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.