Read journal articles for free at your local library with Access to Research




A new service has been launched in the UK to give the public access to academic content through their local libraries, free of charge. Access to Research is a search interface available at participating public libraries which retrieves relevant results from across the platforms of many different publishers, thousands of journals, and millions of articles. Once you identify a relevant article, the user can then click through to the relevant publisher’s platform, where they can read it at no cost to them or to their library.

This is a joint effort by the Publishers Licensing Society, the Publishers Association and the Society of Chief Librarians, supported by 17 publishers, including Elsevier, who have helped develop the program and are contributing their content free of charge for the initiative. Elsevier is contributing access to more than 1,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell Press titles.

From an initial low-key technical trial with 250 public libraries, the service has now been rolled out across the UK for an extended two-year pilot, during which the Publisher Licencing Society will look to gather information about data usage and demand to help assess how best to meet the access gaps. To mark the start of this two-year pilot, an event was held in Lewisham, one of the local authorities participating in the pilot. Publishers, librarians and the many stakeholders who contributed their time and expertise to building Access to Research got together at the beautiful Library at Deptford Lounge to talk about their journey and what the next steps in developing the program will look like.

David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, called it a “great, exciting role for our public libraries” and said at the event that this was all about publishers and public libraries coming together to provide access to research content.

“In future you’ll just be able to walk down to your local public library and access whatever it is that you want to find, any research.”


Sarah Faulder, CEO of the Publishers Licencing Society, said that the scheme currently provided access to over 8,400 journal titles, which meant more than 1.5 million articles available to the public. Since there is no remote access to the service, it is hoped that this will encourage more people to make use of their local library facilities to discover and research that content. The scheme is open to all local authorities throughout the UK.

“This is just the start. There will be more published content made available and more local authorities signing up. “We’re also looking at what more might need to be done to train librarians and to support them in guiding users to find what they’re looking for and managing issues in information literacy that the service will raise with those less experienced in using academic publications.”

Janene Cox of the Society of Chief Librarians explained that Access to Research was setup in response to the recommendations made by the Finch Group, which explored how access to publicly funded research could be expanded, and would now form a key part of libraries’ information and digital offers.

“Public libraries have always been about learning. Charles Dickens called it “betterment” and it remains a vital part of the library’s function. I do believe that public libraries have never faced such challenging times, but we do provide access to, and the curation of, a huge amount of resources, and a digital age means that people can move seamlessly through websites and content, which support their personal learning journey. The public library, whether that be a physical or virtual space, is trusted, it’s safe, engaging and creative.”

There was then a live demo of the Access to Research search mechanism, which is powered by Summon, a software platform widely used in universities. The aim was to simplify the mechanism so that it resembled a common search engine interface such as Google.

“What we’re doing is giving a very fast service, for users to be able to search for something they’re interested in and deliver results.” Explained Phill Hall “What we want to do is to deliver a single search box. Inside that search box is all the content that publishers will have provided. The results come directly from articles on individual publishers’ websites, and when you click on it, it goes to those individual articles on the websites. The search box doesn’t differentiate where the content comes from. If the search term fits within the content that’s there, we deliver it.”

Will this help to disseminate academic knowledge to people who would not normally have access to it? Would you find it useful to have access to journals at your local library? Let us know your thoughts, get in touch by leaving a comment below!

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