Monday, 12 July 2010
With print serials, a classic way to keep up with new journal content is to skim the Table of Contents (TOC) of a journal issue. This form of serendipitous browsing not only provides an overview of current content but can lead to unexpected discoveries. It is limited, however, since you can only scan one TOC at a time and you need access to the print publication to do so. As journals have migrated to digital formats, however, the static TOC has become dynamic and STM publishers provide various ways to present them. These modes of distribution not only facilitate access bu offer new ways to present the information embedded in TOCs.
A classic way to get digital TOCs is by signing up for email alerts. You then receive periodic listings of TOCs for one or more serials with hyperlinks which typically go to the journals’ home pages. Nearly all the major publishers – Nature Publishing Group (NPG), American Chemical Society (ACS), and IEEE are just a few examples – provide email alerts, sometimes with the ability to customize them to fit particular search queries.
Email alerts for TOCs are handy but if you don’t want this sort of content filling up your mailbox, you can sign up for RSS feeds of TOCs and then browse them at your leisure in a feed readers such as Google Reader or Bloglines. These generally free tools enable you to organize your RSS feeds into folders by topics, publications, and other facets and provide an efficient means of scanning multiple TOCs at all once. You can also pick up feeds in some email programs and via mobile devices. In addition, you can embed RSS widgets into web pages, blogs, and other Web 2.0 media. Tools like Yahoo Pipes lets you to combine feeds from multiple publications (the sample linked from here combines feeds from three journals focusing on nanotechnolog).
A useful tool for identifying TOC alerts in your target subjects is provided by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the U.K. Its complimentary Journal Table of Contents Service has compiled TOC feeds for thousands of scholarly journals. You can screen for these TOCs by title, subject, and publisher, then select the journals that interest you, and view the feeds for their TOCs; clicking on an entry will take you to the journal’s site, and if they are in the Tufts collection or are open access, you can view the full text. You also export your selections as an OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) file, which is an XML-based format for exporting and importing RSS feeds to and from feed readers. A recent subject search on engineering retrieved feeds for 765 titles divided into 10 major categories as defined by Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory; many of these titles are the top journals in their respective fields and are available in the Tufts collection. JISC also provides an option to set up an account so that you can save your TOCs and view them from within the JISC portal rather than through a feed reader.
Another notable aspect of the migration of TOCs to the digital world concerns the use of multimedia. Print journals in the biology and chemistry realm in particular are noteworthy for including images and pictograms in their TOCs – for scientists focusing on a particular structure, this provides for faster and more meaninful scanning than text might provide. The online variants of TOCs can take this further by providing TOC images as slide shows or 3D animations, as evidenced by, for example, the TOC of ACS Chemical Biology.
The examples listed above are just a sampling of how TOCs can become a useful research tool and as publishers of STM journals work with new web-based technologies, more applications will doubtless emerge.