchers examined the availability of Internet references published in the three top journals. Nearly four percent of web references could no longer be found just three months after publication. Fifteen months later, ten percent of the online references were no longer available!
For references published in paper, a reader can always request the article through interlibrary loan, from any library that holds a paper copy of the journal. But when research is published only online, and the website then disappears, it is gone forever! And there is no way to locate it in a real library.
There is a lot of trash online that we may be glad to see disappear into cyberspace. But we pay dearly for the social and scientific research, and that needs a permanence that the internet does not yet provide.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.