As I presume others have, I've located useful source publications on the Internet Archive. The source templates I have don't seem to cover the case of a scanned copy of a physical book, other than for published microfilms. In this case, it isn't a microfilm, but it isn't a physical book either, so neither template seems to apply.

I'd like to be able to cite the source, indicating both that it's an electronic copy from archive.org, but ideally also including the associated information about the original scanned book (although I think the difficulty of listing multiple repositories for a source has been mentioned here before). I could cite it as a physical book, listing archive.org as the repository, but somehow that doesn't seem correct.

A question that has been asked in the past is What source detail should I include for a digital book? However, it mostly discusses digital books (e-books), not so much scanned copies of physical books. They do suggest just using the physical book template and adding the URL for the scanned version, which I suppose could be made to work. Seems clumsy, though.

My main concern is which template best applies to this case?


1 Answer 1


In QuickLesson 22: What Citation Template Do I Use?, Elizabeth Shown Mills (the author of Evidence Explained) talks about a number of ways that we can shoot ourselves in the foot by worrying about what template to use instead of thinking about the nature of our source material. She calls for "attitude adjustments" -- one of which is quoted here:

The real question is not What template should I use? It’s What kind of a source do I have? That’s the question we need to consider at the moment we find anything that makes us go Aha!

Here's the information on a book selected at random from the Internet Archive's genealogy collection:

Names of foreigners who took the oath of allegiance to the province and state of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, with the foreign arrivals, 1786-1808 by Egle, William Henry, 1830-1901

Published 1892

Topics Pennsylvania -- Emigration and immigration, Pennsylvania -- Genealogy Publisher Harrisburg, Pa. : E. K. Meyers, state printer

Pages 806

Possible copyright status NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT

Language English

Call number 2180460

Digitizing sponsor University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Book contributor University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Collection americana

Notes Many ripped pages.

Full catalog record MARCXML

[Open Library icon]This book has an editable web page on Open Library.

In this case, and many others on archive.org, the description includes the source and notes about the individual book that was scanned.

In the section about putting descriptions in a citation, Mills says:

... there’s a serious difference between citations in our working notes and the citations that end up in our finished product. It’s the difference between input and output.


Citations are all about information, not just formatting.

The particular case study she uses in this Quicklesson is for a marriage record, not a printed book. However, I think it's important to read through the entire lesson and think carefully about the principles outlined there and how they might apply in the case of a scanned image copy of a book.

The principles outlined by Mills in Evidence Explained and many other places is to cite what you actually used. With that in mind, I would say that you shouldn't just use an ordinary book citation to cite a scanned copy of the book, because you didn't use the physical book. But you do know what physical book was scanned, and it might make a difference which copy of the book it was -- because a scanned book on Internet Archive, like its physical parent, might be missing pages that could be found in another copy of the book at a different repository.

No matter how tiresome and unwieldy it might seem, you need to include this information in your citation -- because the Internet Archive sometimes holds multiple scanned copies of the same title, scanned by different users, and it might make a difference which one of the scanned copies you used.

There are two styles of doing this kind of double-barreled citation -- you can either

  1. put the original book and repository at the front, with the information that you used the Internet Archive's scanned copy at the end, or
  2. put the information that you used the Internet Archive's scanned copy at the front, followed by the words imaged from, then the information about the original book and repository at the end.

See Citing Online Images - "citing" or "imaged from" on the EE forum.

Whatever form you follow, it should be clear what you actually saw and used.

However you want to format your "ready-to-publish" citation, I encourage you to write up something in your working notes that captures all the information you might need to know about for your research -- especially including any quality control notes about the particular scanned copy that you are using.

  • 1
    Good point about citing the exact copy you found online. I have noticed a number of times where there been pages that weren't scanned, or they were scanned in the wrong order which makes it difficult to locate a particular page. I prefer option 1 that you propose, but it really is just a matter of preference, clarity, and consistency.
    – Harry V.
    Sep 30, 2015 at 18:13
  • 2
    @vervet There's a Quicklesson on ESM's site which shows that Ancestry.com re-arranged the pages in a census, which throws off anyone who might be trying to follow the path the enumerator took when taking the census. It does matter what image copy of something we are using.
    – Jan Murphy
    Sep 30, 2015 at 18:48
  • I cite those scanned books and resources by combining the format of physical books and online resources. can I do it this way?
    – wonder
    Dec 4, 2016 at 1:40
  • @wonder I agree with what Mills says -- whatever form you follow, it should be clear what you actually saw and used. For more help, please see Evidence Explained and Mills' website and forum.
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:36

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