Citing Kindle: A Tale of Many Formats

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

This semester, I congratulated myself for my technological savvy: I could read several of my assigned books for class on the Kindle app, available as a free download on my Android phone and Windows PC. This took reading on the Metro to a new level, and I happily annotated and highlighted key pages on screen after screen of text.

It wasn’t until it came time to write an essay supported by the same digital text that I ran into problems. How was my professor going to recognize Kindle’s paging scheme, created for flexibility between sizes and formats of the gadget’s widely distributed app? A crucial block of text was located at Position 36117, but how could my reader, with his dogeared pages and post-its, find his way to my most relevant points?

A quick survey of the problem found plenty of students asking the same questions. It’s no surprise–Amazon launched Kindle for Textbooks to raise the profile of its partnerships with the educational community, and e-books for students have long been poised to become the next big thing. Yet a single explanation for the discrepancy between page positions and page numbers for academic use did not emerge.

Do citation formats need to meet Kindle in the middle? The MLA Formatting and Style Guide you might have received with a copy of your undergraduate institution’s plagiarism policy is all but useless for today’s student. Last year, MLA took the step of abandoning URLs for works cited lists, but this was barely a nod in the direction of the great breadth of digital formats cited by 2010 students.

I envision an interactive, visual “Works Cited” of the future that uses personal bibliography tools like EndNote combined with the citation indexing powered by databases like Web of Science and Google Scholar. I would like to see the format confusion converge in a citation format that accommodates a dynamic ecosystem of digital texts. The reader would be able to visualize the relationships between citations and move seamlessly between a research paper and the texts it references.
citation map

In the meantime, my clumsy solution was to cross-reference the necessary pages on Google Books, where a preview-able text allowed me to search key phrases and pull out the page number. You may have luck with the Kindle Page Number Tool if your book isn’t available on Google Books, or see an APA Style spokesperson’s Kindle citation example. Until a more accurate and elegant solution emerges, my readers never need to know that I scarcely turned a printed page this semester.

Image: (new window) citation network