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As a student I had free access to thousands of scholarly articles through my universities in databases/archives such as JSTOR, EBSCOhost, Google Scholar, Econlit, PubMed, etc, etc.

With no subscription, glancing at the full text of any 1 article costs anywhere from $20 to $60.

For any one project or paper I'd use at least five to ten papers and I'd skim over the full text of many more. For a meta-analysis of the literature, I'd go over dozens and perhaps even over a hundred papers.

As a non-student the cost is extremely prohibitive to continue reading past the free abstracts. I don't want to pirate the papers or give up reading them, but I can't find any reasonable alternatives.

Does anyone know of any monthly subscription I could sign up for to give me student-like/institutional access to papers?

Note:
A community wiki answer has been added to this question to provide a list of solutions to the problem.

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I think Aaron Swartz provided the unfortunate answer to this question... :( –  R.. Jul 23 at 18:30
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I think it is a good idea to provide a community wiki answer that every one can add his own suggestion and the users have access to a list of suggestions, not just separate answers to the question. –  Enthusiastic Student Jul 23 at 19:26
    
@EnthusiasticStudent Great suggestion. I've just added a community wiki solution, feel free to edit it! –  Hack-R Aug 25 at 15:32

8 Answers 8

  • Many papers are freely available on authors' websites, and preprint servers (use search engine to find those).

  • Write to the authors, asking for copies. Majority of academics are happy when their work is read, and will send you a copy.

  • Your public library might subscribe to more than you suspect. Check it out. When I was a student in a community college, my local public library subscribed to JSTOR for example.

  • Become a student or an academic again :-)

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The costs of being student again may be much more than the price of two or three papers he wants. Becoming a student again may not be affordable indeed. –  Enthusiastic Student Jul 24 at 10:47
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That heavily depends on what is available to him. In Germany, the cost of being a student is negligible. –  Romiox Jul 24 at 13:05
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At my German university, it is around 250 € / six months, and you get a bus/tram ticket with it. –  queueoverflow Jul 24 at 17:38
    
+1 for the suggestion to check libraries. Your local library may not have what you're looking for, but a larger or specialized branch might. Also, many college libraries allow nonstudents access (though not necessarily borrowing privileges). –  keshlam Aug 25 at 16:43

To add to Boris Bukh's suggestions:

  • Many institutions grant library privileges to alumni, which might include remote access to the university's online subscriptions. You might get in touch with the librarian at your alma mater and ask if they offer such a thing. (In some cases you might be required to join the alumni association and pay dues, but this would probably be on the order of US$10-$100 per year.)

  • Many universities open their libraries to the public. If you live near any university or college that has appropriate subscriptions, you may be able to just walk into their library, sit down at a computer, and download the articles you want. Then just put them on a USB drive, upload them to a cloud storage account, or email them to yourself. For older articles that aren't online, the library may have them in bound volumes; they may not let you check them out, but you can photocopy or scan any article you want.

  • Institutional access to subscriptions is usually based on IP address - all computers on the campus's network have access. So if you still have a computer account at your alma mater, you may be able to log into it and fetch articles through there. You may even be able to set up a proxy/tunnel/VPN or something similar to let you browse from your own computer but have requests routed through your university account. For instance, if you have a Unix shell account, this is easily done with an ssh tunnel (but the details are beyond the scope of this site).

  • If you have a friend who's still a student or faculty at your alma mater or elsewhere, you could ask them to download the occasional article for you. (This is probably not helpful for your 100-paper meta-analysis, unless they're a really good friend.)

Unfortunately, as you've probably discovered, personal subscriptions are usually prohibitively expensive, and may have to be purchased individually for each journal, or at least each publisher.

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Thanks. I appreciate the suggestions. I still have half a mind to try to open a business that purchases institutional access and sells it to non-students though LOL ;) –  Hack-R Jul 22 at 20:49
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@NerdLife: Sadly, I fear the publishers would shut you down in a heartbeat. –  Nate Eldredge Jul 22 at 21:01
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@Nate Eldredge but why? If they will make a deal with a small university that has, let's say 3,000 students, then why wouldn't they make the same deal with a private company that has about the same number of students? Wouldn't that be the same situation as group health insurance or other things where groups get together to purchase in bulk? –  Hack-R Jul 23 at 15:50
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Publishers make a lot of money from purchases of one-off preprints. They make deals with universities because university researchers (who provide most of their inventory) wouldn't publish in those journals otherwise. –  JeffE Jul 23 at 18:05
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@queueoverflow Sort of. Journals provide evidence of independent peer-review, because they (supposedly) won't publish anything without it, as well as a certain amount of version control (you can't change a journal paper once it's published, no matter how embarrassing it becomes). Publishing on your own web page (or arXiv and the like) does not. –  JeffE Jul 24 at 20:28
  • Depending on where you are, you may have access through government-funded agencies (similar to public libraries).
    E.g. in Germany, the DFG purchases national licenses for quite a number of journals, and you can register for that as individual (technically, it works via the university library of Frankfurt)

  • Your library may be able to get the paper via inter-library loan for less than the direct purchase costs.

  • Not only universities, but also research instutes have libraries. These are often connected to library networks and may have access to quite a number of journals. In my experience, even if you cannot become member of that library, it is often possible to go there and read journals they have (including making a copy) as well as download papers they have electronic access to.

