How do you access (recent) paywalled literature as an independent researcher?

I’d like to do an informal survey on how researchers on this forum who don’t have an affiliation with a traditional university usually access paywalled literature.

Yes, I know that sci-hub and libgen are the default and usually the best, but sci-hub has been down for a while now, and I’m not confident about it returning any time soon.

I’m now considering subscribing for alumni access to the University of Queensland Library, for $75 AUD/year this gives access to 10 databases:

  1. Annual reviews online.
  2. AustLit.
  3. Business Source Alumni Edition.
  4. Cambridge Core journals online [ALUMNI ACCESS]
  5. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press journals
  6. CSIRO online journals.
  7. JSTOR
  8. OECD iLibrary.
  9. Project MUSE.
  10. Wiley online library journals.

I’d probably only use 7 and 10 regularly, which makes me think this isn’t very good value. Are there any better value subscription packages for individuals out there?

The Ronin Institute also has a list of 8 suggestions:

  1. Courtesy appointments
  2. Alumni access
  3. Public libraries and local universities
  4. Google
  5. Unpaywall
  6. Preprint servers
  7. Contacting the author
  8. Sci-hub

What about you? How do you access your literature when sci-hub is down?


I’ve also recently started using the Open access button extension which is intended to facilitate the process of requesting a paper by directly contacting an author. But after requesting 5 or so recent papers I’ve never had a response, so I think that writing a personal email is probably still a better option.

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Really? I just accessed it:

Another good service is Unpaywall:


Use a VPN to access Sci-hub. It is not accessible from some countries. Fortunately we have Mullvad!

I also think it is accessible through some onion links (deep web) using Tor client.

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What I meant by sci-hub being down is that they haven’t been uploading content this year (I can still access older publications there and libgen) which seems to be have been a response to a protracted Indian court case. The lack of news about this is what makes me concerned they won’t start downloading anything new again.


Wow @Gavin thank you for the info! I did not notice it until now (I guess I mainly read open available papers this year). This is definitely worrying…

Contacting the authors would be the best option at this point I guess?

Thanks @Gavin, I was also not aware of this!

Libraries in the UK offer remote access, I find my members to the National Library invaluable and able to access/download scholarly publications. Immediately after I joined, however, a few years back, their subscription to some scholarly databases terminated unexpectedly. I can still access many resources

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I use the unpaywall browser extension, and when it’s gray (no free copy available), I go sit in a corner and cry.

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I had a quick look at the British Library (is that where you are a member? I didn’t find a UK national library) and saw that they limit access for many journals to be in person from a library computer :grimacing:

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I planned ahead before going independent and I think my journal access is comparable to what I had when I was at a university, and is better in some respects. I’m a fan of literature-based discovery so having excellent journal access is a necessity for me.

My employer, the USPTO, has good access to engineering and physical science journals. (Edit: I also have decent access to medical journals, likely because the USPTO works on a lot of bio-tech inventions.) This covers most of my needs and was a specific reason I chose to work for the USPTO. I imagine other patent offices have similar resources, and I know that there are other government agencies which also have journal access.

The USPTO’s access to other journals is limited, and there are large gaps even for engineering and the physical sciences. For instance, I have no access to AIP journals like Physics of Fluids. I can’t access anything on ScienceDirect before 1995. I can’t get Journal of Fluid Mechanics papers before 1999. Whether I have access to a particular Wiley journal seems to be random. I could go on.

On the bright side, the USPTO subscribes to quite a few journals that I did not have access to at any university. I now have digital access to ASME and AIAA journals, for example.

Some local public libraries have better journal access than you might expect. You should always check this. For instance, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh seems to have better ScienceDirect access than the USPTO! Also be aware that many libraries (not just public libraries) have access to many journals via EBSCO or Gale. The journal website itself won’t give you access. You must go through EBSCO or Gale to see if they have the article you want. The USPTO has many EBSCO databases and these have been useful to get access to articles in journals the USPTO does not subscribe directly to.

If all these options fail, I’ll go in-person to a university or research library. Having this fallback option was a major part of deciding where to live for me.

I also paid for one article about a year ago, though in retrospect it wasn’t worth the cost. Someone I know thought that all the planning I put into where to live might not have been worthwhile as it could end up being cheaper living in an area without a good library and buying the articles I want. But I’m quite confident that’s not true in my case. I add on the order of 1,000 documents per year to my collection, and while the majority are obtained through the USPTO, this will still be quite expensive at $25+ per article.

Don’t underestimate the value of personal networks, too. My brother and I have scanned documents for each other as favors before.

Another option for ScienceDirect (and Scopus) is reviewing an article for Elsevier, as mentioned here. Elsevier will give you 30 days’ access for reviewing.

Something that I haven’t tried yet is interlibrary loan at a local public library. I intend to try this after I move.

With respect to the alumni access, I’m not familiar with what UQ provides, but I was not impressed with what my PhD university, the University of Texas at Austin, provides. Yes, they give you access to JSTOR, but if you look at the list of journals, you see that most of them only provide access to the last few years. I’d ask about what the caveats are for the UQ alumni access before paying. Edit: If your concern is about recent papers then limiting the journal access to recent years is acceptable, of course.

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Gavin, the NLS (Nat LIbrary of Scotland) ACM Jstor and others, Some of the subscriptions stopped after I joined, but I can access a great deal of resources still. Bless them.


:fireworks: :fireworks: Sci-hub is back:


Further on SciHub’s court case in India

What Sci-Hub’s latest court battle means for research

Delhi court will scrutinize whether the pirate paper website falls foul of India’s copyright law. The verdict could have implications for academic publishers further afield.