How do non-students get more than just the abstracts?
February 1, 2014 11:03 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way for someone who's not associated with any institutions to get past the "full text -- sign in or purchase" for academic papers? Assume they're interested in everything and don't want to set up a new account (or pay per paper) every time a new field of study comes up.
posted by bigbigdog to Education (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
To be completely honest, the best way is to have a friend who is university-associated email you the paper.
posted by maryr at 11:08 AM on February 1, 2014

Join a public library. My system has subscriptions to many journals.
posted by scruss at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

In a few fields, such as computer science, authors often post free PDFs of their papers on their web pages. Some journals are also moving to a free online/open format.

But for the most part, you'll need to get access to a subscription one way or another.
posted by serelliya at 11:24 AM on February 1, 2014

Some universities allow community members to register "guest" accounts that might give you at least some access.
posted by Schielisque at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2014

There are a few ways to do this (says a librarian):

1. Do you live near a local college or university? Most academic libraries offer public access and have a few public terminals, and you'll be able to get some of this through their databases when you are in the library. Many libraries offer guest wifi if you bring in your laptop. Call ahead to check.

2. Check the holdings of your local public library. They also have online databases and may have some of these articles you can access from your house when you log in.

3. Look up the article (by title) in Google Scholar. This can expose the PDFs authors may have put into an institutional repository, as mentioned by serelliya.

4. Use interlibrary loan through your local public library.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

And, yes, you can ask a friend who has access to an academic library. However, it gets to be a hassle for your friend if it's more than an article or two. And, really, it's a violation of many publishers' agreements with the libraries. So it's better to go through the channels I mentioned, which are within licensing agreements.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:31 AM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

DeepDyve offers article "rentals" that are cheaper than purchase.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

This Chrome plugin, Lazy Scholar, is supposed to make it easier to find the full text of papers.

Another option is to email the authors of the paper and request a reprint.
posted by pombe at 11:48 AM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check on
posted by spunweb at 12:27 PM on February 1, 2014

Sometimes if you search for the title of the article in google scholar, you can find another (non-pay walled) version.

posted by oceano at 12:43 PM on February 1, 2014

Somebody just asked this question.

Here's my answer from then:

For physics/math stuff there's ArXiv

For biomedical stuff you can use the PMC archive.

There's a new European database of free stuff.

And between Google Scholar and Pubmed you can look things up.

None of these are perfect, but it does get you some access.
posted by overhauser at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Email the corresponding author - info & contact details will be in the abstract - and ask for a "reprint" (copy of the paper given to the author by the publisher for distribution) in pdf format.

Responding to reprint requests is an important courtesy of academic life.

Those of us in fields where it is common for people to do a little work in their spare time, or where there are a lot of retired researchers, are used to receiving reprint requests - even occasionally by post.

If you don't want to do this, searching via Google scholar for the name of the paper and specifying you want results in pdf format often yields results. If that doesn't work, Google the author and find their institution webpage - authors often upload their pdfs there. And finally also check
posted by JeanDupont at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly? Piracy.

Russian pirate sites will give you a majority of textbooks or paper collections. Reddit and a few other community sites have active sharing communities that will send you the text of other journals. finding them is no harder than using a typical academic paper search engine.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:33 PM on February 1, 2014

It depends on the field and the author, but a lot of papers are posted on profiles.

Otherwise, guest wifi at a university library.
posted by raeka at 11:49 PM on February 1, 2014

My local university doesn't allow non-affiliated persons to have guest wi-fi in their library and on the main campus. However, I discovered quite by chance that at the university hospital cafeteria they do, and that jstor articles are accessible from the guest wi-fi there.

(So a certain amount of sneakiness may be rewarded.)
posted by bertran at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2014

Seconding JeanDupont in emailing the corresponding author, whose email address ought to be provided to you in the free preview. Simply state that you'd like to request a reprint of the article, and chances are that you will get it. I'm not a copyright expert, but I have been led to believe that this is a fair use for most journals--authors are allowed to self-archive their work.

Certainly, this isn't the highest-throughput way to get articles, but your success rate should be high. Personally, I'm always flattered when people ask for copies of my articles and am happy to send them. Also, given how many specialty journals are out there, most academics understand that access may be limited, particularly if the article is not published in one of the big name journals like Science and Nature.
posted by wondercow at 1:54 PM on February 2, 2014

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