If you research an emerging topic, it is likely that you use some form of literature alert. If you’re unfamiliar with literature alerts, they are notifications provided by publishers and digital libraries to inform you of new content as it is released. Managing these alerts can be challenging, so I thought I’d share my system. At a very high level, I manage literature with Gmail labels. My system is pretty simple, but it has been working for a year or so I’ve used it.
The first step has two parts. If you don’t have a Gmail account, I assume that you know how to fix that. Lit alerts are a little more challenging, as different domains will have different publishers. If you’re doing the kind of research I do, then setting up alerts with Sage, ScienceDirect and the ACM Digital Library (ToC alerts are free, but search alerts require an ACM membership) is a good start (Springer, Wiley and IEEE are also useful). You’ll need to create accounts with all of these sites for lit alerts to work.
Literature alerts come in two forms (as far as I know). The first is a table of contents alert. This means you can get notified when a new journal or proceedings is published. The second is a search alert. Search alerts are saved searches (i.e. Facebook AND College Student); the system notifies you when new results are found. You’ll want to set up these alerts and direct them to your Gmail account.
Over the next few days your inbox will begin filling with literature alerts (assuming you’re looking at an active subject). Because you’re not always going to want an inbox filled with lit alerts, what you’re going to do is set up filters. For each publisher that emails you, click on the email and select “Filter all messages like this” from the dropdown. I then set the filter to skip the inbox, and apply the label “Alerts.” After a few days, you’ll have filtered all of the alert messages to a label – meaning you can process them on your own time.
Two important notes. First, when signing up for searches, opt in to get the most verbose alerts possible. You want abstracts, etc. Second, rather than deleting alerts after they are done, you’re simply going to leave them read in the labeled folder. Here’s where the fun begins. Over time, you’re building a portable, personal archive of all new literature on your topic. And because you’ve set up the alerts across publishers and libraries, you’ll be able to search for new literature across publications easily – without authenticating to a library or running a meta search across publishers. All of the new literature will be in your gmail, searchable with the “label:alerts” key. For example, if I want to know all of the new literature matching Facebook and psychology, I simply go into my Gmail and search “label:alerts facebook psychology.”
This kind of management strategy would also work for mailing lists, fare alerts from airlines, etc. In my dreams I’d have a Gmail plugin that would add impact factors in to the subject headings. The rest of my literature alerts come in via RSS (lots of open-access journals only offer RSS alerts), and I’m slowly moving those over email (via RSS-to-email). How do you manage your literature alerts?