In November of last year I wrote a blog post: Where to find new scholarly research papers: 30 key, free websites. That post, which listed websites and services that help anyone find details of new scholarly research, has been by far the most popular post I’ve written for this blog. It’s had thousands of views so far, and is still getting hits every day. Not only that, but the click-through rates for the resources listed are also high.
When I look at the stats for this blog I can see that people are landing on that post as a result of searching in Google and elsewhere for terms such as: websites for research articles; where to find scientific articles; where to find free research papers; where to find research articles; where can i find research articles; where do i find research articles; scholarly research articles; where do i go to find research articles?; research paper that contains new; free research papers publishing sites; websites for research articles; and so on, and so on.
Another post that I wrote some time ago on a similar topic for another blog (and which is now out-of-date so I won’t link to it), ’10 websites to help you keep up-to-date with scholarly journal contents’, has also received thousands of hits.
Those hits are, of course, only a tiny, tiny percentage of the people who are actually interested in finding research articles.
These things tell me three things.
1. That the post hit a bit of a nerve.
2. That there are many people who are looking for the results of scholarly research and research papers.
3. That it obviously isn’t currently easy to find and browse new research papers.
If the searchers in question were looking for something very specific, or a particular research article, they could simply enter appropriate search words in Google or Google Scholar, and locate relevant papers, because ‘search’, to a great extent, has been solved (though see, for example: Invisible Institutional Repositories: Addressing the Low Indexing Ratios of IRs in Google Scholar).
What very obviously hasn’t been solved is browsing for scholarly research papers, and in particular services which enable you to browse the most recent papers of various kinds.
What exactly am I talking about when I say ‘the most recent papers of various kinds’? I mean new research papers or reports or conference papers or pre-prints or even theses/dissertations which may have been published in numerous places, including paid-for journals, Open Access journals, subject repositories, institutional repositories, and elsewhere on other websites.
In this post I want to give special attention to Open Access materials in OA journals, and subject and institutional repositories.
Let’s look at what some university library websites recommend for finding new research papers, because you’d think that advising staff, students and researchers on finding the latest research papers should be pretty important, wouldn’t you?
At Cardiff University Information Services it’s kind of hidden under the heading ‘Electronic Resources’, but there’s a set of pages on Current Awareness Services. I’m not knocking this particular website (though there are some important omissions and also links to services which are no longer current), but look at how complicated it can actually be for a researcher to find and use the numerous Alerting services and Keyword services for journal articles, and Pre-Prints (numerous services, multi-registration required, separate tools for journals and pre-prints, etc). Despite listing a number of tools under both headings, there’s nothing there about finding the latest papers in the majority of institutional repositories.
Again, I don’t want to knock the actual website (though once again it misses some important tools), but rather point to Current Awareness Services at the University of Stirling to show how complex and complicated it is to find new research output (numerous databases, numerous journal suppliers, RSS, alerts, saving searches, etc), and the only repository mentioned is Stirling University’s own one.
Bournemouth University on its Alerts & current awareness services page doesn’t list services – instead, you have to attend a class to find out, because “Keeping up to date is a challenge for everyone”.
I agree. It can be a total challenge. It shouldn’t be, should it? But it is.
There’s even less mention of Open Access than there is of repositories in any of the three guides mentioned above. This is not a criticism of the guides but rather an acknowledgement that browsing new OA and repository materials is, today, much too difficult.
The University of Glamorgan has a page about Repositories, but nothing about browsing the latest papers in multiple repositories. The University of the West of England has a Current Awareness page, and also a UWE Research Repository and open access page, but neither tell you how to scan for new OA papers. There’s a good guide to repositories from Lancaster University Library, but still not much about keeping up-to-date with new materials.
Such guides from libraries, for all their possible faults (and they are better than this one, for example, from the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, which leads to a 404, and better than no guide at all, which is what you’ll find in some other libraries), are more informed pointers than if you just go looking generally on the Internet for tools on current awareness. If you do that, you’ll likely get completely lost (or end up at my post about Where to find new scholarly research papers: 30 key, free websites)!
So – am I missing something, or is it true that:
a) it is usually really difficult to keep up-to-date with new scholarly research without putting a great deal of effort into the process,
b) it is really difficult to scan new Open Access and repository materials.
So – what needs to be done to rectify this state of affairs?
JournalTOCs, which is a service I have input into, is the biggest and best freely available collection of scholarly journal Tables of Contents (TOCs), and now covers over 18,000 journals including 3,200 Open Access journals. It’s an excellent service, but although it covers the majority of published subscription journals, it doesn’t cover a lot of Open Access journals due to the fact that many OA journals don’t produce Table of Contents RSS feeds, on which JournalTOCs is based.
It is therefore clear to me that a big effort needs to be made to encourage more OA journals to produce RSS TOC feeds, and feeds which are of an appropriate standard. This would help many services, library OPACs, aggregators, individuals who use RSS, and not just JournalTOCs. There’s also a need for a standardised way to indicate OA material in the TOC feeds of hybrid journals. Someone or some thing needs to fund this effort. It won’t happen by itself.
Those are relatively small things, but the benefits would be great, especially in terms of raising awareness of the contents of OA journals.
What else? Well, a much bigger effort needs to be made in order to showcase new papers being deposited in repositories. This is really important. The majority of researchers will never be persuaded about the benefits of deposit in repositories if their papers end up languishing in their local repository and not being publicised in any way. Yes – those papers can be found by some search engines, sometimes, if you happen to search under appropriate terms, but, No – the papers are not being showcased or publicised enough. Such showcasing needs to be done on a multiple-repository basis.
Futurity is a great idea, but it only covers a small percentage of repositories. Where is the equivalent, on a national scale? Where can I easily browse all new content from all institutional repositories on a subject basis? How can I syndicate such content at other sites? These are simple concepts, but it’s not possible to do this, at present.
In fact, there’s actually no need to separate such new content from the new content that appears in journals, is there? As far as the end-user is concerned, it’s all simply the results of new research, isn’t it? And wouldn’t new content in repositories benefit from being viewable alongside new content from journals?
In fact, the technology behind JournalTOCs could, with some further development work, be used to facilitate such a facility/service. What I’m thinking of is an automated aggregation of new journal content alongside new repository content, presented on a subject basis. But let’s not stop there – let’s also enable syndication with ease at multiple-other websites (such as in library subject guides, or research group websites, etc), and let’s also allow for easy sharing of items via standard social media services (such as Twitter, etc). And let it be linked to JournalTOCs, which already has a sizeable user base, servers, etc. And so on.
Wouldn’t that help a lot?
Can Mendeley, Academia.edu and other similar services enable the same sort of things? Well, both are impressive services and go a long way to help researchers with networking and reference management, etc. That’s their main focus, but Mendeley, for example, also facilitates collaboration and recommendations, etc, and Academia.edu allows you to follow some journals. But neither is really focussed on showcasing new output and facilitating serendipitous discovery of new research output. In addition, both services need quite a bit of effort and input to get you started, and both require login and so their content is therefore not freely browsable on the web.
In terms of showcasing in general, there’s much more that could be done, but hopefully some of my above suggestions would be a start.