We cite sources when we write papers not just so the paper looks more legitimate, but so other authors can check the caveats we’re hiding when we’re trying to attach ourselves to McCoolName and Zhang (2013)’s amazing findings.
As a service to researchers, therefore, I propose that along with the citation, we should also include a note on how and where we found each source, so that tracking down footnote 73 becomes only slightly less difficult than winning the lotto. This will also give researchers another space to vent and perhaps brag about their research-fu.
Anyone who reads the reference list should subsequently learn about that book which we couldn’t actually track down, but fortunately the relevant pages were free to view on Google Docs.
Or that article from a newsletter which someone handed out to us at an event long-forgotten and which probably isn’t archived anywhere.
Or those unpublished conference proceedings and dissertations that a friend of a friend emailed us. Or, most commonly, that journal article that you won’t be able to read past the abstract unless you’re affiliated with a university that’s paying publishers up the nose for access.