Getting (legal) access to research articles

Old key on paper, by Ylanite Koppens (CC0)

The academic publication landscape is complex and moving. Accessing the article you need should be simple, but often proves harder than expected. Here are some tips and tools which can help you on a daily basis.

First, check whether the Graduate Institute Library has a subscription

Use Swisscovery

Google Scholar is an excellent tool to discover and locate new resources. If you are on-site or use the VPN, it will even show links to our subscribed resources on the right of the results. But Scholar is not perfect, and it can lead you to the wrong provider, especially for e-books. When looking for these, you should rather search Swisscovery.

To check whether our library subscribes to a specific journal, you can also check Swisscovery. Go to the advanced search page, select “Title” and “is exact” in the drop-down menu, “Journals” in the “Material Type” option on the right, and enter the title of the journal. Click on the green “Available online” link. Once on the journal page, select the year and the issue you need. Please note that our collection does not necessarily cover all the publication years for journals.

Do not forget to activate the VPN!

You already know that you can access the journals we have subscribed to if you are on the Institute’s premises. Most of our subscriptions are IP-based, so you will not require a password on their sites. If you are a member of the Graduate Institute community, you can also access our electronic resources away from the Institute by using our VPN.

We still have paper collections

Do not forget that printed journals still exist! When we do not have access to the electronic version, we sometimes still have the printed edition in our collection. In this case, you will see the mention “Check holdings” with a call number. Make sure we have the volume you need and visit our journals collection in the compactus room accessible to all patrons on level 1.

What if the library does not have a subscription?

If we do not have a subscription, there are still options you can work with.

Search for an open access version

Even if an article is paywalled, authors can legally upload the accepted manuscript (AAM or post-print) to a repository, generally with an embargo period of 18 or 24 months, and sometimes earlier than that. The AAM is the full text of the article, without the journal’s layout.

Several tools have been developed to help readers to find post-prints, including Unpaywall, the Open Access Button, or Endnote Click. There are also specific search platforms for open access articles, which our open access libguide presents in detail.

Interlibrary loan

Our interlibrary loan service allows you to get articles that are not accessible through our library and other libraries in Geneva. You will receive a paper photocopy of the article which you can keep. This service is free for members of the Graduate Institute community.

Other options

  • Try contacting the author(s) (find their email on their university website, or contact them on an academic social network such as Twitter, ResearchGate or Academia) and ask if they can send you the article.
  • Use the #ICanHazPDF hashtag on Twitter.
  • Finally, you can also check out SciHub. This pirate website’s distribution of copyrighted articles is illegal, but using it to download documents for private use is legal under Swiss law, even if they have been unlawfully made available. “Private use” includes reading and citing the documents for research. It is still illegal to further distribute these documents to other people.

Do not forget that our team can help you! Send a message to our online reference service,, or visit us at the reference desk from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m., to 6 p.m. We will do our best to give you access to the resources you need.

Illustration: Old keys, by Ylanite Koppens (CC0)

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