The Kindle Dilemma in Academic Resources

For myself and many other students the invention of e-readers, specifically Amazon’s Kindle, has lifted a burden of carrying numerous physical volumes and has given us quick access to new resources that we may have otherwise not obtained had we been restricted to physical volumes. The problem is: citation styles do not keep up.

I am in the middle (or maybe about 1/4 of the way through) my Gender Theory paper. One of the texts I am using (Butler’s Gender Trouble, if it matters), has both “Real Page Numbers” as well as the traditional Kindle location numbers. My dilemma is perhaps a quirky one. I do like having access to the page numbers of a real volume as it allows me to keep up with discussions in class with others that have physical volumes, but I fundamentally disagree with using page numbers from Kindle for the purpose of citing quotes and other uses in academic papers.

My primary issue is that those page numbers are not as “real” as Amazon would have you to think that they are. The page numbers are from whichever edition of the text that Amazon decided to match the Kindle edition to. Also, not all Kindle books have “Real Page Numbers” and as such the unit of conversion is quite misleading. Finally, I love that Kindle location numbers are more specific than page numbers. If I am quoting from a page I can touch and hold the page at the start of the quote and it will give me a location that is specific to the Kindle line number that the quote appears on, making it easier to retrieve, validate or re-read the specific area of text in question.

The logical problem is that since Kindle books are not physical books, the concept of using location numbers as page numbers is misleading. Also because some books have both locations and pages, it can be vague to cite a location number that is particularly low (say under 500). As such I find myself having to modify the existing citation styles to accommodate my needs. At present I am working inside the confines of MLA. Instead of using the basic format (Butler 25), I am using a somewhat modified style (Butler loc286) to decrease the misleading/vague aspects of the citation. It is my hope that in a future version of the Modern Language Association (ha! just remembered the “M” stands for “modern”, ironic isn’t it?) protocol there is some official guidance or methodology for addressing this specific issue or some general guidance for how to handle special cases. I do feel somewhat encouraged by the fact that generally the resources regarding MLA style do indicate that where a protocol is not specified that the author has free judgment in how to comply with the standard.