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I never thought of this. I should've specified that I'm in the United States, but this is still a good idea –  Hack-R Jul 24 at 15:52
    
@NerdLife: about the national licenses, I don't have any idea whether you have state or national subscriptions (but OTOH you have major funding agencies requiring that produced papers must be made available). Also here, hardly anyone knows about the possibility to visit a research institute's library. When I was at a research institute in Canada, they were connected to the British Library and could get everything within a day or so. Not sure whether they'd let outside people into the library, but asking doesn't hurt. Here you often have to sign in and out of a guest list. –  cbeleites Jul 25 at 9:52

If you are in the UK, then you may be able to get access through your local public library.

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I'm so jealous! –  Hack-R Jul 24 at 15:51

I believe the answer is fairly simple here. The subscription that you may be looking for may not be a specialized article service, but rather the university itself.

Just find a university that has a good network, and register to do a course there. I believe some universities allow you to sign up for a single course, evening school or for a parttime scholarship, significantly reducing the costs.

Of course you will need to check the legal requirements, but as long as you use your access for academic research I think you should be ok.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

A month after asking this question I randomly stumbled onto the type of solution which I was originally seeking -- open-market subscription based access to multiple journals and full-text article links from sources such as Google Scholar, PubMed, EconLit, etc.

While searching for full text access to an article on Manufactured Environmental Toxins in umbilical cords I noticed that one of the full text options was through a service called DeepDyve:

http://www.deepdyve.com/

It claims to be the "Spotify of Academic articles" (Spotify is a popular Internet radio app that lets you download and play music at will if you subscribe). Here is a somewhat dated review from Ohio State's TechTip a la 2009. It's a $40/mo subscription plan for non-students like the institutional access you get within academia. I'm on a 2-week trial of it now.

Of course, I'm still going to continue to make use of many of the other good suggestions and I'm on the lookout for other services like this to select from.

USE WITH ADDITIONAL SOLUTIONS

In addition to the service I found, I'm taking advantage of several other solutions offered. Even with the subscription-based service there are many papers and journals to which I do not have access and the follow suggestions remain vital:

  • Many papers are freely available on authors' websites, and pre-print servers (use search engine to find those).
  • Write to the authors, asking for copies. Majority of academics are happy when their work is read, and will send you a copy.
  • Your public library might subscribe to more than you suspect. Check it out.
  • Many institutions grant library privileges to alumni, which might include remote access to the university's online subscriptions. You might get in touch with the librarian at your alma mater and ask if they offer such a thing. (In some cases you might be required to join the alumni association and pay dues, but this would probably be on the order of US$10-$100 per year.)
  • Many universities open their libraries to the public. If you live near any university or college that has appropriate subscriptions, you may be able to just walk into their library, sit down at a computer, and download the articles you want. Then just put them on a USB drive, upload them to a cloud storage account, or email them to yourself. For older articles that aren't online, the library may have them in bound volumes; they may not let you check them out, but you can photocopy or scan any article you want.

LIMITATIONS OF THIS SOLUTION

The subscription-based service isn't a perfect solution. @J.Zimmerman points out that, unlike institutional access, you do not have the right to print or download papers. It's "read-only" access.

The selection of journals is quite large, but still limited. My feeling is that it directly provides access to about the same selection you'd have with most universities, but unlike universities there's no inter-library loan or other work-around for when you do not have access.

AFTERWORD

As I use this solution more over the course of the next few days I'll update this solution with further limitations and I'll better integrate it with the other useful solutions which have been posted. I will also take a suggestion from the comments to make this a Community Wiki solution.

Finally, I will also be on the look-out for any competing services like DeepDyve. Please update this solution if you know of any, so that we're not inadvertantly providing an advertisement for one arbitrary commercial service.

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The only problem is that this is NOT like having institutional access-- deepdyve offers read-onlya access to fulltext articles; no printing or downloading. This limits its usefullness. +1 anyway. –  J. Zimmerman Aug 24 at 9:43
    
@J.Zimmerman Yes, that's a good point. I will update my answer and/or make it a Community Wiki answer to reflect that. So far it's fitting my needs pretty well, but I'm sure I'll discover more limitation after a few more days of use and I'll update this accordingly. +1 on your comment. –  Hack-R Aug 25 at 15:27

You could also check out Academia.edu which encourages users to upload papers that are then made available for free to that community.

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Similar sites are ResearchGate.net and Mendeley. –  episanty Jul 24 at 0:03
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But @episanty the problem is - everyone won't do it. Especially, big guys - why will they care about it? More often than not, you can't bank on these options to find the paper you want. –  New_new_newbie Jul 24 at 7:11
    
Oh, I'm not saying it's the way to go - it may or may not be. All I was pointing out was other similar options. Keep in mind, also, that these are not 'self-archive' sites like the arXiv, and people other than the authors can upload the papers. –  episanty Jul 24 at 9:15
    
Thank you, that's an interesting site –  Hack-R Jul 24 at 15:51

Depending on your field, the answer can also be to join a professional organization and subscribe to their digital library. As an example from my field, members of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) can purchase an annual subscription to the digital library, with access to every paper ever published in any of their publications, for $99. I imagine other fields may have similar deals.

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That's a good point, thanks. I used to be an ACM member myself. It's not a perfect solution because I really miss not being restricted to reading papers from a particular field/group, but it's definitely a way to go and I think an ACM membership is certainly worth the $99. –  Hack-R Jul 25 at 13:51

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