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Retrieving vanished Web references in health science journals in East Africa

Alfred Said Sife (Sokoine National Agricultural Library, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania)
Edda Tandi Lwoga (Directorate of Library Services, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




This study aims to examine the availability and persistence of universal resource locators (URLs) cited in scholarly articles published in selected health journals based in East Africa.


Four health sciences online journals in East Africa were selected for this study. In this study, all Web citations in the selected journal articles covering the 2001-2015 period were extracted. This study explored the number of URLs used as citations, determined the rate of URLs’ loss, identified error messages associated with inaccessible URLs, identified the top domain levels of decayed URLs, calculated the half-life of the Web citations and determined the proportion of recovered URL citations through the Internet Wayback Machine.


In total, 822 articles were published between 2001 and 2015. There were in total 17,609 citations of which, only 574 (3.3 per cent) were Web citations. The findings show that 253 (44.1 per cent) Web citations were inaccessible and the “404 File Not Found” error message was the most (88.9 per cent) encountered. Top-level domains with country endings had the most (23.7 per cent) missing URLs. The average half-life for the URLs cited in journal articles was 10.5 years. Only 36 (6.3 per cent) Web references were recovered through the Wayback Machine.


This is a comprehensive study of East African health sciences online journals that provides findings that raises questions as to whether URLs should continue to be included as part of bibliographic details in the lists of references. It also calls for concerted efforts from various actors in overcoming the problem of URL decay.



Sife, A.S. and Lwoga, E.T. (2017), "Retrieving vanished Web references in health science journals in East Africa", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 118 No. 7/8, pp. 385-392.



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