How to Find What You Aren’t Looking For with Browsing

The author's shelfie
The author’s “shelfie”

BrowZine has been available for almost a year and half now and the response has been tremendous. Not only have critical reviews been very positive but we have also received some great spontaneous comments over twitter, email and in-person at the various trade shows Third Iron has attended around the world.

Most of our biggest fans understand that one of the most valuable aspects to BrowZine is how it has made the act of browsing journal content fast and easy and for those that this scholarly activity is commonplace, adopting BrowZine is an easy decision. However, for some librarians, while they understand what the product is doing, there is sometimes a lack of understanding why this functionality is so valuable.

Barbara Fister recently wrote a great piece for Inside Higher Ed called “Rebundling the Unbundled Article” discussing undergraduate confusion on what a journal “is”, particularly when considering an undergrad’s usual information interaction behavior which consists of of searching for articles that have become completely disambiguated. As she notes, for faculty, their information interaction is much different:

“For faculty, journals are a fairly fundamental category, and they have meaning. Journals represent a community of inquiry. Chances are, some of the names on the editorial board are familiar. They might even have some choice gossip about what happened when a new editor stepped in last year. They probably have an instinctive grasp of why an article is likely to be in one journal, but not another. These are all social practices, and students have had no occasion to engage in them.”

Indeed, this understanding of scholarly publishing takes a while for student to learn. Interacting with journals is a slow process and one that, until BrowZine, is most easily done in print where articles are forcibly arranged by volume and issue. These issues can be thematically arranged and knowing that a particular journal, or set of journals, is likely to announce the next big discovery in your field makes it essential to monitor those titles and keeping connected with new issues as they come out. Fister makes a similar point along these lines:

“Sometimes you go to a journal to find an article you need, but just as often you’re scanning the table of contents of the latest issue to find out what’s new, to see if there’s something in it that you didn’t know you needed to read.”

In the disambiguated search-based world, even with numerous options for “article alerts” based on key terms, the newest discoveries are often genre-defining and will be introduced with a vocabulary or combination of existing terms unique to themselves.  Subject indexing as well, while helpful in this respect, is still by its very practice reactionary.  These pitfalls reinforce what may be lost without quick and efficient browsing being part of a researcher’s scholarly workflow.

Just as many people have adopted a wide variety of news feeds from sources all over the web and via email and RSS for their non-scholarly life, the journals in their area of research are automatically scoped to items of interest by their editorial policy. By providing researchers the ability to easily create their own My Bookshelf in BrowZine, they are able to create that unique portal for their research to quickly and easily stay on top of discoveries in their field and learn about new journals in their area by browsing subject-specific shelves.

All of this translates into a terrific serendipitous discovery experience for researchers combined with a terrific reading experience optimized for the mobile devices that are quickly becoming the content absorption technology of choice.  If this critical research behavior of browsing is not something practiced by all of your researchers, BrowZine provides a fantastic opportunity to introduce it to them!  In no time, they will be customizing My Bookshelf and finding new journals in their area they might never have stumbled upon otherwise.  BrowZine fits in seamlessly in a scholar’s workflow by perfectly complimenting their literature reviews done via searching with a state-of-the-art browsing experience to keep them at the forefront of knowledge in their field.

John Seguin, MLS

President & Chief Librarian

Third Iron