Research and Reference Management: Part The Second

Yesterday I posted a flow chart and a description of the first half of the process that it diagrams. Today, I’ll explain the more elaborate second half. First, for convenience, here’s the flowchart again:

The first part of the process gives me a prioritized list of articles to read. It helps, when I have time to read articles, if I can simply go to the list, get a few PDFs, print them, and read them. Therefore I typically go down the list and acquire PDFs for tens of articles in one go. That’s covered in the diagram. For each item on Cite-U-Like, there’s a link to PubMed. The important thing about that is that on PubMed, (while I’m on the University’s network) there are big icon-button things indicating whether I have full-text access to the article, and where. If I have full-text access, I follow the link and download the PDF. I then upload it to Cite-U-Like, which does three things for me.

  1. It keeps the file online for universal access (for me only)
  2. It renames the file to something sensible for me
  3. It puts the file in a nicely organized system with the rest of my article information

If, however, the article is not available to me in full-text (some institutions have more extensive access than others… *cough*), then I have to follow the “no” branch of the flow chart. First, I check the library’s online catalog to make sure that the library does not have the issue in question. They might have it. Ironically, they seem to have extremely obscure journals, but none of the really relevant ones. At least in my field. They also might have the article in J-STOR or Ovid or something like that. If so, then it’s time to descend into confusing multiple-electronic-database hell. I left that off the flowchart.

Anyway, so, the more likely case is that they don’t have it at all. That’s actually a relatively painless scenario, and it’s getting better. Most universities, including mine, have a nice online interface to request photocopies of articles via Inter-Library Loan (ILL). You request your article, and in a day to several days it arrives. Historically, the article would arrive in the form of a mailed or faxed photocopy. This was sometimes inconvenient. Why?

  1. You have to go pick up the article. If you’re doing this several times a week it can get pretty time consuming and annoying.
  2. The article is not digital. If you want to take the copy with you somewhere, you need to lug the dead trees. It is possible to scan the article using an auto-document feeder on a nice digital copy machine. This is yet another step, though.
  3. Sometimes they do a really bad job of copying
  4. Color figures usually become something between mostly useless and entirely useless after being xeroxed, especially if it’s not done with a careful eye for darkness settings.

The new thing is that most articles are delivered electronically. You get an email saying, “your article is in!”, you go to the ILL site and download however many arrived-articles have piled up, and you’re good to go. Of course, the issues of bad copying still apply, since nobody seems to use color scanning.

As you can see from the flowchart, no matter how the articles arrive, you can make them into PDFs somehow, and get them back into the Cite-U-Like library. From there, you can download the PDFs in order on the prioritized To Read list, and churn through them.

How to properly read and make use of the knowledge you gain from reading is worthy of several other blog posts. Questions?