Picture the scene. It’s late in the evening. You’re tired, as you should have clocked off work hours ago, but you’re too excited to stop! You’ve been researching a new area of your topic, looking for that perfect paper to lay the foundations for your idea, when you’re faced with the publication equivalent of the 400-meter hurdles. Search tool sign-ins, proxy servers, link resolvers, institutional log-ins and the risk of your research organization not having a subscription to the journal you need to access—all frustrating barriers researchers regularly encounter while accessing the information they need on demand. It is perhaps no wonder that academic Twitter is so heavily populated with the common request of #ICanHazPDF?
In fact, many platforms now exist solely to provide researchers with easy (although not always legal) access to information that bypasses the sets of hurdles traditionally associated with locating PDFs for peer-reviewed papers. While these websites are popular, they often fail to provide researchers with the latest version of record or the necessary richness of supplementary data that more official and more legal channels can supply alongside the PDF.
Furthermore, this “black market” trade of research information has a wider impact. Libraries expect to be able to determine which journal subscriptions should be renewed by evaluating statistics about which journals are used by their institution and how frequently. Now, however, they are left unsure about the true demand for access to different publications, as researchers find novel routes to information. Should they deem a journal not worth the value of its subscription, librarians may choose not to pay for future access, which could then push researchers to further rely on alternative, less legitimate sources for this scientific information.
While this scenario could be seen as a rather risky way of working, it is actually indicative of a new aspect of research culture, and one that can be embraced and indeed catered for with the right tools. In order to meet the needs of researchers, any such tool would provide access to papers from a wide range of sources and ideally facilitate a quick and easy way of viewing and reviewing content. By using a legitimate tool instead of rogue sites offering quick access to full PDFs, researchers would be able to access information with confidence that there is a level of quality assurance and integrity, and to avoid compromising their progress when citing this work.
Brilliantly, tools like this are now available. Take, for example, Anywhere Access: this cloud-based platform is designed to meet the needs of researchers for a fast route to knowledge with single sign-on access through an institution’s own library services. Once logged in, all content available through the institution can be accessed by clicking a single “View PDF” button.
In these ways, legitimate platforms can prevent researchers from having to repeatedly run the log-in gauntlet, increasing efficiency of work and time taken to access information. By including journals that an institution subscribes to, on-demand content, and even open access content, a researcher can use a single tool to access almost all of the information they need.
Owing to their cloud-based design, the latest generation of tools can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. This means that researchers will have entire libraries of knowledge at their disposal regardless of where they are located, allowing for a more flexible model of working for teams of scientists who will never be limited in their progress based simply on where they are in the world.
A further benefit of using new, legitimate pathways to access papers is that researchers can also retain access to additional information. With the right design, an efficient search tool can grant access to papers with all of their supplementary data and allow it to be viewed as quickly and easily as a rogue site would allow in the same timeframe.
Novel cloud-based tools also incorporate functionality that allows users to find papers quickly and then view and annotate them easily and reliably. As part of meeting the current needs of the research community, they also enable users to export papers to their reference manager software. This integration saves time, brings all accessible content together regardless of whether it is subscription content or open access, and allows users to manage and use their resources most efficiently.
While the researcher’s experience is similar or better, the main difference is felt by librarians: as researchers are working through their own library’s holdings, more accurate usage statistics can be collected to better inform librarians about their institution’s needs and help them to modify their investment in subscriptions appropriately.
With the additional benefit of accurate usage statistics, legitimate tools offer compatibility with both paid-for and open access content. Ultimately, cloud-based platforms truly developed with the changing needs of the researcher in mind could herald the end of that famous academic hashtag and other “creative” access channels, instead embracing a new culture of information exchange.