Break, Drift, Rot: How Academic Librarians Can Weatherproof References in Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) suffer from reference rot in a manner similar to other scholarly publications (Massicotte and Botter), but involve a greater breadth of librarian involvement in their management, dissemination, and preservation. Indeed, reference rot in ETDs in disciplines where students are citing “web-at-large” (Klein, et al.) material is a particular problem, in that web-at-large sources generally are not preserved and archived to the same degree as scholarly journal articles. Because of this, cited material in ETDs is prone to rot either from a number of factors ranging from links that do not resolve to substantial content drift.

In an effort to mitigate reference rot in ETDs, a team of researchers from Texas A&M University and Los Alamos National Laboratories came together to consider how to address the issue through socio-technical interventions, melding technical solutions (permalinks, web archiving, and, ideally, Vireo integration) with human awareness (instruction to authors). This presentation will discuss the researchers’ in-progress work about how both types of interventions can be deployed at academic libraries to help create ETDs that are more resistant to reference rot. While the particular focus of this presentation is on ETDs, this presentation will intersect with topics in digital preservation and web archiving.

Mia Massicotte and Kathleen Botter, “Reference Rot in the Repository: A Case Study of Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) in an Academic Library,” Information Technology and Libraries 36, no. 1 (2017): 11–28,

Martin Klein, Herbert Van de Sompel, Robert Sanderson, Harihar Shankar, Lyudmila Balakireva, Ke Zhou, Richard Tobin, “Scholarly Context Not Found: One in Five Articles Suffers from Reference Rot,” PLoS ONE 9, no. 12 (2014),


TCDL 2023 Session 2C, Wednesday, 5/17/2023, 10:00 am to 10:045 am | Moderated by Susan Elkins, Sam Houston State University | Presentation | Technology & Software Development