Dear BIOMCH-L and BACKS-L readers,

Several weeks ago I posed a question here about referencing
electronic mail information. The engineering library here at
UPittsburgh provided much help as did several BIOMCH-L and
BACKS-L readers. Thank you to all who responded.

First is a repost of my original question(s) followed by a
summary of the resoponses:

>Recently I wanted to reference some information I recieved
>over the network and I realized that I did not know how to
>do this properly. What I am soliciting, or starting a
>discussion of, is how to reference information received on
>email or through listservers. When are these references
>valid? Should the information be published elsewhere first?
>Should it be done under a newspaper/magazine-type format or
>should there be an "electrnic format?"
>I will post a summary of responses.

The current thinking is that if the information is _not_
pubically archived, it should be listed as something akin to
"personal communication." I do not like calling it personal
as that implies to me that it was a conversation or phone
call between two people, whereas a list or bulletin board is
read by many persons. I suggest that "electronic
communication" be used with the connotation being that it was
something not archived.

If it is archived there are several formats to use. All of
them ask to include Author, Affiliation, Title (or Subject:
), recipient (person or group), mailsystem (internet, AOL,
SprintMail, etc.), date, length (in number of screens --
typically 24 lines per screen, or in number of lines), and
Department of Health and Human Services/Public Health
Service/National Institutes of Health. They have an entire
chapter dedicated to referencing electronic information
(chapter XII). Their address is:

National Library of Medicine
Reference Section
Bethesda, MD 20894

There are probably several other recommended formats
available from different organizations. I did receive email
indicating that the topic of electronic referencing is a
"hot" topic among librarians and publishers of journals and
other scientific publications. But, at this time, there is
no consensus as to the "correct" format.

Several related topics were discussed in the responses I
received. One concerns the worthiness of the reference.
Many publishers will not allow a "personal communication"
reference. I agree with this sentiment and I suggest that if
it is not archived, it should not be used. Any comments or

Another topic is whether permission should be requested from
the original author. To me, this point is moot if the
information is publically archived. If a "personal
communication" reference is allowed, then it is prudent to
get permission from the author in my opinion. However, it
was mentioned that the internet is in the public domain and
that information received from it is public.

Finally, the topic of "wasting internet bandwidth" came up in
the responses. I admit that I was as negligent as several
other posters in that I found it easier to post a question
here rather than researching it first. The librarians here
at UPittsburgh were aware of the problems with this kind of
referencing and were able to provide many answers to my
questions very quickly. I should have gone there first. So,
in closing, I offer the suggestion, with my mistake as a good
lesson, that the next time anyone is interested in finding
more information about a topic to do your homework first.
Recently a post came over BIOMCH-L that not only asked for
help, but told where they had looked and what references were
helpful. I feel that is the format which should be used in
the future when requesting information. The concept, "think
and research before you post," would reduce the problem of
"wasting internet bandwidth." Apologies to those offended.

Thanks again to all those who responded,

Dan Baker
Spine Mechanics Laboratory
Dept. of Orthopaedic Surgery
University of Pittsburgh