A stack of scientific journals articles on a shelf.
A vanishing sight on scientist’s (as well as library) bookshelves as more and more publishers offer online subscriptions and open-access journals. In some ways, I welcome this phenomenon because it is more environmentally friendly with less paper used to print the journals and less of a carbon footprint.
But in other ways, I mourn the loss of the printed journal. I can’t tell you how many times I have stumbled across an interesting (and sometimes entirely unrelated) article while thumbing leisurely through a journal. Perhaps it is an intriguing photo or a flashy figure that catches my eye, perhaps it is the title. But I seriously doubt I would find the same article in an online search unless I was specifically looking for it.
Sometimes the editor will highlight an article in a commentary at the front of an issue, drawing attention to specific aspects of the article or stressing the importance of a scientific discovery. This might be missed in an online search for a specific article.
Likewise, responses by other scientists to a published article might also be missed in an online search, unless they are specifically linked to the original article. Sometimes these responses are in the same issue. For example the controversy kicked up by an article by Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al titled “A bacterium that can grow by using arsenic instead of phosphorus” that was published in Science online in December 2010 and in print June 3, 2011. While Science does a good job of linking the commentaries to the original, not all scientific journals do … yet. Responses in subsequent issues are harder to find without such linking in the digital world.
Journals sometimes cluster related articles in a single journal issue. An online search may or may not deliver such a treasure trove.
So, I’m torn between having a stack of journals perched on bookshelves after their perusal where they gather dust and having a specific scientific journal article at my digital fingertips. (Although, I must admit many times I print a copy of the digital article. Double-sided, of course!)