Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Upvote for Bibliography, Downvote for JSTOR, yes you JSTOR.

Forgive me, reader. It is the end of the semester, and my 8 story library is packed with The Stressed. Who needs zombies when you have over caffeinated, sleep deprived students wandering about in a haze of finals week fog? So if the 'charmer is quick to point a finger at the J-Store, well, understand my typical librarian calm has been influenced by my environment.

To begin: this post was conceived of as a tribute to the search strategy of using a bibliography to find additional relevant sources. I chant this search strategy frequently at students, loved ones, and the occasional passerby, but today, its truth rang true. While I have been upholding the fort of liaison to Art and Design for some years, I'm just into my second year of being the library liaison to Philosophy. So when a student comes to me for research advice, I pull out my best searching skills to make sure I'm searching comprehensively.

Today's student, who impressed me with the foot high stack of journal articles he had printed, read, and annotated on his topic, came in search of more information on the interpretations of two concepts in The Analects, Dao and Ren. Fortunately, my student speaks English and Chinese, so when issues of romanization came up while searching, (Tao for Dao for example, Ren vs. Jen) he was able to steer that part of the search. In one article he had in hand, we went to the bibliography and mined for sources. If you subscribe to the journal Philosophy East and West, look up the following citation and feel free to play along:

Alexus McLeod. "Ren as a Communal Property in the Analects." Philosophy East and West 62.4 (2012): 505-528. Project MUSE. Web. 8 May. 2013. .

McLeod has a useful bibliography on how this concept of Ren has been interpreted, which was my student's topic, so we started looking up cited items. My comment today is how McLeod's bibliography saved me and my student a lot of time, since this book, cited in note 4, appeared in the local catalog:

Kim-chong Chong, Early Confucian Ethics: Concepts and Arguments. Chicago: Open Court, 2007 has the following subject heading assigned:

Confucian ethics.

Yup, just one! Now, if I was more familiar with the literature around The Analects, maybe, just maybe, I would know to use this subject heading. But I didn't. But McLeod's bibliography got us to the book. Happily, the catalog indicated the book was available, so we move on to note 6.

Bone picking time: JSTOR, you are up, but Project Muse, we also need to talk.

Here's the note:

"See Wing-tsit Chan, "The Evolution of the Confucian Concept Jên," Philosophy East and West 4 (4) (January 1955)".

So, we do. If you've been paying attention, you are wondering why I'm bringing up JSTOR, since the journal Philosophy East and West is in Project Muse, "Vol. 50, no. 4 (2000) through current issue". So, we're not going to find the full-text of an article from 1955 in Project Muse.

Library search skills to the rescue, if the back issues aren't in Project Muse, where are they? A quick search of the catalog shows...mayhem.

Sure, database vendors have figured out how to get libraries to buy the same content multiple times. That's a blog post for another time. My point today is that my student, in navigating a bibliography, has none of those automated options for finding which database is going to have the article he needs, just close reading of the dates of coverage for each database. But that isn't even what has me muttering incoherently under my breath, my complaint today is this:

Really, JSTOR? I need to fill out a Captcha to e-mail a citation to a student?

Captchas are inherently annoying to my near-sighted (although otherwise lovely) eyes, the slight astigmatism of which is not perfectly corrected by my contact lenses. So when I have to put my squinting (although otherwise lovely) face to the screen to type a stupid Captcha, I get mad. And seriously JSTOR, if your database is being so seriously datascraped AFTER a subscribing patron has logged in with authentication that you need me to do a dumb Captcha just to e-mail a citation, not even the whole article, then I think there are bigger problems afoot. I also question the need to hold a citation to a journal from 1995 hostage to a stupid Captcha.

I.Don't.Like.It. And I dislike it even more that this type of nonsense shows up at the end of the semester, when patience, campus-wide, is a scarce commodity.

So to sum up:

Bibliographies are essential, especially when conducting searches in an area in which you are not an expert.

JSTOR, please explain this presence of Captcha and how soon it will be going away.

Good luck on finals week, everybody!


Barbara Fister said...

Yeah, what the Bookcharmer said. I just bumpted into this today. Is it new? It is most certainly not improved. Oh, I'll have to do a captcha to post this. But okay, I don't send you money on a regular basis AND that thingy here might actually reduce spam. Emailing a citation? SHEESH.

JSTOR User Services ( said...

Thanks, Rebecca -

Just wanting to reach out here and let you know that we didn’t make the decision to implement CAPTCHA on this form lightly or arbitrarily. There are SPAM bots around the globe that look for functionality like this and use it to send phishing scam emails. This is what happened to us at the end of 2011 - spammers took advantage of the openness of the citation email form and used it to send thousands of phishing emails that appeared to be coming from JSTOR.

We identified several possible solutions to this problem that would have introduced varying levels of restrictions and overhead for people using this feature. We initially tried several less user-visible options to block the SPAM bots from using the form, including using character limits in the form fields. Unfortunately, the spammers continued to find ways around these constraints. The strictest option would have required registration and login to a personal account (MyJSTOR) in order to send citations, which is how many sites avoid this problem. This felt excessive, and so instead we decided to implement the CAPTCHA you see on this form today. It’s the most consistent and effective option we’ve identified, short of placing the feature behind a registration requirement.

We also find this less than ideal, and hope to find a better solution in the future. We welcome alternative suggestions for how we might improve this experience and appreciate the feedback. We are always aiming to make JSTOR better and input from those who use it on a regular basis is invaluable to that end.

Rebecca Kohn said...

Dear JSTOR User Services,

Thank you for writing back so quickly, I do appreciate your response and hope it is indicative of your interest in the user experience.

Before we go any further, let me first say if Captcha isn't going to go away, then please add the coding needed to return me to my search results after I have e-mailed a citation. At present, the user is left in nowheresville. I'd be really happy if that would happen fast.

I did not know that JSTOR had been hit by the Spambots. I appreciate that you didn't force users to create a personal profile in JSTOR--the number of passwords and gateways just to get into subscription databases is already daunting.

But I remain disgruntled that the information about Captcha and why it is necessary isn't mentioned anywhere on your home page.

Librarians, put on your best crowdsourcing thinking caps and help our good friends at JSTOR come up with a solution!

Lauren P. said...

Ah, the JSTOR strikes again! Agree to this, type in that....wait, what does that even say? Very frustrating, at least make the captcha short (one word) and legible, thanks!