Where can I get affordable online access to academic journals?
October 25, 2009 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Where can I get affordable online access to many academic journals? Generally only large university libraries have paid the expensive subscriptions for electronic access to academic journals. Sometimes these libraries let users access the journals online. But I am not affiliated with any university. Are there any libraries I can join by paying a fee, that would give me online access to many online journals? I need journals in biological and physical sciences.
posted by algal to Education (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Providing your geographical location - just even the country - would help in answering your question.
posted by needled at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most universities/colleges offer free library cards to those in their community.
posted by unixrat at 9:31 AM on October 25, 2009

Some academic libraries offer guest access. This usually requires either paying an annual fee or convincing somebody that you're a visiting scholar or somesuch. Are there particular databases you're interested in? And, like needled asked, what's your physical location?
posted by box at 9:32 AM on October 25, 2009

Have a look at JSTOR.
They have archives of 130 science journals.
posted by Claypole at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: There are a few hacks to this. Often academic libraries will let you access all the journals you want for free if you are inside the library. This is worth checking into first and foremost. You don't give your location, are you near an academic library? It used to be that this would mean a ton of printing but now you can often email things to yourself or save things to a USB drive.

Alternately some larger research libraries do have this sort of access. NYPL is sort of known for having a good database assortment. Without more information I'm not sure if you need a lot of specific journals or maybe one or two biology journal. So, here is NYPLs journal list in the science and technology section and here is their list in the health and medicine category. If you see the little house, you can connect to those databases from home.

As another example one of my local libraries has a list of databases you can access with a library card there. A card there costs in the area of $30 and is available to anyone. Here is a list [warning: long] of journals and magazines you could acess if you had a card there.

Kevin Kelly has talked about this on his website and assuming his information is current, his answer is definitive but I can't find the $100 card option anywhere on NYPL.org
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 AM on October 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Most university libraries also have a username/password combination so students can use them off campus. Although those might be tied to a specific student. My high school had a username/password that was the same for the entire school.
posted by theichibun at 9:37 AM on October 25, 2009

It's complicated. Universities pay 10's of millions of dollars to large publishing companies for access to journals. So there are many walls to accessing such content if you are not affiliated.

I work for the University of California and can access a ton of journals, even when off campus (once I authenticate). However, the loophole (as Jessamyn mentioned) is that you can access all of this if you are on a campus internet connection.

So simply going to the nearest university library1 and getting online2 with your laptop3 could get you everything you need.

1. Not all universities have great subscriptions. Smaller ones have small budgets and thus fewer subscriptions
2. Not all universities will let you get online without some sort of authentication. Wireless access often requires a lib card and password. However, this isn't always the case. At my university you can get online as a guest.
3. I was going to suggest using a deskop at the library. That way you can save all the journal articles to a thumb drive. Again the caveat here is that not all university libraries will let you get on without a login.

posted by special-k at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2009

I'm an academic librarian. We have computers that don't require a login that anyone can use to search our databases. They can, as someone above noted, save everything to a flash dirive or email it to themselves. We also let local people borrow from our library but we don't give them a login for remote access.

Some public libraries will get you copies of journal articles through inter-library loan. Have you tried this?

Searching in google scholar will often give you the abstract of articles for free.
posted by mareli at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2009

Here is another option. Are you actually involved in some sort of research project? If so, do you have collaborators? Even otherwise, you can approach a faculty (doesn't have to be someone at a nearby university) and ask if they are willing to collaborate/mentor.

Only reason I mention this is that faculty can authorize short term affiliate memberships for collaborators. So you will get a card (for free, and for a short term) which will allow you to access all this content at home.
posted by special-k at 9:54 AM on October 25, 2009

Have a look at JSTOR.

Just a sidenote, JSTOR is not freely available. Those 130 science journals are bought and paid for by someone on your behalf. Even across institutions, JSTOR access varies, as you can subscribe to different subject-based collections or the entire archive.

As to the question, everyone saying walk into a university library and use a computer has it right. If you're in the US and there are public universities near you, that's a better bet, particularly if they're land grant institutions. We don't have logins on the computers in my academic library, for example, specifically because part of our mission is to serve the citizens of the state, whether they're enrolled in school or not.
posted by donnagirl at 10:39 AM on October 25, 2009

Speaking solely for Finance & Economics, The Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) offers a very large body of free articles, both journal published and those submitted solely to further research.

Failing that, as mareli points out google scholar will let you identify papers of interest.

Now while the articles themselves are not always free, I've found that often googling the author will get your their personal web site where many times they'll host either the complete paper as published or working versions of it.

Also keep in mind you can always email the author's directly, explain your problem and often they'll provide a copy.

Let me grumble a little: I currently have an association with four Universities here in London; one that I'm finishing an MBA at and three where I teach finance part time. Even so, there are journals I still can't access. This is seriously a sad state of affairs in academic publishing, money now seems to be creating a class structure, those who can access certain journals and those who can't. And it wasn't always like this, I used to go to NYU or Columbia and read any finance or economics journal I wanted.

