Browzine: Academic Journals on Your Tablet

[This is a guest post by J. Michael Duvall, an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he teaches American Literature. You can find him online at his website and follow him on Twitter @duvalljm]

BrowZine is a free app — by Third Iron — for accessing and reading content from academic journals on the iPad (with versions for other tablets being developed). The app allows users to

  • select academic journals from a “shelf” display (see Figure 1.),
  • browse complete journal issues,
  • read individual articles,
  • collect favorite journals on a shelf of one’s own,
  • save favorite articles,
  • and perform additional tasks with journal content.

A service, rather than an app, as Third Iron prefers to think of it, Browzine emphasizes perusing or thumbing through and reading of academic journals, rather than searching or marking up texts.

A screenshot of the Browzine home screen, which presents an image of shelves holding academic journals.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge).

BrowZine derives its reading library of academic journals from two sources, open access journals and journals selected from individual libraries’ subscriptions (supported publishers). To access both the former and the latter, a user must have a login to a library offering Browzine services (I have been able to access a trial of Browzine through my home institution’s library). Users not affiliated with a library on BrowZine’s list of registered institutions can browse and read open access journals only. I have more to say about the available offerings below.

A screenshot of the way Browzine displays the contents of a journal, vertically listing the titles to each of the articles within a particular issue.

Figure 2 (click to enlarge).

As you can see in Figure 2, The screen for an issue of a journal vertically lists all the contents of the issue, including the journal cover and front matter such as editorial board list and table of contents. Selecting any item from this list takes you to a PDF file in the iPad-standard PDF viewer, allowing you to use pinch gestures for zooming, to select text to define or copy, and to smoothly scroll up and down the document.

Through the “share” icon in the upper-righthand corner (see Figure 3), you can

  • email the article (which sends not a PDF but a link to the publisher’s page for the item)
  • save the item in Browzine for access later
  • share an item on Facebook, Twitter, or other services
  • open an item in installed apps (Safari, Dropbox, PDF annotation apps, iBooks, Evernote, etc.)
  • send at item to Zotero
  • browse the issue (which takes you back to the contents screen)
  • report a problem
A screenshot of an individual article as displayed by Browzine, with the share icon selected and a dropdown menu of various options for sharing.

Figure 3 (click to enlarge).

These are helpful, particularly the “Open in…” option, since that will allow you to save a PDF or mark it up in an annotation app, as shown in Figure 4.

A screenshot of an individual article as displayed by Browzine, with a dropdown menu open showing the various options for opening an individual article in different iPad apps.

Figure 4 (click to enlarge).

But the real innovation in Browzine is delivered through the the right and left arrow icons located immediately to the left of the share icon. With a tap on the right of left arrow, you can move to the next or previous item (from one article to the next, for example), respectively, in the list of contents, effectively browsing a journal issue like you might if you were to pull it off a shelf in a physical library. Though the load time will vary with the size of the file and speed of your iPad’s internet connection, this is a nice touch.

Browzine’s website notes that the app will connect to Mendeley, for users of that reference service. (ProfHacker has published a number of posts about Mendeley.) Browzine will also send alerts for new journal issues. Neither of those options are present in the version I am testing, but both will be helpful additions when they are added.

The Advantages

Browzine could be a very useful technology. I can imagine sitting down with it and over a cup of coffee, scanning through the latest journals in my field. It certainly has been enjoyable scanning through the latest number of American Literary History.

The Disadvantages

However, Browzine will only be as useful as the selection of journals it can shelve. Through my library’s connection to Browzine, I can access 30 journals in Languages and Literature, which is, broadly speaking, my field. However, practically speaking, I can only really use two or three of these in the narrowed area in which I study and teach. My library subscribes to many, many more journals that I use on a regular basis, but these do not appear on Browzine’s shelves as of yet. Should they, eventually, that would be fantastic, but that remains to be seen.

It is also a bit of problem, I think, that Browzine’s open access (OA) journal offerings are significantly slighter in number than the corpus of OA journals available. Through Browzine, I have access to 291 journals, 206 of which are listed under the subject heading “Biomedical and Health Sciences,” another 68 under “Biological Sciences,” and a smattering of journals in other fields, primarily scientific and technological. Given that the Directory of Open Access Journals at the writing of this review provides access to 8881 journals (4515 searchable at the article level), I am not sure why Browzine only shelves relatively few. There may be technical or other reasons for this beyond my ken, or it may be that this is the case only in my iteration of Browzine, but it does seem that whole worlds of valuable academic sources are going untapped, particularly in fields outside of Biology, Biomedicine, and Health (there are no OA humanities journals in Browzine, aside from a journal devoted to ethics in medicine, for instance).

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