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Finding scholarly articles: “if it’s important, it will find me”

An article by Kent Anderson in Scholarly Kitchen reviewed four of the megajournals (although by the end of a longish article, he decided that there was only really one megajournal: PLOS ONE, which is today publishing around 100 articles per day, or 36,500 articles per year). What were his conclusions?  He describes the megajournals as “serving a community need” – that is, the academics’ need to publish more articles. He reports, perhaps unsurprisingly, no great innovations in layout, retrievability, or social sharing in the megajournals. In other words, the traffic has increased but without any change in the signposting or traffic management. 

What was more remarkable was Anderson’s report on conversations with authors. “They often put journal brands into their searches. And many don’t search online for content. They take what they get, adopting that “if it’s important, it will find me” attitude.”

So the remarkable conclusion, albeit anecdotal, is that while the number of articles published is continuing to increase dramatically because of the megajournal, author and researcher strategies for finding content remain primitive and unsystematic. Searching by journal brand, for example, is a very amateurish strategy (as a researcher, it is hardly rational for me to assume that a relevant article has appeared in one of a handful of named journals, even if one of those journals is PLOS ONE). The scale of academic publishing has increased vastly, but without any commensurate improvement in tools for discovering this content. Such a contrast between publishing and discovery is truly alarming; surely if authors want the number of publications to increase dramatically, they need at the same time to rethink the way they discover that content.