This is not a good trend.

posted by Mutant at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would make sure to call the library and ask if you can use their computer. Most of the machines at my library require a student username and password to log on. In order to get your own log in for computers and using databases at home, we charge about 300 dollars a year. That being said, we library types love to help people, and if you call ahead might be willing to get you a temporary log on or some copies of things that you need. I know community colleges will sign in anyone from the county they service. Google Scholar is an option publicly as well. You could do some research there and use Worldcat to see what libraries in your area carry that journal. It is still possible to find print copies of a lot of things.
posted by itsonreserve at 11:51 AM on October 25, 2009

Nthing checking out your local academic libraries. For example, my alma mater and local enormous state university library's visitor access policies. You can walk in off the street and have pretty much the same access as any university student within the library, and for a pretty nominal fee ($100/year) you can even get borrowing privileges, as long as you can make a case that you're reasonably scholarly.
posted by hattifattener at 12:58 PM on October 25, 2009

The general rule, in the US, is that state universities provide some access to the general public. It may not extend to every resource (that depends on licensing), but most of the materials will be available on-site. How easy it will be to get access to a computer will vary dramatically (there will almost always be publicly accessible terminals, but there may not be very many of them). Schools with campuses in large population centers tend to be more restrictive, to ensure that their resources are available to the core users.

Private universities vary pretty widely, depending on the philosophy of the school. Call your local libraries and ask.

This is all assuming that you are willing to go to a campus to use the tools, if you are hoping to get access from your home or office, that is extremely unlikely. As pointed out above, electronic scholarly resources are very expensive, and the vendors control access as much as they can via licensing to ensure continued cash flow. I do not know of any university that allows off-site access even to people who have purchased borrowing privileges.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:40 PM on October 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for all your answers! This is very helpful, and I will definitely follow up on these links.

Some details everyone asked about:

1. Geography. I live in London, England. So there are a lot of universities in town, but I do not belong to any of them. But yes, I should look into the visitor rights of those libraries!

2. Online access. Although I can probably walk into some London libraries (e.g., the British Library) and get access to some journals from within the library, I'm especially interested in online access -- access from my laptop, when I'm outside of the library. I know, for instance, that Oxford libraries and the Wellcome Library allow this for members.

3. Journals. I need full text access to a large number of specific biology and physical sciences journals -- Nature, Science, PNAS, Evolution & Development, Journal of Mathematical Biology, etc.. This is why I expect I'll need to pay for a subscription somewhere, since a smaller library will only provide access to some of the journals, or won't provide access online.

4. Project. Yes, this is for a scholarly project. I'm writing some articles based on my research. But my research is done, so I don't have access to the university's libraries anymore.
posted by algal at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2009

I'm especially interested in online access -- access from my laptop, when I'm outside of the library. I know, for instance, that Oxford libraries and the Wellcome Library allow this for members.

In my experience, this is highly unlikely if you are not a student or faculty at the university in question. It has to do with licensing agreements. At my institution (in Canada) we are not permitted to offer off-campus access to visitors, no matter how much they pay.

Going in in person is your best bet.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:49 PM on October 25, 2009

But my research is done, so I don't have access to the university's libraries anymore.

In my experience many Universities offer subsidised library access to ex-alumni, so look at your ex-University first. The benefit of having full privileges is when you hit the access issues Mutant describes, which you will because everyone everywhere does, you can put in an interloan request and have the pdf emailed to you pretty smartly.
posted by shelleycat at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2009

I live in London, England.

From my memory visiting some university libraries in London last autumn, one couldn't even get into the libraries without a student ID - ID was either checked by a person at the door or there was a turnstile system that only allowed one in after swiping one's student ID card through a card reader. Some were gracious about letting in visitors, but at least one we gave up on visiting because it required a request approved ahead of time (we were told 2 weeks). This was very different from what I (and many others answering here) are used to in the U.S., just being able to step into most university libraries. So yes, do definitely check up on the libraries' visitor policies.

i strongly second shelleycat's suggestion of investigating library access to alumni.
posted by needled at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2009

Useful article databases:
* PubMed Central (all NIH and Wellcome funded work, starting a year ago or so)
* arxiv.org and Google Scholar for bootleg PDFs of articles
* IEEE Xplor is $175/year and gives you access to a couple hundred engineering and science journals
* ScienceDirect is the big science article database from the giant, for-profit bloodsucking publishing monopsony Elsevier. You can't buy individual access, but be sure whatever library you work with does have access.
posted by miyabo at 9:40 PM on October 25, 2009

I live in London, England.
You can join the Wellcome Library (183 Euston Road) for free. It has an excellent collection of books and journals on bimedicine/medicine/history of medicine. Members also get offsite online access to quite a few journals (including Nature and Science) using their library card number.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2009

I found Questia useful when doing my MSc.
posted by keijo at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2009

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