The most frequent question asked at the reference desk (beyond the unsurprising “Where are the toilets?”) is “Help! I can’t access this article I need!”. Catherine Brendow gives you some tips on the best (legal) ways to get access to paywalled articles.
Using the Library’s accesses
Some journals and e-books can be accessed through multiple platforms, and we don’t subscribe to all of them. The next time you bump into a paywall after finding what could be an interesting article, check the RERO Explore metasearch or the e-journals page (using the journal’s title rather than the article’s) before getting desperate.
Many articles hiding behind paywalls have also been published elsewhere in open access. More and more funders and universities require authors to upload copies of their papers to open repositories. The only question is: how can you find them?
Good news, everyone! Several tools were created to help you find OA versions of articles when you’re on the paywalled version. They can help you, but also researchers outside traditional academic circles, such as NGOs or people in emerging and low-income countries.
Kopernio was created in 2017 by Jan Reichelt (Mendeley) and Ben Kaube (Newsflo). It has recently been bought by Clarivate Analytic (Web of Science / Endnote). It works as a browser extension for Firefox, Chrome and Opera, using your academic affiliation to identify the subscriptions of your university and looking for the best (final or latest) open version of the article. The Google Scholar button, available for Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge, provides the same service.
The Unpaywall and Lazy Scholar browser extensions both work with Firefox and Chrome. Both are also non-profit and search for OA versions of articles. The open-access button website also allows searching for an OA version of an article.
Who you gonna call? Librarians!
Still couldn’t find it? Then it’s time for an old-school solution: placing an interlibrary loan request should get you most books and articles you can’t get your hands on. It’s free for Graduate Institute students and staff, but it might take a few days. As it turns out, sometimes the old ways are best.
If all else fails…
Don’t forget there’s always the option of contacting the authors. Many of them are happy to help their colleagues (especially if that later leads to their work being cited) and their addresses can usually be found through their institution.
Some of them might also put their papers on an academic social network such as Academia.edu or Researchgate. These platforms are commercial, not open, and therefore not recommended – if you’d like to upload your own works, please use our repository instead for a more ethical and durable solution.
Original illustration (cropped): Wall pattern, CC0