Access denied!

“It is bad academic practice to limit your search to only literature that is open access.”

A key area of frustration for undergraduate life science students in smaller and/or less research intense universities is the difficulties associated with accessing full text restricted access journal articles on the web.  It is challenging enough to perform a systematic literature review in the first place and despite the joys of finding a most brilliantly relevant article, students are giving up at the first ‘access denied’ stop sign; they are left hanging on inter-library loans and feeling dissatisfied with library services.

This stems in part from a lack of understanding of the publication process and open access policies etc. and from not knowing how to utilise the resources they already have available at their fingertips (do they know they exist at all?) which, in many cases, can bypass access restriction.  Librarians are fantastic and worth their weight in gold, but when librarians are not close enough to your discipline should we be supplementing their service with specialised tutorials from research-active staff themselves?  Moving towards a more research orientated education, teaching students the tricks of the trade often not picked up until postgraduate study may help to produce more resourceful and proactive students who could have a competitive edge in the job market.

As part of a programme wide response to issues raised by our students I am preparing a series of vlogs to demonstrate in real time how I do my own literature searches and how I go about accessing restricted access articles.  I certainly do not claim to know the ins and outs of every tool and database out there and there may be better methods but I think imparting my researcher’s knowledge on the students now will mean they’ll have a firmer base on which to seek more advanced training from librarians on only the most relevant of resources.

I’m a month into this new position, so an exercise like this is going to help me as much as the students in learning the full extent of the access restrictions the students are facing here.  From watching me navigate a new university library system the students will see for themselves how far a little bit of resourcefulness and proactivity can take you.  I’ll let you know how it goes, and possibly update this post with links to the material…

PubMed hacks: incredibly useful search tools you wish you knew earlier.

3 thoughts on “Access denied!

  1. Interesting post and I look forward to seeing the vlogs. It’s always seemed to me that there is a paradox here: on the one hand literature searching is far easier now than it was even 25 years ago, when a trip to the library to go through journals or sets of abstracts, on paper, was the only option. But in parallel there is now far more literature to search than ever before – in my own field I estimate that there’s been at least a 6-fold increase in the volume of literature since the mid-80s:

    The increase in molecular biology must be even greater.

    So for undergrads (and postgrads) deciding what is really relevant and what is not is an important skill, but one that only comes with experience and a lot of thought. Learning to scan-read titles and abstracts is a good starting point.

    1. Thanks Jeff, you are right – I read somewhere that PubMed citations alone are growing exponentially. Students now also expect to get everything instantly, they have information overload and are faced with a confusing array of search tools that can yield different results. I feel that this is one of those skills that students have to develop their own tastes and preferences for, but like everything it will take time to master fully.

  2. My wife is a librarian and finds this a frustrating part of the university experience – imparting to students how to access the resources available to them.

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