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From time to time, I cannot access a reference of an article that I am reviewing, either because my university did not subscribe to some journals (and I failed to find it myself on sci-hub, Google, and other places), or because the article doesn't seem to be available online.

Pinging the authors of the article (either the one that I am reviewing or the one that was cited) may work, but not always: legal issues (some publishers do not allow sharing papers online), unanswered emails, blind review preventing from contacting authors, etc.

Shall I just ignore the cited article in that case, even though it could be useful to review the article? Or are there other options, aside from asking my library to pay for it (hoping they would agree)?

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    Good question. Another reason you may not be able to find the cited article online is that it may not exist, which seems like a useful thing to know about when reviewing a paper. – ff524 Mar 22 '16 at 2:11
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    @ff524 Good one! I'll probably choose it for the next reading group, sounds appropriate for the April 1st meeting. – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 22 '16 at 2:16
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    I like how this question has promotional links to OP's previous questions that have little bearing on the current question. – Drecate Mar 22 '16 at 2:25
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    @Drecate You can't imagine how much money I make with those hidden ads. – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 22 '16 at 2:31
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    I am confused as to why "ask your library to find a copy" is the casually-mentioned alternative at the end of this - it seems the overwhelmingly obvious answer. This is what your institution has a library for. Of course they'll get papers for you. Ask... – Andrew Mar 22 '16 at 8:18
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While online access is very useful, it is not the only access. Every university I have been affiliated has provided an ILL service either at no cost or a nominal charge (e.g., a $1 processing charge). US University libraries can make requests to both the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine. I am less familiar with the ILL system in the UK/Britain, but I believe ILL requests can be made, possibly through a university, to the British Library.

There are of course some articles/books that are truly hard to find (e.g., not held by the LoC with deceased authors). In these cases, it seems reasonable to request a copy through the handling editor. You should never contact the authors of a manuscript under review directly.

  • In the UK, document supply requests can be made to the BL by individuals as well as institutions - but it's a more limited & more expensive service that way. The institutional approach is (usually) free to the user at point of service, as with the US. – Andrew Mar 22 '16 at 15:57
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So far, all my invitations to review contained an offer for access to publications via the publisher, i.e., they provide you with a temporary account allowing you to access papers. However, I have no experience with such a service as I’ve never required it.

If the publisher does not provide such a service or it does not cover the publication in question, you can still ask the publisher directly for it. This way, you do not break the anonymity of peer review and ask somebody who has a direct interest to supply you with the article – as you cannot properly peer-review otherwise.

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