Keeping up with the literature

OK, actually a bookshop, but the same idea

I don’t know about you, but this is one of the hardest things to do.

Being of an age that I can remember trawling through the card index at the university library, and then spending a day or three browsing the stacks to discover some interesting piece in a journal I’d not heard of until that point [which is how I ended up with my PhD topic, but that’s another story], I am now swamped by a constant wave of new publications.

Which is great, but also problematic. Maybe because of that struggle to find stuff I now worry that I might be missing something, even as I now find I don’t have enough time to read it all, let alone ruminate on it.

Currently, my system works like this.

I’m signed up to about 50 journals for new issue alerts. I keep a spreadsheet of these journals, so I know that I’ve not missed anything from them: some of the alerts are a bit ropey, so maybe twice a year I’ll go to my library website and go check for missing back issues.

Right now, I’d totally recommend doing that, since many publishers seem to have loosened up access to journals that your place might not usually subscribe to.

I’ll download PDFs, reading the abstracts as I go, plus the full piece if it’s particularly salient. You might consider this piece when you write your next piece, because it’s certainly true for me.

In addition, I have a Google Scholar alert set up for a keyword for my research, which produces about an email a day of links to new content. Again, I try to access as much as I can.

And then there’s the stuff that I read about on Twitter or other blogs.

Again, I’m not sure this is the ideal way, but it’s the one I’ve worked with for many years, so it’s comfortable for me, which is also important.

From experience, the most difficult thing is letting stuff build up. A few years ago I left the library ‘visit’ for well over a year and I ended up with several hundred pieces, about which I could tell you pretty much nothing.

Anyone got any better models for doing this? Stick it in the comments below.