article quest

Looking at my Twitter stream one morning I noticed that Seth van Hooland was promoting a paper he had written with Seb Chan and some other folks about APIs and their issues. Awesome, I want to read this.

Click on that link and bam, paywall. Well, that is okay I work for an Ivy League university who surely subscribes to this journal, I’ll just get it from them.

After landing on library’s main page, my first instinct is to try to identify whether the library subscribes to this journal. How do I do that?

After looking through all 32 menu items


I settle on “Find eJournals by Title” (BTW, is what I’m looking for an eJournal? How would I know? What is the difference between a journal and an eJournal?). My goal now is to determine whether Yale subscribes to the serial “Journal of Documentation”. I have the name of the publication and the ISSN. This should be pretty straightforward, either they subscribe or they do not.

After running a search I am presented with two (seemingly) relevant results.


The first item appears to be what I want because I immediately recognize the ISSN number (0022-0418), however, this is a nice coincidence. If I didn’t know how to recognize the ISSN number, how would I know what that number was? If I start clicking on links I am taken away from to a site which confirms this is the serial I am looking for.


But I still don’t know if Yale subscribes. If you look at the second line of the first search result you may notice a date range.


What does that mean? Do they not have the most recent articles? Do they not have the articles from 80% of this journals issues (it began publishing in 1945). Things are not looking good but I work with metadata so maybe a cataloger didn’t update the MARC record for this serial. Who knows?

Lets try that link which suggests that I can find articles from this journal.


After loading this page it is not immediately clear to me whether I am running a new search or searching within a particular journal. After looking closely I notice that the Journal and ISSN numbers have been prepopulated. Why both?

Okay so this search should tell me whether Yale has the article I am looking for. Either I’ll get some articles which contain the word “API” in the title or none. I run my search.


At no point on this page does it tell me that it could not find any results. Just suggestions about the “providers coverage range” which ends with some ambiguous date of “1 year ago”. What does this all mean? Can I not get the article from Yale? Also, one year ago from when? Today? Is there a one year blackout period? This was a dead end but it looks like they are giving me three options to continue my quest to get this journal article.

  • I can then search their other catalogues “ORBIS” and “MORRIS” but I’m not entirely sure why they would have it and not this “eJournals” section. I’m probably not going to try these options unless I have no other choice.
  • I can request it for a service called “Get It @ Yale” but that seems like a scanning service and this is probably an electronic publication. Scan a PDF? I think not.
  • I can use Google Scholar. I probably should have started here but the paywall at the beginning made me assume that it wouldn’t be available for free.

Which of these three options am I most likely to try at this point? Having run two different searches, gained little information as to Yale’s actual holdings or subscriptions I am now running for warm familiarity and simplicity of Google.

I click on Google Scholar, search for the entire title, and the first result is a link to the pre-print version of the article.

I’m sure that I sound like a grumpy luddite and that I am saying “why can’t you just be more like Google” but I’m not. I am keenly aware of the difficulty of building effective discovery tools for cultural heritage institutions. This is often difficult, thankless work.  I don’t expect a library to be Google but there is a middle ground between “I know what you want before you do” and result pages where the user is left guessing about what they are reading and why. Compare the time and energy spent trying to navigate a library catalog against this one search in Google Scholar or this interaction on Twitter to get the same resource.


I could also go into all the other strategies I tried within the library system, ORBIS, Quicksearch BETA, Articles+ but none of these worked. Yes, I was eventually able to find an entry for the article in Articles+ and to export a citation for it but I still could not get the thing I actually wanted.