e-mail TOC alerts based on ticTOC’s

At Wageningen UR Library we had for many years already a quite successful e-mail based TOC-alerting system for our users. It was introduced in 2003 (Gerritsma, 2003) and has been flourishing ever since. Why would we compete with publishers by offering TOC-alerts through the mail? The answer is quite simple. For each journal published by another publishers, the subscription process is different again. Requiring passwords and registrations. At the library website our users can subscribe in a uniform way to thousands of different TOC alerts.

The service has been rather popular. Our users have TOC alerts for more than 2000 different journals. We noticed in the referrals from our SFX server that the TOC alerts were in the top 10 of referring databases. Our researchers, teachers and students still prefer e-mail over RSS. So we have to offer both.

The old technique we used, was based on a subscription model from Swets (our journal intermediary). However, Swets did not deliver the best of services for this alerting service. We noticed very often considerable delays, and sometimes double alerts. There for enter the ticTOC project. We included the TOC service in our catalogue last year already, Peter described the technical bits and pieces here. Since this implementation we started thinking about the improvement of our TOC alerts.

Yesterday we received the first batch of TOC alerts in the mail based on the ticTOC service. We harvest for the journals that our users have TOC subscriptions for the RSS feeds from the publishers. Look at weekly of monthly intervals what has been added. The changes for those journals are send in an e-mail to the subscribers.

Advantageous of the RSS based system is that for some journals our TOC alerts are way earlier than those from the publisher. Springer is an example where the RSS feed runs over the online first articles, rather than the ‘printed’ issues. In my experience the RSS feed is 3 to 4 months ahead on the official TOC alerts. Furthermore we can now offer TOC alerts on a far more larger set of journals. And lastly, since it is a service that is entirely based on open data, we can offer this service now to our ‘external’ users as well.

We haven’t considered the last point officially yet. But the TOC alerts was a subscription service for our Wageningen UR employees only. Since we had to do we a subscription service from Swets. Now that it is an entirely open application we can offer the service in theory to any users. 

Transferring RSS feeds to e-mails sounds a bit silly, and not so Web 2.0, but when that’s what your users wants, you better provide that service.         


Gerritsma, W., Loman, M.E., 2003. Implementing portal functionality at wageningen ur library: Combining the old with the new. Online Information 2003, Olympia Grand Hall, London, UK, pp. 159-162. http://library.wur.nl/wasp/bestanden/LUWPUBRD_00321941_A502_001.pdf

Improving journal records in our catalogue

As of today Wageningen UR library has integrated the RSS subscription options to the journal records in the catalogue. We borrowed these from the TicToc Project of JISC. Adding a relevant RSS option is not that much of an improvement. What is interesting about this whole issue how we finally ended up with the results from the RSS feeds. There were voices in favor to print the Table of Content article titles at the bottom of the record itself. Under the line so to say. Other voices thought that it would distract the users from the factual information presented in the record. So a compromise was struck.

Have a look at this record. The option of “show recent articles”  in the right hand screen will show the titles from the most recent issue.  In the TOC that shows at the bottom of the record, you can select the “show abstract” to view even more detail when that’s provided in the Feed.

Albeit an comprise, its a step in the right direction I think.

Innovative use of Twitter in libraries

I have been watching the Peace Palace Library using twitter for quite some time already. They use as one of the various means to inform their users. Apart from Twitter the use mail, chat and RSS  to broadcast messages. Their use of twitter is mainly for informing users on updates, systems changes and all those kind of things. Short messages, of course.

I was therefore interested by the application of the Library of the Technical University of Hamburg Harburg where they have implemented Twitter as a document stream on their  electronic repository -which they prefer to call a document server. To me this makes a lot of sense. Too many libraries treat their repository as just one of their ordinary databases. It sits there and that’s about it. Okay they use OAI-PMH to make it possible to exchange information. That is important indeed.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Libraries should try their utter best to broadcast or syndicate the content of their repositories as widely as possible. They have the task trusted upon them to make the rest of the world aware of the valuable publications the researchers of their Alma Mater have produced. Relying on OAI-PMH only is not sufficient to reach that goal.

