The Digital Library of the Unaffiliated: Workaround practices

Ask me about Open Access by Molly
Ask me about Open Access by Molly CC BY-NC 2.0

The practical bit of this post is about my workarounds to get articles online that are behind paywalls. Scroll down a bit if you want to cut to the chase.

For about 30 years off and on I was affiliated to a university, and appreciated the access to books, journals and other resources that accompanied that affiliation. I used it daily in my teaching and research work.  As a Masters programme leader in the early 2000s, I was tasked with interviewing a student who had been found razoring out an article from a print journal. I tried to convince her that her action was against a commons where many could share the same resource. I remember reflecting that this wouldn’t have happened if we had a digital subscription to that journal. But of course the library card or login that go with affiliation are the gate through which we pass for access to the institution’s digital library.

Since retiring in 2013, I have had to become much more inventive about gaining access to resources as I realised more sharply what I already ‘knew’. There is no single digital library: our personal digital library is shaped by our access and our practices. When affiliated, I found articles that I wanted to read that were in journals for which my university had no subscription. This is when I turned to friends affiliated to wealthier universities who might have access to the journal and be willing to share a copy. I also realised that Scholar Google and Google could also be my friends, turning up links to self-archived articles, dodgy uploads for class resources and links to institutional repositories. I learned much about the vagaries of copyright and licensing in my service as co-editor of ALT’s Research in Learning Technology, particularly during the process of transition to becoming an Open Access journal to fulfil ALT’s commitment to scholarly publishing. In my research for the editorial of the first Open Access issue, I learned that instead of digital libraries bringing cost savings that could be used to expand access and/or reduce institutional costs, expenditure on serials subscriptions increased.

Recently, archives such as academia.edu and researchgate provide spaces for authors to self-publish data or papers, and to self-archive their papers published elsewhere. My retirement has given me more time for reading and writing (and craft and gardening) but lack of affiliation has increased the challenge of access to articles locked behind paywalls. Over the last few years, I have moved to publishing in Open Access journals (where that also suits my co-authors), and most of my reviewing work is for OA journals or conferences.

This morning, Mariana Funes tweeted to me about a new app  http://oadoi.org/ that might help me find Open Access articles but as she said, it didn’t really add that much to my existing practices.

Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes
Tweet exchange with Mariana Funes

Talking to Mariana encouraged me to blog how I engage with my unaffiliated digital library.

Apps, tools and buttons

There are quite a few of these – I have the Google Scholar button, Openaccess button (not currently working), and http://oadoi.org/ but I haven’t found that any of these add much to my usual approaches.  For example, when I plugged in the DOI for Langdon Winner’s  article “Do artifacts have politics?” here is what the app returned:

Search for Langdon Winner article
Search for Langdon Winner article

It’s true that the article is behind a paywall, but when I was looking for it a couple of weeks ago, I tried my Plan A, and it came up trumps.

Plan A

I searched Scholar Google for the title, and here’s what came up. All 3 link to the paywalled version at JStor. The first and third also have a link to downloads of the JStor version. When I find an unofficial version such as these, I download the pdf and add it to my Mendeley library on my hard disk. The second link is to Google books which will persist but rarely has the full source.

Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?
Scholar Google search for Do Artifacts have Politics?

If Plan A doesn’t work, then I try :

Plan B

Google search for article title plus .pdf. This is the search for the Langdon Winner article. It turns up one of the articles from Plan A plus a scanned version. Sometimes Plan A or Plan B turn up links to institutional repositories. If the full paper isn’t there, many repositories offer the chance to request a copy from the author. I have other plans too.

Plan C

If I have had no luck I search academia.edu and researchgate for the title. For the Winner article, there was nothing on academia.edu but Langdon Winner had uploaded it to Researchgate.

Plan D

If I know the author, I will contact them directly by email, otherwise I ask a friend if it’s possible for them to share a copy with me. I wouldn’t then pass on this copy to others, as it often contains clues to who might have downloaded it.

Plan E

There is also the Twitter hashtag #icanhazpdf that works by people sharing their request for an article and the Twitterverse responding. I have used this once.

Practices and Networks

My plans and friends serve me fairly well while we wait for universal Open Access. My personal unaffiliated digital library is distributed across the Mendeley on my hard disk, networks of open access publications and my friends who are willing to share articles from behind paywalls – I give thanks for all of those.

If you have any more ideas or comments please share them.

Postscript

I should have mentioned that Caroline Kuhn reminded me of the Langdon Winner article in her comment here.  It was really good to read it again.