Consortium Project Addresses Link and Reference Rot

Pieces this week in the New York Times and Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet blog brought our attention to broken or altered links in legal scholarship and in decisions of the Supreme Court of the US. The news is based on research by Professor Zittrain, Larry Lessig, and Kendra Albert, currently released as a working paper.

The paper’s abstract notes that “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs found within U.S. Supreme Court opinions do not link to the originally cited information.”

This should not be overly surprising. Links and references move and break all the time. This outcome is not precluded merely because the documents linked appear in a widely read law review or even in a decision of the highest court of a land.

But the question naturally follows: Can we not expect links in these types of resources to be sound, for the references to be accessible years after they are cited? Should we not expect a guiding court decision or a piece of scholarship of potential great import to contain sound references?

Professor Zittrain and his colleagues think so, and so do a consortium of libraries and institutional partners:

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, which will allow those libraries on direction of authors and journal editors to store permanent caches of otherwise ephemeral links.

As Professor Zittrain notes, libraries and institutions like partners Internet Archive and Digital Public Library of America are perfect collaborators or developers of the project. Their orientation is long-term and mindful of the need to preserve access to current but possibly ephemeral and easily forgotten information. The project,, will be available to all soon and beta access can be requested at present.

More information about is given in the paper—and in the Perma link to the blog post.

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