Locating open access papers

Google_Phone

Making a paper open access serves no purpose if that paper is not findable by its potential readers. These may be other academics, students or interested public.

In recent years there’s been an increase in open access discovery tools to help readers quickly locate the full text of an article which is paywalled. Most of these tools have pros and cons; none of them fully index the full spread of legally available open access papers in institutional and subject repositories. Some of these will link with the library’s subscriptions to give access to the full text, as well as any freely available copies on the web. Check our library’s access using iFind’s “Articles & more” search tab (see below).

How can a researcher find full text for a paper they need to read? This quick overview assumes a search for a specific known paper (not a general search on a topic):

  • Google Scholar: this is the academic search engine version of Google. It is excellent for turning up open versions of papers and usually displays a link straight to the paper on the right. However, institutional repositories are not always well indexed by Google Scholar so it can miss free content. You can link Google Scholar to the library’s subscriptions; it also has its own browser button.
  • Unpaywall: an open access discovery service that is being integrated into many databases and sites. You can also use their browser extension to get a colour-coded padlock with (hopefully) direct access to a PDF. Our repository – Cronfa – is not yet indexed by Unpaywall so its coverage is good but not comprehensive. Unpaywall also has the facility to bulk-check a list of DOIs which may be useful.
  • Open Access button: another open access discovery service which also has its own browser extension. Cronfa IS indexed by open access button but, again, its coverage will not be complete.
  • Kopernio: another browser plugin to help find OA content.
  • The university library iFind service does include some open access content but coverage of free material is not as good as some of the above. However, it does provide authoritative access to the university’s subscription content which will give the publisher version of a paper after logging in (IF we have a subscription to that journal).
  • Google is not an academic search engine but many use it for discovery. Open access papers are often indexed by Google and including the search command “filetype:pdf” can help to locate full text. You can also include quotes around the title to make your search more precise.

If you do a lot of literature searching it is definitely worth installing one of the browser extensions to find an open version of a paper but it is also worth remembering that, if one is not available, a focused Google search may still turn up a copy in a repository that has not yet been indexed by these services.

Comments welcomed if you use any of these tools!

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