No electronic resources? No problem!

Image of book, computer keyboard and monitor

Image cc license from Flickr user ambro91:

On average, at least once per week, a library patron asks me about electronic resources, generally looking for access to full-text commercial databases such as those available through ProQuest and EBSCO or log-in information to use archives for individual online journals.

After working in much larger and better funded libraries, I was accustomed to having online full-text databases as a matter of course.  Staff members have similar expectations, based on their experiences as educators and students or staff at larger international organizations.  When I first started receiving this query, I felt compelled to be apologetic and self-effacing — I’m terribly sorry, I would say.  I understand this is very inconvenient — as though I were entirely responsible, through some error or misjudgement, for this oversight or absence.  I felt sheepish and embarrassed by the fact that our institution could not provide access to materials that could support the work of staff because I had always assumed these resources were indispensable and assured.  With the experience and confidence I gained over the past year, my response has changed.  While I do still apologize, if only to be polite, I quickly explain why we do not have these resources (no budget) and then give more attention to the alternatives.

My new tactic? “No electronic resources? No problem.”

While we might not have subscriptions to the same, large commercial online databases to which other institutions enjoy access, we are not without resources;  we are resourceful in many senses: we have the whole Internet at our disposal and we either have or can gain the skills to make the best use of what is out there. In previous posts, we have discussed new tools and search methods: A Google A Day, which can teach Google users new skills and tips to optimize searching, and Personal Kanban, which can help users better organize themselves.  In this post, I will highlight a selection of free electronic resources that have proved a boon in providing the best reference and support services possible, at low to no cost.


Perhaps too obvious, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Google is one of the best free resources available for finding information. From news sources and corporate websites to blogs and social networking sites, an increasing percentage of the pages on the Internet are being added to Google’s index.  Individual modules or tools address different needs. Google Scholar, for example, is terrific for tracking down not only the correct citations for articles (useful on occasions when users are able to provide only a portion of the information necessary to track down an article), but also, on occasion, links to the free full-text of the articles themselves.

Social Science Research Network (SSRN)

Twice named the Number 1 Open Access Repository in the World by Ranking Web of World Repositories (as per the SSRN webpage), SSRN’s  eLibrary includes both abstracts, full-text articles and working papers on a wide range of topics in social science. The networks themselves help disseminate new research and foster communications between article authors and interested researchers.

Institutional Repository Search (IRS)

IRS is a platform that enables cross-searching of the grey literature databases and document repositories from 130 UK academic institutions.

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

DOAJ brings together content from open access scientific and scholarly journals and enables searching for keywords within citations and abstracts of the included articles.

Commercial Full-Text Databases as Bibliographic Databases

A final key is to remember that there is more to the for-fee electronic resources like ProQuest than the full-text articles they contain.  The metadata for these articles includes the basic information like author and title as well as abstracts, keywords, and subject headings.  While the main perk of an online commercial database might be the digital versions of print articles, quickly and easily accessible, the system also works well as a bibliographic database, enabling users to search for and find interesting articles, which they can then request through inter-library loan, if such services are available, or seek on their
own, through any of the previously mentioned resources, including Google Scholar.

For more information:

Umar Anjum’s post at Smashing Apps on 7 Library Tools Students Would Find Handy — all very good resources;  I was particularly happy to see the Internet Public Library on the list, as this is a great and flexible resource.

Kevin McCulney’s Scientific American post Finding Good Information on the Internet.

Two fantastic conservation and environmental science resources with loads of free content: GreenFile, a free environmental sciences and sustainability database created by EBSCO, and Biodiversity Heritage Library, the result of an initiative by natural history and botanical libraries to digitize and make available legacy and current literature on biodiversity.

What resources do you use?



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