Downloading full-text PDFs is often too slow: My university has a subscription to most journal articles. Thus, most of the time I have full-text access to journal articles. However, for various reasons, accessing an article still takes perhaps 30 seconds. Although sometimes it's quicker, it's often still a 7-step process (1) search and find the article on Google scholar (2) login to the university system (3) get to the list of sources at my university that provides full-text; (4) get to the journal article page; (5) get to a full-text page; (6) save the pdf; (7) open the pdf in my preferred viewer.

Managing a library of PDFs is tedious: That said, I find it tedious to have to manage my own library of PDFs. It often takes longer to work out whether I already have the article or not (Thus, I have to first search my hard drive and then search Google Scholar). I also have to enter the PDF into the library with no guaranty that I'll ever need it again.

In general, there are two kinds of PDFs. There are those that I'm accessing for the first time, and there are those that I come back to again.

Thus, I imagine a good system would be if some online system kept track of what I'd downloaded. If I did a search on Google Scholar and I'd already downloaded the PDF, it would just be a single click away (i.e., in a kind of cache).

Is there a way to meet the following requirements?

  1. Near immediate access to previously accessed PDFs
  2. Almost no time to store a PDF (or ideally something that operates in the background)
  3. Integrated search through Google Scholar that works both for new PDFs and previously accessed PDFs (i.e., for a previous PDF it pulls the article out of the cache; for new PDFs you go through the normal process).
  • Usually downloading full-text articles is a two-step process: (1) Search on Google Scholar. (2) Select the right search result. The journal recognises your university based on your IP address, and it automatically lets you access the full-text version if your university library has an appropriate subscription. Aug 12, 2014 at 21:36
  • For instant searching on your local harddrive(s) I recommend Everything. Aug 15, 2014 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


Google has brought a whole new experience how we tend to manage stuff. Searching is so fast and efficient, that in some use cases it has become obsolete to maintain a rigorously structured, personal library. The drawback, however, is that you have to complete the tedious task of retrieving the full text PDF again and again.

I am a scientist myself, and I am also one of the developers of Paperpile, where we exactly tried to make this use cases as simple as possible. Paperpile runs in the background and you do not have to leave Google Scholar or Pubmed to quickly get the full text PDF.

Next to each item in the Google Scholar search result you will find the little Paperpile toolbar. Just click on the Paperpile logo and it will find the full text PDF for you and will add it to the library. That's all done in background, and you do not have to open any user interface or go to another window.

Paperpile automatically screens all the items on the Google Scholar results page, and shows a link to the PDF for those that are in your library. Since Paperpile is totally web based, this will also work if you login on another machine.

I have also attached a screenshot to get an impression how it works. Articles that I already have in my library are marked by the green logo. Google Scholar results page


You can always try zotero (http://www.zotero.org/). It is a browser plug-in and a stand-alone app. You can store PDFs in their "cloud" (free up to a limit or for a price if you need larger space) or in your web-dav server of your choice (https://www.zotero.org/support/kb/webdav_services). It syncs accross devices (laptop, work PC) and also has several tools for web scraping popular sites like ACM digital library... So, I think it should cover most of your needs.

I do not know about Google scholar integration though.

  • +1 for zotero. It has auto redirecting proxy service built in also which can help skip your (3) and (4) step.
    – user507
    Mar 7, 2014 at 5:32
  • 2
    I love Zotero, but it won't meet the OP's requirement: it doesn't access your saved PDFs if you search through Scholar, only if you search through Zotero.
    – ff524
    Mar 7, 2014 at 5:35
  • There are alternatives to Zotero, but the idea of "use a reference manager" is on the right track. It won't fulfill your third criterion, of searching in Google Scholar, but it doesn't really make sense to be searching online for something that you already have stored locally!
    – Flyto
    Mar 11, 2014 at 16:02
  • Interesting. I have a personal webserver - do you know if it is possible to install Zotero or a Zotero-like application on the server side so that PDFs are stored on my machine and accessed through a web browser?
    – Miguel
    Aug 12, 2014 at 21:26
  • 1
    @Miguel. For Zotero you must set up a public web-dav server. Then the PDFs will be stored there for synchronization on your various PCs. Then when you connect through Firefox with one of those PCs, the PDFs will also be stored there on a subdir of Firefox installation folder.
    – Alexandros
    Aug 12, 2014 at 22:07

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