Keeping Up With Journals

Issues of a journal, sitting on a library shelf[This is a guest post by Lincoln Mullen, a Ph.D. student in American history at Brandeis University.]

If you’re an academic, you have to read lots of journals to keep up with the research in your field. You’ve probably learned how to search JSTOR or other academic databases to find articles and book reviews in back issues. But keeping up with the most recent issues is a different matter. You’ll have to find the most recent issue online and sign up for reminders when new issues are published, which I’ll describe how to do in this post.

You can start by making a list of the journals you want to read. I’m a grad student in history, so I’ll use the American Historical Review, the William and Mary Quarterly, and the Journal of the Early Republic as examples.

Once you have a list of journals, you should figure out where you can get access to them. I’ll deal first with getting access online, then briefly discuss reading journals in print.

Finding recent journals online

One way that you might have access to journals online is by subscribing to the print edition or being a member of a professional organization. For example, if you’re a member of the American Historical Association, then you can login to the AHR from the AHA website.

Your academic library is almost certainly the best source for online versions of journals. Libraries vary widely in the number of journals that they subscribe to, so your library may have every journal you could wish for, or it may have very few. If your academic library doesn’t have everything you need, try looking at a large public library in your state, such as the Boston Public Library or the New York Public Library.

Many libraries have a database where you can search by journal title to see which databases hold which issues of a journal. For example, if I search the database at my institution for the AHR, I get the following results.

You can see that there are several databases that have back issues of the AHR, but that I can get the most recent issue only from the University of Chicago Press. I ran similar searches for two other journals, and found that I can get the most recent issues of the WMQ from History Cooperative and of the JER from the EBSCO databases or from Project Muse. If I click the links to any of those databases, I can navigate to the issue I want.

Alerts for new issues online

Finding the most recent issues is one thing, but it would be nice to receive an alert when an issue is released online. Most databases provide a way to subscribe to alerts via e-mail or RSS. In general, I prefer e-mail, because sometimes RSS readers don’t work through library proxies, but your mileage may vary.

For the AHR, there are links in the left sidebar to subscribe via e-mail or RSS. You can paste the link to the RSS feed into your favorite feed reader. If you choose to subscribe to the e-mail, you’ll have to register with the site. The signup process is far from convenient, but you should only have to do it once.

Though the most recent issue of the WMQ is available from History Cooperative, that website does not offer a way to subscribe to alerts. For that journal, your best option is probably to subscribe to H-OIEAHC, an e-mail list sponsored by the same institution that publishes the WMQ.

The JER has its most recent issue in two databases, both of which offer alerts. At the Project Muse page for the journal, the right sidebar offers RSS and e-mail options. Subscribing via e-mail at Project Muse is very simple.

Signing up for alerts to the JER from one of the EBSCO databases, such as Academic Search Premier, can be complex. From the journal page, you’ll have to click “alerts” then either subscribe to the RSS feed or register for an account and sign in to get an e-mail alert.

If you can’t figure out how to sign up for alerts, or even where you can find journals online, consider asking for help at your library’s reference desk or help desk. Most library workers are glad to teach people how to use the library resources. (I should know; I was one.)

Reading recent journals in print

Subscribing to e-mail alerts or RSS feeds for the key journals in your field can help you keep up with your journal reading. Sometimes, though, a low-tech solution is best. If you’re a member of a professional association like the AHA or SHEAR, you’re probably getting a print version of its journal delivered to your home or office. For me, at least, there is nothing like the physical presence of a journal or book to remind me to read it. (As a bonus, you can be glad that your subscription supports the publication of the journal.) Even for journals that you don’t subscribe to, your academic library is probably receiving a print copy. By scheduling half a day every month or two to plow through the journals you subscribe to or the ones available at your library, you can stay caught up on your journal reading.

Whatever works for you–that’s the ProfHacker way.

[Creative Commons licensed photo of journals by Flickr user the.Firebottle.]

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