"Accessed" date to websites

Hello Elizabeth!

I have two questions about accessed dates:

1) If you cited a website back in 2014 and after checking the link in 2024 it's still alive and well, do you update the "accessed" date in the citation, even though that would be the ONLY change you'd make to the citation?

2) If you make a small change to a database name (such as updating a database name with a new date range), would you also update the "accessed" date in all your citations that cite that database?

I don't know how you keep from going crazy with the questions we come up with Elizabeth, but THANK YOU for your patience with us!

Submitted byEEon Sun, 03/24/2024 - 09:17

Hello, Kathy. As you suspect, this is one of those issues with an "it depends" answer.

1a. If I cited a specific item at a website back in 2014 and I checked that specific item in 2024 and found that the content is exactly the same, then—in my working notes—I'd likely amplify the date field data from "accessed 31 May 2014" to "accessed 31 May 2014 and 2 March 2024." The analogy would be a book that has been reprinted, for which we'd cite the original print day and say "reprinted, 2024" so we would preserve the time frame in which the information was first published along with the version that we used. And editor would likely just cite the date last consulted.

1b. If my 2014 citation was a generic one to a full website, then I would not be able to verify that every single point at that website has remained unchanged. For a generic citation to the site, I'd just cite the last time I verified that the site was still there.

2. When you say "If you make a small change to a database name," I'm assuming you mean that an online provider has made a small change to the database name, such as changing the date range. This opens a can of worms.

  • If we make a universal change to update a title, we'd have to update the date as well, because the new title did not exist on the old date.
  • However, we should not alter the title and date attached to a specific piece of information without verifying that each specific detail we previously captured does still remain in that database. Sometimes when providers alter the title to a website, they remove content, not just add content, because they have lost a license to publish part of the data.  All of our prior references that cite the older title and the older date are attesting that the information was in the database of that title as of that date. If we change title and date without verifying that the information is still there, we may create a citation that doesn't support what we assert.

Submitted byKathy Kulton Sun, 03/24/2024 - 10:46

Oh my, that certainly does open a can of wiggly worms, doesn't it?! LOL... I just had to ask!

I guess I'll refrain from making global changes to a database name (and also the access dates) when the database name changes or is updated with a new date range. 


Kathy, because of the frequency with which online material changes, many researchers do not make those "global" changes until they are ready to publish their work. Then, for whatever is being published, they check every website, update as needed, and then re-date the citation as of the date they last consulted the site.