RSS is absolutely a necessity. If it was only to trickle feed the Google’s of this world with fresh information. But RSS is an excellent tool for getting your content to appear in other place on the Web as well. So RSS on your repository is a prerequisite. Let me be clear about that beforehand.

Today I was amused by the ingenious use of Twitter to syndicate updates of this repository. It is up to the user to subscribe to this feed if they wish too. On the other hand, I observe some conversion for my blogs from the twitter streams from these blogs. It is not much in comparison to RSS, but if you can please some of your clients by this form of syndication and the implementation costs are next to nothing. Then why not? Why not give it a try an see how it works out.

I love these small experiments.

hattip: netbib

RSS what a mess, publishers have made of it

Web 2.0 is in vogue. Library 2.0 seems even hipper.

One of the consistent examples for a good 2.0 library is the implementation of RSS feeds. RSS-ify your news items, your latest acquisitions and more. A logical extension of a RSS-ified library is a feed for each and every journal in the catalogue. Perhaps not a good idea to make them for each and every journal yourself, but as an aggregator of services the e-journals catalogue is a good place to offer them. So far so good. Where do you get them? At the publishers sites of course. That is where the pain starts. I only whish there was some logic, some coherence, some consistency in the way publishers would offer RSS feeds for new journal content.

Some examples?

American Chemical Society publishes Journal of agricultural and food chemistry the feed looks like http://pubs.acs.org/wls/alerts/rss/jafcau some illogical journal abbreviation specifies the journal. With ACS you could have expected a RSS feed based on the CODEN at least. Let alone for ISSN.

Biomed Central publishes BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine the feeds of most BMC journals are based on the journal title but in this particular instance the feed is http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmccomplementalternmed/rss/

Blackwell publishes Ecological Entomology the feed looks like http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/action/showFeed?ui=0&mi=0&ai=wn&jc=een&type=etoc&feed=rss, the jc=een refers to the journal under investigation.

Cambridge Journals publishes Experimental Agriculture the feeds is the following … Oops. Your can’t. You get the following message: To continue this action you will need to login to CJO with your username or password. If you are a new visitor please register here.

Elsevier has a similar problem as Cambridge has. You need to be logged in to the ScienceDirect platform to subscribe to some feeds. Many feed options, yes that’s true. But simple RSS feeds on new journal content is a bit more difficult than straightforward.

Oxford has a great journal in Annals of Botany. Oxford offers a range of feeds for the journal, but the current issue feed looks as follows http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/rss/current.xml, i.e. based on some sort of journal abbreviation.

Sage publishes amongst others the Journal of information science the feed is to be found at http://jis.sagepub.com/rss

Springer is the publisher of Scientometrics which RSS feed is to be found at http://www.springerlink.com/content/101080/?sortorder=asc&export=rss where the number in the feed has no relation whatsoever to the ISSN.

Taylor & Francis has amongst others the journal Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A – Animal Sciences which feed is to be found at http://www.informaworld.com/ampp/rss~content=t713690045. Don’t be mislead, the last number is not an ISSN. The ISSN of this journal is 0906-4702 (to be found is the XML page behind the feed)

Wiley Interscience publishes the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. It’s RSS is to be found at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/rss/journal/76501873. It looks deceptive, but the number at the end is not the ISSN of course. Those are 1532-2882 for the paper edition and 1532-2890 for the electronic form.

So many publishers, so many different RSS feeds. Hello wake up! We as libraries are their customers. We have to make clear that this is not an acceptable policy. Of course we can wait for yet another player in the information provision chain to sort it out for us. But what is needed is some simple and logic reasoning. We don’t need to invent yet another DOI system or an open URL system. A basic URL for a journal’s feed should look like this:

http://<base url>/<ISSN>/feed

Where the base url is something like the url of the publishers or aggragtors platform. Something like www.springerlink.com or www.sciencedirect.com. The ISSN is preferably the paper issn -since that is available in most catalogues. If not that an e-issn is required. And the feed should end like <feed>, wether RSS 0.92, 2.0 or Atom. Deceptively simple, yet not a publisher has thought this up.

Come on publishers agree with each other and standardize on a standard for journal content notifications.