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February 16, 2007

Scan Your Journal Articles?

Yesterday, a woman came into the Freedman Center looking for help scanning journal articles to PDF. She had around 24 current journals, and each article was around 10 pages in length. That’s 240 scans. At an optimistic 2 minutes per scan that comes out to 480 minutes or a minimum of 8 hours of scanning time. It likely would have been longer, and even worse, if she isn’t familiar with how to scan specifically for creating PDFs, her articles would have had massive file sizes.

While I understand the impulse to scan journal articles, I am always surprised at what people do not know about the modern library—or perhaps, what we in the library don’t communicate as well as we should. It has always been difficult communicating the very great benefits that the library offers, primarily, I think, due to the timing. Students are introduced to the library when they are not in the position of needing it: that is, as freshmen or sophomores (periods where there is a greater reliance on standard texts than on finding, reading, and interpreting material as an independent activity). By the time the independent activity starts, students have either forgotten what they learned, or don’t think to seek a librarian to discuss what the library offers them. Alternatively, the language of libraries is often drab and unexciting, often cloaking the truly exciting things that the library does offer: like Safari Tech Books Online, which I discussed yesterday.

In this case, what people don’t know is that the Kelvin Smith Library and Case Western Reserve University spend tens of thousands of dollars every year on subscriptions to electronic journals and tens of thousands of dollars on agreements with organizations such as OhioLINK to provide even more electronic resources: full text journals, online books, electronic databases, statistical and business sources, chemistry databases with full modeled molecular structures: incredible resources that everyone should take advantage of.

In the case of the woman mentioned above, of the 24 journals she brought in, nearly 80% of them had full text availability. That is, 19 of the articles she wished to scan were available for download. That alone saved her roughly 6.3 hours of scanning. Additionally, in the Freedman Center we have a scanner called the “Sidekick” that is a sheet fed scanner, scanning roughly 30 pages per minute: to PDF or TIFF on the fly. So, in cases such as hers, we recommend photocopying the articles and then feeding them into the sheet fed scanner. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t have helped her, as she was looking to save the .10c copy cost. I was going to ask her what an hour of her time was worth, and since she nearly had her PhD I would assume it was worth more than the cost of photocopying the articles—people often don’t think of that, either.

Regardless, for those of you out there who have considered scanning journal articles, know that the work may have been done for you already. Remember, the web is driven by HTML (or was) which is Hypertext Markup Language. This language is a subset of SGML: Standard Generalized Markup Language, which is used to describe, electronically, the structure of documents—generally for printing. That is, nowadays very nearly all journal articles are born digital, increasing substantially the likelihood that the electronic version you’re looking to carry around on your flash drive already exists.

If you need some help “navigating the electronic landscape” and finding the electronic copies of the articles you’re looking for, go to the Reference Desk. That’s what it is there for. If you can’t get in, hit the Live Chat button on most library web pages to get help wherever you’re at. Also, the library has tutorials that can show you how to find and access a journal electronically.

Podcast of this entry.

Posted by twh7 at February 16, 2007 11:25 AM



I am always amazed when I encounter even seniors who are not aware of the electronic databases that are available to them. They save such huge amounts of time.

I worry that even some faculty may not be aware...

Posted by: Mano Singham at February 16, 2007 03:03 PM

I agree with you completely. It's frightening.

Posted by: Tom at February 16, 2007 03:13 PM

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