Friday, July 18, 2008

Stupid Question

Quick, what would you do? I can't decide.

My journal subscriptions are coming up for renewal. This is, god willing, the last year I am eligible for cheap subscriptions as a Postdoc.

Off and on, I have chosen to get hard copies. There are goods and bads to doing this.

I hate junk email. I don't like reading TOCs in my inbox. It's rare that I want to deal with clicking on the link and going to my web browser, blah blah blah.

I also hate reading papers online. Abstracts, okay, but I don't have a big monitor and I don't really like sitting at a desk. I'd much rather take a pile of paper and flop down on my couch at home!

So I decided, for these and other reasons, that hard copies are better. The chances that I will look through them are much better than if I have to remember to look online, and I like that I often find things I wasn't looking for.

The main danger I can see with using RSS feeders and preset searches is that you end up filtering out serendipity.

The drawback, of course, is the clutter. Physical information overload. If I get hard copies and don't have time to read them, they just pile up. And up and up and up.

So now I am torn about whether to renew, since of course for most things I can download papers for free via my institution. It's less aesthetically pleasing, but it works well enough.

I'm tempted to just not renew, save my piddling salary for better things, and look online when the mood strikes.

What do you do?

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At 1:57 PM, Blogger JJacobs said...

cancel them. let your institution pay for your subscription. Use the money to do something for yourself. paper publications are for fireplaces and recycling bins. If you want to be even more green -- maybe use the money you save on the subscriptions to buy a Kindle Reader, download the PDFs to your kindle and read the papers away from your desk without printing a thing! I canceled my Nature and Science pubs over two years ago after I realized my son was using them for collages more than I was reading them in print.

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Jake said...

I don't keep ANY hardcopies. I maintain all papers in a directory sorted by first author last name. It's a lot easier to move with just a flash drive than hundreds of pounds of paper.

But what about notes? Well, I keep my notes in a bibtex file. If I want to search for some particular idea, I just use emacs to search through that file.

The next step will be selling my text books.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Journals = $$, and I have none of that!

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous lost academic said...

I am of both minds. I don't love reading papers on my screen but I admit the necessity to the portability and the convenience of doing so. Plus, I like being able to easily search and index my papers. There are some that I choose to receive the hardcopies, and I know I shouldn't, but sometimes I like having them in the car or the laptop case so that on planes or in waiting rooms I have them ready to read or reread. I will frequently print and organize pdfs that I think are particularly cogent papers in the first place. There's a lot to be said for writing your notes on them and I'm not about to go out and get a tablet notebook for that purpose just yet.

Honestly - I'd save your money at this particular stage in the game.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Brian Haugen said...

I never really got into the whole skimming the printed journal thing. I subscribe to the table of contents (ToC) emails for about 5 of my key journals that I skim systematically, clicking through to 25-50% of the abstracts, and skimming maybe 1-5 articles in full text.

I subscribe to the ToC of another 20 journals of tangential interest/review journals (lots of Nature Reviews Whatever, Trends in Whatever, PNAS) that I skim lightly and click through to read maybe 5% of the abstracts.

Finally, I have about 10 PubMed RSS feeds and email alerts that search for arcticles by key collaborators or key competitors, or that mention a key gene or protein. Some of these are also set up to search PubMedCentral full-text, so if my favorite gene shows up in a microarray study, I hear about it 6 months after the article came out.

How's that for serendipity-friendly?

For me, the key to using email to manage ToC reading is to use Apple Mail to read the emailed ToC, and to hold the Command (Apple) key while clicking links. Then, the page opens up in Safari, but Safari stays in the background, so I can finish going through all of my ToC before switching to Safari to read things. Often, I do this on my laptop while on the bus to work. That way, I load safari with a bunch of links to follow, which would then load once I connected to the university network.

Maybe this is overkill....

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Brian Haugen said...

Also, this seems appropriate:
Science:"Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship"

It's about how there is a correlation of online availability of journal articles and a higher proportion of recent publications.

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in this day and age, we should be moving towards open access. but i hear ya about wanting to read them in print. personally, i would not subscribe for the same reason i don't subscribe to magazines. they just pile up around the house and eventually you'll toss them. if you CAN get them online, do that.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

yes that is overkill! And for those of us who have to get ourselves to work rather than riding passively, really not convenient. Maybe someday I will have an easier commute, but not now.

J Jacobs,
Can't write on them with a Kindle reader, can you?

Really don't like adding notes or highlighting using Preview or Acrobat. Just not the same. I need the kinesthetic as well as the aesthetic. I guess most people are not like that.

And I don't like being on the computer all day. Just don't like it. So Jake, notes in a bibtex file, while wonderfully searchable, are not that much fun to create. For me anyway.

And somehow I can never get the indexing to work as well as I'd like. Maybe when indexing figures becomes more commonplace, I'll like it.

Sigh. I guess I am just old before my time. I don't care enough about being green. I like books. I like paper. And they are recyclable, always have been.

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous ds said...

I suggest reading the TOC of all relevant journals online, and only subscribe to receive the printed version of a single journal which is most relevant to your field.

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous a physicist said...

I get print for "fun" reading. This includes the two main physics teaching journals, for example. For research reading (Science, Nature, Physical Review Letters, whatever) I use the web and print articles out that I want to read. I don't get the serendipity that you mentioned, but I don't have time for serendipity, sadly.

I hardly ever read papers on a computer. I too like to mark them up, file them, and recycle them.

Side note: my way of organizing PDF's is to use I highly recommend it. It's intended for organizing your bibliographies (and that's my main use) but I also use it to store PDF's of articles that I haven't printed out yet.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

I use LargeU's extensive online journal subscriptions and then just print out the copies I need. I can quickly browse all the ASAPs and early releases and still recycle once I'm done.

I'm such a packrat that when I have subscriptions, all they do is stack up and take up space.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous ds said...

"my way of organizing PDF's is to use I highly recommend it."

Thanks Physicist. I just signed up for it, it is very useful. :)

At 5:37 AM, Blogger Ginger said...

Gosh, it would never occur to me to take out a personal subscription to a journal which I had institutional access to. If nothing else, you presumably need a fair amount of storage space for the back copies?

I can't comfortably read off-screen either, so I do print out papers I want to read. Not that green, but it does use less paper than a glossy print edition, particularly if you print double sides/two pages per side.


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