Browse a journal, digitally

Over the last month, our library at Towson University has been trialing the BrowZine iPad app. Library Tech Talk is happy to have Laksamee Putnam share her thoughts and experiences with the app!

BrowZine Logo

BrowZine is a content delivery app designed to bring journal articles to your tablet. Currently it is only available for iPad, with Android and mobile interfaces under development. The app is simple to use and brings back the browsability of a journal which you might lack while accessing electronic formats from a computer. However, limitations to accessible content and annual cost may deter budget conscious libraries from being early BrowZine adopters.

For a brief introduction I recommend watching their video:

Accessing Journals

BrowZine is a free app created by Third Iron. After downloading the app, users have instant access to a free, no-login required open access library. Complete journals and back issues, such as the Public Library of Science journals, are available. This makes the app great for users who are interested in browsing their favorite online open access journals on an iPad. Additionally, if you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to BrowZine you can also access your institution’s paid journal subscriptions. Journals can be placed onto a personalized bookshelf for easy access and notification of new available articles.

Not all of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listings are available, and many of your institution’s holdings may also be missing. This may be because BrowZine has not yet uploaded the content or has not negotiated access agreements with a publisher. However content is being loaded everyday and the Third Iron team has been extremely responsive to request or questions about access. Currently, journals can be added if they work with CrossRef and therefore have a DOI; if a journal you want access to is missing and it has a DOI you may want to send an inquiry to BrowZine.

Choosing a Journal Issue in BrowsZine

Choosing a Journal Issue in BrowsZine


The digital browsability of BrowZine will appeal to users on all levels, though faculty members may be the largest target audience in many academic libraries. Faculty members who enjoyed receiving paper journals to flip through, or who let their paper journals stack up unread are able to quickly scan issues via a digital table of contents. Frequently read journals can be placed onto a users BrowZine bookshelf, where alerts will tell the user when new content has been added. User can also save articles to a separate BrowZine shelf for offline reading.

A slight drawback to just being allowed to browse is the lack of any search features within a journal. Want to find any article on cancer in Cell? Too bad! For a librarian, that could be a teachable moment within class, to showcase the power of utilizing a database over the simplicity of skimming a single journal, opening a discussion about the different pros and cons for browsing versus searching.


Reading articles within BrowZine is easy; a high quality PDF takes moments to load and users can use the familiar pinch to zoom gesture in order to read or examine the paper closely. BrowZine also allows users to send articles to various other apps/social media/accounts. This includes annotation apps such as GoodReader, cloud storage such as DropBox and citation trackers such as Zotero.  A connected academic will appreciate the flexibility of these options, and also utilize them if they want to get their hands on a version they can save/print/share etc.

Open and send articles

Open and send articles

Depending on the size of your university and your library’s budget, the institutional cost for BrowZine could be prohibitively expensive, especially if you are unsure of how many of your faculty/students have a tablet device. In this case, you may consider exploring the available free, open access content.

Applications in Library Instruction

Considering the tablet’s growing popularity and the library prerogative to get patrons to utilize library resources, BrowZine could be a great way to market your library. If you have iPads for instruction, getting students to “hold” an electronic article, break down the different requirements for peer reviewed journals and to understand the breadth of topics would perhaps be more tangible through BrowZine. Faculty members could ask students to find and critique an article in a specific journal and then email in their responses. Libraries with circulating iPads could include BrowZine linked to the open access library or, if an institutional subscriber, access to the library’s electronic journal subscriptions. The convenience and visual appeal of BrowZine makes it an intriguing addition to library service and could creatively enhance instruction.

Let us know in the comments how you have used BrowZine!

Laksamee Putnam is a Research & Instruction Librarian at Towson University, Albert S. Cook Library.  She is specifically liaison to the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics.  Laksamee holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana.  Her research interests focus on the use of emerging technologies and social media in science.   Find out more about her here or follow her on Twitter!

Mobile Help Guides?

The idea for this week’s post came from a conversation I had with a student during a library instruction session. This student wanted to know if the library provided online instructions for navigating the library’s mobile page and mobile database interfaces. My answer was “Well, no, not specifically… But many of concepts and principles presented in our other help guides should still apply.” The student seemed satisfied with that answer, but I continue to wonder: how can we provide the same type of point-of-need instruction documents (PDFs, videos, etc.) to mobile users? Or even, should we be providing this type of support?

Long-time readers probably know Library Tech Talk authors have a great interest in mobile devices. We introduced why we thought mobile technology would become important for libraries, previewed the iPad upon its release, demonstrated how to use jQuery Mobile for making mobile websites, and show you tools that use mobile devices to engage library users in reference and instruction. But so far, we haven’t talked about providing instructional support for these devices. As more of our students rely more on smart phones, tablets, etc. to view, consume, and create information – with the ECAR reporting that the number of students using smartphones for academic purposes has nearly doubled since 2011 – academic libraries are pushed to not only provide mobile versions of their resources, but also to help people navigate those resources.

While I am still investigating more systematic responses to this question, I’ve found a couple of interesting tricks and tools, particularly for creating screen captures.

Mobile Screenshots

Many library help guides include screenshots to demonstrate step-by-step instructions for using a resource, and since mobile sites frequently look different than our full sites, images for mobile instruction should reflect this. But do you know how to take a screenshot on your favorite mobile device? The actual method varies by device and operating system. For instance, with Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.), simply pressing the “home” and the “power” keys simultaneously will take a screenshot of whatever you’re currently viewing and save it to your pictures.

Cook Library Mobile Site

Towson University Cook Library’s mobile site, taken with an iPod touch.

Not an Apple user? There is also be quite a bit of information floating around the internet to guide you through taking a screenshot on your other devices (including the Kindle Fire and Android devices).

Mobile Annotations

In addition to taking the actual screenshot, there are applications specifically designed for you to use the mobile device to annotate and edit screenshots, rather than switching over to image editing on a personal computer. One such free app is Evernote’s Skitch. With versions available for iOS, Mac, and Android, Skitch allows you to do basic mark-up of photos, screenshots, and maps using your mobile device.

Image showing the Skitch interface and tools

Skitch annotation tools

You can use annotation tools like text, arrows, and shapes to call out or highlight important parts of the image. Additionally, freehand drawing tools allow for more creative highlighting and drawing on the image. There’s even a pixelation tool allows you to blur out sensitive information (like an account number or library log on information). You can then email your completed images to be saved or, if you’re an Evernote user, you can save them to a specific notebook in your Evernote account.

The images below were created using Skitch on my iPod touch as examples of demonstrating important features of mobile database.

Photo showing annotation using Skitch to demonstrate the library's mobile site.

Using Skitch to demonstrate the library’s mobile site.

Screenshot demonstrating how to enter search terms

Annotated screenshot demonstrating keyword searching in a mobile database.

Image illustrating the "Find it" button.

Using “Find it” to locate articles in the mobile database.


While screenshots and annotations are the building blocks to providing help to our mobile users, a question I have yet to satisfactorily answer is: how do we deliver this content? Many of our library’s help guides are PDF documents, which are not necessarily easily viewed on smaller mobile screens. Creating videos and screencasts is another option, and currently our library’s mobile site links to our YouTube channels for video help guides. However, what tools are available to help us to create these videos showcasing the mobile interface itself? And are videos the best solution? Or should we focus on delivering the content on a webpages, taking a responsive design approach?

As I continue to explore this line of questioning, I’d love to hear from our readers about projects you’ve heard of or what your library is doing to address this potential need!