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How can I obtain hard-to-get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 4:07 am UTC
by Sagekilla
My grandfather published quite a large number of papers which I never knew about until just recently. Unfortunately he
died about 7 years ago, way before I was in college. He and my grandmother have a couple of things published in various
areas of statistics, and math and physics in general. I did a Google scholar search for them and most of them seem pretty
interesting. I wanted to read about their work but I can't really access any of them.

All of them require some subscription to an expensive service which costs upwards of hundreds of dollars. Is there any
way I can get access to any of these papers which doesn't require signing up for some expensive service? Surely direct relatives
can request a paper that was published.

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 5:23 am UTC
by eta oin shrdlu
Sagekilla wrote:All of them require some subscription to an expensive service which costs upwards of hundreds of dollars. Is there any
way I can get access to any of these papers which doesn't require signing up for some expensive service? Surely direct relatives
can request a paper that was published.
I doubt if being a direct relation will help. The easiest way would probably be to find a nearby university (or a friend with a nearby university) whose library has the journals you're looking for--that could be very easy or very hard, depending on how obscure the journals are. Can you post the journals and approximate timeframe you're looking for, just to give an idea of what sort of library you need?

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 5:24 am UTC
by Interactive Civilian
In your google scholar searches, make sure to click the "All # Versions" link if there is more than one version; sometimes you'll find a direct link to a PDF of a paper you want.

Otherwise, the best you can do is find friends or acquaintances online who have access and are willing to email you a copy of the PDF. Or, some journals, like PNAS, are accessible to residents of certain developing countries, so if you know anyone living in those countries, they may be able to access it for you. Also, assuming they are still alive, you might try contacting any co-authors of the papers. Or, if you can get access to a university (which has a subscription to the journals in question) computer lab, you can then grab them yourself.

Also, you may want to try ArXiv, as they have a lot of pre-publish drafts of papers, especially in physics and maths. Though they would tend to turn up in a Google Scholar search, so if you haven't found them, then they may not be here.

As for the publishers themselves giving you access because you are a relative... well, I've never heard of it happening, but I suppose it doesn't heart to try. Send emails to them, and maybe you'll get lucky and reach a sympathetic PR person.

It's generally an unspoken etiquette in the scientific community that it's alright sharing papers to those without access, so long as you aren't always pestering for more and more papers. So, don't be afraid to ask people who might have access.

Just out of curiosity, what journals are these published in?

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:23 am UTC
by mercutio_stencil
Your best bet is to go to a university library and use one of their public machines. New York has a few of those, or so I recall.

You can try to buy the individual articles from the publisher, but they tend to run from $30 to $100, so it could add up quick.

Arxiv is unlikely to be useful in this case; it's a new service, and I'm guessing the papers predate it's creation.

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 3:53 pm UTC
by philoctetes
I really don't think getting hard will help you get any papers.

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:19 pm UTC
by Xanthir
philoctetes wrote:I really don't think getting hard will help you get any papers.

This is absolutely how I first read the topic. I forced myself to parse it again just because I was pretty certain a spam thread about erections wouldn't already have several replies.

(Protip - use hyphens. "How can I get hard-to-get papers?" is unambiguous and no longer looks like it's talking about dicks.)

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:37 pm UTC
by Sizik
Or replace the first (or both) "get" with "obtain".

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:48 pm UTC
by Xanthir
Yeah, the problem is that "get hard" is an idiomatic phrase, and absent any other indicators like hyphens, several of our brains naturally interpreted the two words as such, then got confused by the rest of the sentence.

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 10:10 pm UTC
by yurell
I didn't even see that until you people pointed it out. Thanks a lot >.<

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 3:25 am UTC
by qetzal
I agree with the suggestions about trying a nearby university library. A lot of times, you can access their library catalogs online. You won't be able to access the actual papers that way, but you can at least see if they have a subscription to the journals you need (and whether it covers the relevant publication date). Then you can call to ask if the general public is allowed in-person access. (Even if the answer is no, sometimes that's not really enforced.)

At minimum, that will save you a trip to a library that doesn't carry the journal, or checks for university IDs at the door.

Another possible option: were any of the papers co-authored by someone still living? You could try to track them down. They might still have copies they could send you. Even if not, they're likely to still have connections at their last university, and could ask a friend to get them for you.

Good luck!

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:15 am UTC
by masher
Send me the references and I'll see what I can do...

Re: How can I get hard to get papers?

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:42 am UTC
by Sagekilla
qetzal wrote:I agree with the suggestions about trying a nearby university library. A lot of times, you can access their library catalogs online. You won't be able to access the actual papers that way, but you can at least see if they have a subscription to the journals you need (and whether it covers the relevant publication date). Then you can call to ask if the general public is allowed in-person access. (Even if the answer is no, sometimes that's not really enforced.)

At minimum, that will save you a trip to a library that doesn't carry the journal, or checks for university IDs at the door.

Another possible option: were any of the papers co-authored by someone still living? You could try to track them down. They might still have copies they could send you. Even if not, they're likely to still have connections at their last university, and could ask a friend to get them for you.

Good luck!


I managed to get at least one of the papers this way. It seems like none of the papers are accessible for me from my University.

I suspect it's because some were so old and/or published in (now) obscure journals that they probably won't be easily accessible through
the subscriptions my uni provides.

Re: How can I obtain hard-to-get papers?

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:18 am UTC
by tooyoo
There is a pretty strong correlation between "how much money a university has" and "how many journals are accessible". The good news is that at least in Europe there's also very often the possibility of making inter-library loans. I.e., even if your university does not have the article, they might be able to request a copy from somewhere else. In the UK for example, Cambridge has access to virtually everything, I'd expect it to be the same for similar institutions in the US. So you might want to check out their catalogues and inquire at your own university library whether inter library loan is available. This might cost some money, but it should be considerably cheaper than buying directly from the journal.

Re: How can I obtain hard-to-get papers?

Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 5:48 am UTC
by starslayer
Which journals/reference services are they in? That might help a little more, since the best advice based on the current information provided has already been given (university library, potential inter-library loan).

Re: How can I obtain hard-to-get papers?

Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:26 am UTC
by Proginoskes
To the OP: If you post the journals you're looking for, you'll probably get lots of help.