Kelsey Sawyer, MS Biomedical and Life Sciences Librarian
Health and Biomedical Library Services (HBLS)
Brown University Library
Cold Spring Harbor (CSH) Protocols publishes research methods in molecular and cellular biology, including developmental biology, genetics, bioinformatics, protein science, computational biology, immunology, neuroscience, and imaging. Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Press, this well-established journal publishes protocols and methods which are searchable and browsable by topic, supplemented by topic overviews and subject collections.
This journal serves as an extensive research methods database for researchers, primarily focusing on molecular and cellular biology protocols and methods. The content also includes recipes (detailing reagents and solutions), topic introductions, emerging model organisms, and information panels. CSH Protocols articles are currently solicited by invitation only.
CSH Protocols articles are structured to include required reagents (including detailed recipes for any solutions) and equipment, in addition to numbered steps describing the experimental method so it can be reproduced.
Topic introductions provide background information, such as comparing experimental approaches and methods, as well as other contextual considerations for experimental protocols. Recipes are arranged in alphabetical order for browsing and are also searchable from the main site.
This database is a natural outgrowth of CSHL Press, which publishes foundational laboratory handbooks, and broadly of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), a private, nonprofit research organization that has trained scientists for over a century.1 CHSL has been the research home of several Nobel prize winners. Of note, CSHL also supports BioRxiv and medRxiv, highly trafficked biology preprints servers. Alejandro Montenegro-Montero currently serves as full time editor, supported by over 100 collection editors who are prominent scientists in their fields.
The content is available in electronic format from 2006 onward and is also indexed in MEDLINE and Scopus. Issues are released monthly. Articles are categorized by subject for browsing access. There are approximately 21 top-level subjects such as antibodies, genetics, and neuroscience, with more granular subjects nested beneath each category. Readers can also explore additional subject content at the article level by clicking on the linked categories.
Features / Functionality
All content is searchable from the CSH Protocols platform. Both simple and advanced search options are available. Advanced search fields include authors, title, DOI, abstract, and importantly, full text. The full text search is particularly important for methods, as researchers may be looking for a specific detail (such as a software program, piece of equipment, technique, or substance) that may be poorly indexed in traditional databases and difficult to find. By default, the search uses stemming, which broadens results considerably. This can be turned off by entering one’s search in quotes. Search capabilities include most advanced features such as “phrases,” wildcards, Boolean logic, and search term highlighting.
While the content is categorized and browsable by subject, it can be difficult to navigate, as subcategories are not viewable at the top level. Additionally, it seems that many laboratory manual chapters published in monographs by CSHL are included, but are only accessible as a collection by viewing an individual chapter, then following the linked subject. For instance, the Mosquitoes subject heading under Laboratory Organisms links to 96 results, while Mosquitoes: A Laboratory Manual links to 108 results. “Mosquitoes: A Laboratory Manual” is not readily accessible or browsable as a subject beyond finding it applied to an article and following the link from the article page — this seems to be the case for other manual content as well.
Each paper links to citing references and similar papers via Google Scholar and similar papers in PubMed. Author ORCiDs are also linked out to additional papers by the authors. Subjects are linked from the paper record, allowing for further exploration of similar protocols. Other available features of this platform include RIS citation export, email alerts for set search results or new issue ToCs, and RSS feeds. Additionally, site administrators can add institutional OpenURL settings so that cited references link out to library authentication links for continuity of access.
CSH Protocols is licensed for institutional use, accessible by IP range or EZproxy. Individual user accounts are not required. Access includes all years of publication (2006 onward). Members of the RNA Society, the Genetics Society, the American Society for Human Genetics, and the Society for Developmental Biology have online access as a membership benefit.
Access to the table of contents, abstracts, and full text searching is available to anyone free of charge, with the option to purchase articles individually.
Usage data is available to site administrators and is accessible anytime in a self-service format. Statistics are available by total usage and unique events for homepage access, ToC views, searches, full text access, PDF downloads, registered usernames, and IP addresses in use. Administrators can also view the number of articles accessed (defined as abstract views, full text views, or PDF downloads) by section, and by the top 10 articles viewed monthly.
CSHL Press has recently rolled out transformative agreement license options, which include full access to the complete collection of CSHL Press subscription journals and an OA publishing option for corresponding authors of accepted papers.2 While this extends beyond the Protocols journal under discussion, librarians may be interested in exploring this option.
While perhaps not as expansive as other protocols and methods collections, CSH Protocols is a uniquely important collection from a highly regarded, influential organization and will be a useful addition for any libraries that support life science research.
1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “Divisions.” Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.cshl.edu/about-us/divisions/.
2. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “Transformative Agreements.” Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.cshl.edu/cold-spring-harbor-laboratory-press/journals/transformative-agreements/.