A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
December 8, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 4


Stay Alert!

Libraries have been early adapters of technology from papyrus scrolls, to typewriters and card files, to Web-based information systems. In the 1960s, computers began to be used for cataloging, circulation, and very limited online searching of remote databases. Online searching was so arcane and difficult that library search specialists would interview faculty members and then enter the searches.

Another early database application was SDI, Selective Dissemination of Information. A user could request to be informed when certain subjects appeared in the literature or be supplied with title pages from their favorite journals. One popular SDI application here at Chico State was the CARL UnCover service.

The contemporary scholar is faced with a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, you need access to important current research in your field; on the other, you are faced with a welter of poorly organized information on the Internet, the proverbial needle in a haystack. Fortunately, there are less painful and time-consuming ways of finding those pins than sitting on them: alert services. Alert services let you know when new articles or Internet resources appear on specific subjects or when certain authors are cited. Paranoids, egomaniacs, and professors working on their dossiers can be notified when their name comes up electronically.

My colleagues Rich Soares and George Thompson have provided a Guide to Alert Services, which can be found at the bottom of the library’s Articles and Databases page http://www.csuchico.edu/lref/guides/rbn/index.htm. It provides information about access to nearly 40 databases, including all the EBSCO databases, Project Muse, and Science Direct.

You can also set up an alert service in Google, but given the aforementioned needle in the haystack effect, it is crucial to use Google Advanced Search to enter limiting information: exactly which phrases to return, what not to return, whether to restrict notifications to certain domains such as .edu, etc. Filter in advance or you will be overwhelmed with irrelevant results. My profile, for instance, would include the word “Chico” and the exact phrase “Jim Dwyer” with at least one of the words “library, ecocriticism, ecofiction,” and without the words “Newsday, Pulitzer, baseball.” Otherwise I am disturbed to learn that a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a former major league baseball player actually show up on the Internet more often than I do. Horrors!

But enough about me. See if it works for you, too. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact your subject librarian.

—Jim Dwyer, Meriam Library Bibliographic Services