Sometimes I marvel at how much technological progress I've experienced during my lifetime. Internet use was limited when I was in college. I still remember the first television commercial to include a website--what the product was, I don't know, but I remember thinking "What the hell is 'http://www'?" The first computer I ever owned was an IBM desktop which had no internal hard drive but booted from a floppy disk (remember those?) inserted into a B drive. I printed to a dot-matrix printer which sounded like a combination between a jackhammer and a chainsaw when the print head was in motion. I couldn't print anything at night for fear I'd wake my college roommate up. Now I compute on a nifty MacBook and print to a Bluetooth printer which is so quiet I often forget I've printed anything until I discover documents in the out tray.
Last week I discovered the technological changes in library research. I thought I knew a lot about library research from having been an academic research assistant from 1991-1996. Among the million job responsibilities was combing through the UCSF Library for journal articles the principal investigators needed. By the time I left the job and entered medical school, I was the equivalent of a Jedi Master at finding primary sources in the library. When I was planning my San Francisco trip last week, I knew things had changed and I did some Web research on how to get what I needed efficiently. I believed, in this era of high-speed Everything and virtual Doohickies, I'd be able to get almost all the papers I needed in PDF format, download them to a USB drive, then trudge downstairs to the stacks for the pre-2000 papers which, I assumed, would still be in print format only. Well, things went well but not quite as smoothly as I'd hoped. Here I'm presenting a rundown of library research then and now.
Step 1: Principal investigators gave me lists of journal articles they wanted to read.
Step 2: I prepared a "pull list" of journals by title, volume, number and page range for each article.
Step 3: I obtained a copy card to use in the library photocopiers. I think the per-page charge at the time was $0.07/page.
Step 4: In the library stacks (located in the windowless lower levels of the building), I pulled library-bound archived journals, working the stacks alphabetically by journal title. I used to pull one generous armful then set off for the photocopy room. Eventually I got smart and hijacked a library cart to hold all the bound journals I needed.
Step 5: I stood at a photocopier hand-placing each page on the glass surface until all the articles were copied. This could take a couple of hours.
Step 6: I emerged from the library several hours after entering, the scholarly equivalent of a ream of paper in my arms.
Sometimes it was a bit more complicated. If our library didn't carry a journal I had to arrange for another library to send the article I needed. This required filling out little slips of paper an submitting them to the reference librarian, but the service was great--the paper usually arrived within two weeks. All in all, the work was dull, many trees lost their lives in the name of science, and I sustained a lot of paper cuts, but at least the information I needed was readily obtainable and there weren't too many permutations of how to obtain that information. Things are more complicated now.
Step 1: I've been accumulating a list of papers I'd like to read in full and I investigated ways of getting these papers without leaving Rural. I discovered most of the scientific journals charge $30 per full-text article. This price will rapidly sap the budget of even a highly successful rural family doctor like me. So after commiserating with my Twitter buddies, I connected with an institutional library through which I can get the same articles for $15 each. Better, but still steep, so I decided it would be cheaper to go to UCSF library when I was in San Francisco.
Step 2: A few days before going to SF, I consulted with my Twitter buddies again:
sarchet62 @ruraldoctoring the PMID number in PubMed search box will pull up the abstract it belongs to and then use UC elinks to find out if in pdf 5:58 PM Oct 13th from twhirl in reply to ruraldoctoring
ruraldoctoring @sarchet62 I'm assuming, perhaps wrongly, that papers from online journals avail in library can be stored on USB drive rather than printed. 5:55 PM Oct 13th from web in reply to sarchet62
ruraldoctoring @sarchet62 Back to parking--I'm going to have to do all this while running back and forth to 2-hr parking space & moving car. Might take bus 6:07 PM Oct 13th from web in reply to sarchet62
Step 3: My mother, after I whined about parking, dropped me off at the library, so I didn't need to worry about expiring meters.
Step 4: I discover the UCSF library has now established computer stations for "UCSF affiliated only" and "general public." As an alumna, I am a member of the general public. Nice.
Step 5: On the public computers I open up PubMed. As @sarchet62 instructed, I entered PMID# into the search field and found full-text articles available through the UCSF subscription.
Step 6: Plug in a USB drive. No icon appears on the desktop. Frustration ensues.
Step 7: Consult with reference librarian, who informs me only UCSF affiliates may download full-text articles to USB drive. I express polite outrage at this policy. She smiles wearily.
Step 8: Armed with the knowledge that, even in 2008, trees must die in the name of science, I have to register for a GALEN account and fund it with a credit card in order to print full-text articles.
Step 9: Once this is done, I print out 13/17 articles I wanted. The other four are not available through the UCSF network. The resulting pile of paper is 1.5" thick and costs me over $22.00 in printing fees.
Step 10: Feeling a bit grim, I go down to the stacks to obtain the eight remaining articles which are available in print only.
Step 11: Am confronted with a sign announcing a re-shelving project. At first, I don't think this will be a problem for me.
Step 12: Experience a twinge of nostalgia when I go down to the stacks. All the hard-core students study down here, away from the pretty view and comfy chairs on the main level (pictured above). A few are hard at it, sitting on straight-backed chairs at carrels. I think they are pharmacy students because they have scientific calculators and look like they're confronting the horror of physical chemistry. Pharmacists have to do a lot more advanced math than doctors do, so the next time you see your hospital pharmacist, give her a big hug.
Step 13: Falling back upon my old research assistant habits, I begin to work the stacks in alphabetical order. In the "A" section, this is what I see. A million boxes, and a million more empty shelves. The empty shelves would have contained 4/7 print papers I wanted to get.
Step 14: Major nostalgia attack in the photocopy room, which is staffed by the same dour copy card salesman and--I swear--the same ancient photocopiers:
Step 15: Walk home with a pound of dead trees and a bad attitude.
The worst part is I now have to take the full-text articles which I printed from PDFs and scan them back into PDFs so I can use a reference software to keep sources on track. Does that make sense? No.
I suppose I had bad luck going to the library during their reshelving project, but what is up with disabling USB drive access from the public computers? I suppose the $0.22/page printing charge is helping prop up this great research institution, but I mean really.
At least I didn't spend $30 for each of the 15 papers I managed to obtain. For my next task, I will write a stiff note to the library staff regarding the virtues of paperless computing.