But when you do a search and locate a relevant scholarly resource, you may frequently be directed to the web page of a publisher where—unless you or your affiliated institution is a subscriber--you must pay for the right to download and read the item. (That’s often true even when searching Google Scholar).
While in the pre-Internet days, the concept of paying to access a published article would be considered normal, today of course, we live in an era where there is an expectation that we should have access to virtually all information without paying a penny.
And so, as part of the open access movement, various options have evolved that one can take to work around having to pay for scholarly information and get it for free. Here are a few of my own favorite sources and methods:
The Social Science Research Network, or SSRN is a repository where professors, other scholars and academic institutions could submit their research to obtain wide dissemination to others. Most of the hundreds of thousands of items in the SSRN collection are free and available to view in PDF.
An interesting feature of SSRN is the various statistics that the site provides on the items in its database. For example, after clicking on an item, the user can see how many times the abstract was viewed, number of downloads, its overall download rank, and a “people who downloaded this paper also downloaded” which other papers as well.
SSRN is considered an “open access repository” and you can find others by checking out a site called DOAR, which stands for the Directory of Open Access Repositories. DOAR not only lets users freely browse and find repositories, but even perform a keyword search of all the items contained in those repositories, and does so via a “custom Google search engine” allowing the user to employ the familiar Google search commands and limits to create a custom and precise search on these sources. A similar site, called Global Open Access Portal also lists repositories, but organizes them into subject categories like Arts & Humanities; Science; Social Science, etc.
Open Access Button
You can also try downloading a neat little utility called The Open Access Button. This cool tool is a freely downloadable bookmark that works on all major browsers. When you link to an article behind a paywall, you then click the button, and it will automatically search for the item on Google Scholar, on a repository of open access articles, and will even send an email to the author of the article. The project is supported by The Right to Research Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based organization devoted to making scholarly research publicly available. The Coalition itself is supported by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to create a more open system of scholarly communication
Finally, if none of these options work,I have had good luck in noting the name of the author of the article, linking to the author’s own site (often part of a university department) and checking to see if he or she listed and linked to it on their own professional page. If it’s not listed, and it was very important for me to get access, I will often go one more step and email the professor directly with my request.
More research tips like these will be found in my upcoming revision of my book, Find it Fast: Extracting Expert Information from Social Networks, Big Data, Tweets, and More To be published Fall 2015 (last updated by HarperCollins way back in they year 2000!) by Cyberage at Information Today.