28 February 2011

Overwhelmed? Stay updated at your leisure

The story:
You're busy.  Your Inbox is constantly full.  Your time is limited.  In a surge of professional enthusiasm you decided to have the table of contents from your most read professional journals sent to you electronically (eTOC's).  You meant well (and still do) but the incessant number of emails you get means often times these eTOC's slip past your scouring email-eye.  Next thing you know you're searching through old emails trying to find the latest articles or searching the publisher's site trying to find the contents of the recent issue.  Overall you're annoyed: this eTOC which was supposed to be an easy way to keep updated seems lost in cyberspace. What happened to the good old days when it simply showed up in tangible paper form courtesy of your hospital Librarian?  Well, before we start getting misty-eyed about justifiably discarded practices, and ready to throw our electronic baby out with that bathwater, note there is a better way!

First though let's reaffirm why eTOC's are better than their print predecessors

eTOC advantages:
1) They link right to the abstract/article meaning 'instant access' if you have a subscription
2) You can access it from anywhere you have access to email (no more carrying around loose pieces of paper)
3) They are automatic and not contingent on whether someone is 'in the office' to send it
4) They're green! (unless of course you print off your emails)

Now that we feel refreshed on our original resolve for eTOC's let's look at an even better way!

Look for the orange and white RSS Feed symbol!

RSS Feeds, Google Reader, or your Library Intranet site

With RSS feeds, (which are available from most Journal Publisher websites) you can automatically link to the most recent issues of your selected journals.  You can either set up a Google Reader account or add it to your already existing Google account.  Google Reader makes setting up automatic journal feeds easy and browsing new issues/articles a cinch!  There's the option of searching and adding journal feeds from the Reader interface "Add a Subscription" button or from the individual journal homepages.  From the Publisher's site, instead of signing up for an email to be sent simply go their RSS Feeds page and click on the 'Subscribe to this feed in Google Reader' link.  Now all the new articles from these journals will show up automatically on one page in your Reader account!  Sounds nice especially when you think of the mass of rogue emails floating around somewhere in your inbox.  Google Reader keeps them neat, organized, contained in one space and is very user-friendly!
You can also sign up to follow new posts from your favorite blogs *cough cough* also searchable from the "Add a Subscription" button on your Reader main page

Snapshot of Google Reader

Another option sometimes offered by Libraries is a 'Current Awarenss' page where the RSS feeds of major journals are linked to the Library site so you can see the latest articles/latest issue of your favourite heavy-hitters.  Though useful it may not be offered by all Libraries and will of course not be as tailored to your needs as the Google Reader option. 

Talk to your Librarian about how to use RSS feeds, whether they offer a centralized 'Current Awareness' page or for assistance and/or setting up feeds on a Google Reader account.  Keeping these updates organized, contained and easily accessible is just one step closer to keeping you sane, keeping your inbox clearer and keeping your good intentions intact!

18 February 2011

mish mash MeSH: What your Librarian's talking about & how to construct a better search

So you're doing a topic search in one of your Library's databases: you enter a term and are asked to choose between keyword or MeSH term but what's this gobblygoop 'MeSH' and why is it relevant to your search?  Well let's break it down.
MeSH versus Keyword

Keyword: When searching by keyword you are essentially searching the articles for any instance of that word.  For example, if you enter the term 'Arm' into Medline and search by keyword your results will include all the articles within the database that mention the word 'Arm' anywhere in the article. In other words you'll get articles relating to arms (as in the human appendage) but you'll also be getting back irrelevant articles e.g. 'Arm yourself against the common cold'.  Bottom line: keyword searches can result in a lot of unwanted results.  Of course it may still be useful but I would recommend using keywords only if there is no MeSH term available.  Of course I still haven't defined MeSH!

MeSH:  MeSH stands for Medical Subject Heading and are used for indexing biomedical articles for both the PubMed and Medline Databases.  When published, articles are assigned MeSH headings by staff  at the National Library of Medicine.  Essentially, they're a controlled 'label' assigned to the journal.  If I were to do my same search with the term "Arm" and choose the MeSH option instead of the keyword my results will be contained to articles relating only to the human appendage or 'upper extremity' (which is where the 'arm' heading falls under in the MeSH hierarchy).

Let's look at the difference!

Database: Medline
Search term: Arm
Keyword search only: 87,901 results
MeSH search: 23,249 results
Difference: 64,654 fewer results with MeSH

Though 23,249 is still a huge result, when you start combining it with other terms similarly narrowed with MeSH you end up with much more tangible results than a keyword-only search.  Talk to your Librarian if you want some more information/help with MeSH or any literature searching strategies!