Free Journal Articles

Over the past few years open access to journal articles has been the hot topic among academic librarians but rarely gets a mention in the public sector. When we receive an article request in our interlibrary loan department we tend to send it straight to the British Library and usually a quality scan appears in my inbox within 24 hours even when using the 3-5 days option. Today I received a list of article requests from a reader that were all from medical journals and decided to investigate whether any could be obtained free online – I found 4 of the 8 and thus saved us approx £20. I also saved the reader £6.00 in request charges which I’m sure she appreciated. Now I’ve had to learn a lot of my ILL skills by trial and error and maybe all the other ILL departments are shaking their heads and muttering at my lack of knowledge but I can’t believe that I’m the only one who doesn’t usually have time to hunt down journal websites in case there may be a free copy of an article out there somewhere.

I guess the point of this rather rambling post is how many students and public library authorities are paying for articles that they could get for free? How easy is it to find free articles? Is PubMedCentral a unique site or are there similar sites out there for other subjects? That’s 3 points, sorry! The Forum for Interlending Conference this year is focussing on equality of access to document delivery and I think these are some questions that I may try to answer before the conference.

So answers on a postcard…


7 responses to “Free Journal Articles

  1. hi Sarah –

    Over the past couple of years, the open access movement has been growing dramatically, so the number of items that can be found for free is substantial, and continues to grow. Many libraries are now incorporating searching for the open access materials into their resource-sharing services. For example, at the consortium where I work, we include the Directory of Open Access Journals and several other lists of open access titles in our knowledgebase, used as a lookup from citation databases.

    Searching archives like PubMedCentral is a little trickier, but we do have a google title search setup which often works for this.

    It is becoming more common for resource sharing staff to check for open access copies before placing requests. This saves money, and also means faster and better service for the patron (e.g., while many items are just free and not open access, those that are open access have generous permissions – for example, copying articles for classes without requesting further permissions).

    It is a very good idea for librarians to learn about open access – not only for service, but because we are leaders in advocacy and implementation. A very good place to start is Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview.

    For a librarians-eye-view of open access, see OA Librarian.

    My own blog frequently focuses on open access; my series on The Dramatic Growth of Open Access explains in more detail, with data, the point made above. My blog is The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics.

    There are so many resources it would be very hard to cover in one comment, so just one tip for now: theses, so notoriously difficult to obtain by interlibrary loan, are among the items most likely to be found freely available on the web nowadays.

    best wishes,

    Heather Morrison

  2. Hi Heather

    Thank you so much for your comments – I look forward to investigating your links and reading your blog. I’d also be interested to know what you use as a knowledgebase as we lack anything like this at work at the moment.

    Best wishes

  3. Google Scholar will find most things for you, though if they’re sending an ILL request you’d hope they’d have checked there already.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    In my case, I use a bibliographic manager that besides the usual data about the publication, an alternate URL can be added where I usually write down the place where the article can be downloaded for free.

    For instance, Helen Milner’s article “The Digital Divide: The Role of Political Institutions in Technology Diffusion” ( was published in Comparative Political Studies, but can also be accessed (as… “preprint” 😉 in Milner’s site (just follow the previous link to check this).

  5. Sorry, the previous link got somehow cut.

    Here is the correct link.

  6. Thanks ismael – interesting link!

  7. Perhaps you find some of these sources (OA Journals, repositories) on useful to help you to find some useful resources.

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