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“Discoverability”, “Findability”, and Alerts

September 20, 2011

Here comes the Mr Whippy ice cream truck! (photo by kenjonbro, CC-BY-NC-SA)

As we all know, an increasing number of Open Access Journals are available that provide high quality, peer-reviewed research that is freely available for anyone to read and use. The difficulty, of course, is that you have to know that they exist, and you have to remember to check them periodically to see what new issues and articles have been published. How do you know that something that you might find interesting or useful exists? Well, you might stumble across it by accident on your way to get something else (just as you might come across a friendly cat or a neighbour out for a jog while on your way to the corner store to buy some milk), but that’s leaving a lot to chance.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I looked around for a good, mainstream news magazine that I could follow (something like Maclean’s  in Canada). I discovered The New Zealand Listener and bought a few issues from the corner stor (we call them “dairies” here). A new issue came out every week, and I sometimes forgot to buy one and missed out if they sold out or were replaced by a newer edition. So, I did the logical thing and took out an annual subscription. After that, the current issue was delivered to my mailbox every week (often before they were available in the shops). I even saved a bit of money.

Since then, I have discovered podcasting and learned about how to get interesting information (radio programmes, news, videos, and so on) by subscribing to a free “RSS feed“. I now listen regularly to several programmes that I can’t hear on my radio because the signal just doesn’t reach New Zealand (Democracy Now!, CBC News, etc.). I use iTunes and the iTunes Store to find, download, and archive programmes (although I have mixed feelings about Apple’s “Walled Garden” business model).

As well as subscribing to information, you can subscribe to information about information – metadata, short summaries of articles, and tables of contents of journal issues. In response to my post on Open Access Journals and books, I received a helpful comment from Roddy Macleod about JournalTOCs, a service that “pulls together a database of Table of Contents (TOCs) from scholarly journals and provides a convenient single “one stop shop” interface to these TOCs“. This is a good way of keeping up-to-date with recent articles published in (when I last looked) 17,002 journals, including 2,571 that are Open Acces. Roddy explains that things can get a bit complicated when a journal publishes a mix of Open Access and proprietary articles. He also provides the steps that publishers of any Open Acces Journal can follow to include their Tabel of Contents in this valuable, free service.

A small bit of information about a larger bit of information is like the ring of a telephone, the banner headline in a newspaper, or the sound of Greensleeves as the Mr Whippy Truck approaches; all alerting us to something interesting that we just might want to pursue further.

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