How to Access Academic Journal Articles Through the Library

Looking for access to scholarly articles? The good news is that most (if not all) colleges in the U.S. offer online access to their scholarly databases so you can browse and read articles from home. Even better, most (if not all) libraries in the U.S.–even public libraries!– offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services that will allow you to request articles not already available in your library’s online databases–and these are typically emailed to you so you never have to leave your dorm. Read on to discover some ways that you might be able to access academic journal articles through your library.

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If you are not currently a student, check to see if you are eligible to obtain a library card at a local college.

If you are currently a student at a college or university, you probably already have access to your school library through your Student ID card/number. If you are not currently a student, you can do research to see if you are eligible to receive a library card from a local college. For example, the closest community college to my hometown offers cards to community members for $10.00. If you don’t see this information online, consider calling, emailing, or chatting online with a librarian to see what they offer. But don’t worry! If you are not eligible to pay for a college library card, you can still use your local public library to borrow academic journal articles. And a card from your local public library should be free.

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Check the online databases.

Once you have a library card, check the online databases to find the academic journals and articles you are interested in. In most cases, you should be able to access these databases even if you are not on campus or in the library. As long as you have an internet connection, you should be able to browse from the comfort of your apartment or dorm.

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Utilize Interlibrary Loan–and you can have journal articles e-mailed to you as PDFs

If you do not see the academic article you are looking for, you can request that it be sent to you through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Most libraries now have an ILL request form online, so you don’t need to go to the library to ask for materials. Additionally, while books will still be sent to the library itself for pickup, academic articles are usually sent to students via email as PDFs. This means that you can do the whole transaction from home–and you don’t even need to return the borrowed article. Most libraries do make it clear, however, that the PDF is still under copyright, meaning it is for the use of the student only and should not be reproduced.

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Check your local public library’s resources.

Most public libraries offer some online access to scholarly databases, though the databases offered tend to be less specialized than those offered by colleges and universities. You can browse the online databases as you would at a college library. You can also use ILL the same as you would at a college library. That means that you can have books from other libraries sent to your local library for pickup. Or you can request articles that, again, will likely be emailed to you as PDFs. If you are looking for an online article, you probably never have to leave home.

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Apply for a public library card online.

Many public libraries were offering the ability to sign up for a card online before the pandemic, as a way to increase accessibility. Since 2020, the number of libraries with this option has likely risen. Visit your local library’s website to see if you can sign up online. In some cases, an online card might mean that you can only access online services. (You might need to go in-person to receive a physical card to check out physical items.) However, if you want the card primarily to search the online databases for journal articles, this should not be too much of an issue.

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Research if there are any public library branch locations, Bookmobile stops, or library kiosks closer to where you live or work.

Getting to the local library may not always be quick or convenient. However, most public libraries offer other ways to access the collection that not every library user is aware of. So if you need to stop in to pick up a physical item, to get your physical library card, or to speak with a librarian, research your options. For example, many library users might only know about the main branch of the library, and not realize that there are smaller branches located around the city or county. You can have materials sent to your closest branch for pickup. You can also check to see if there are other options, like a Bookmobile stop close to where you live, or a kiosk. Older kiosks worked like vending machines, where you were limited to checking out what was inside. Newer models, however, might offer you the ability to pick up holds. And, of course, many libraries offer homebound services to deliver materials to those who are unable to leave their homes. If you don’t know what your options are, visit the website of your local public library or speak with a librarian.

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See if you are eligible for a state library card.

Many states in the U.S. have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). So if you are not satisfied with your local collection, see what other options are available to you.

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Of course, every library is different and policies and services may vary from institution to institution. However, if you are interested in reading academic articles, it’s definitely worth doing a little research to see what might be available to you. Many of these services are free and accessible from your computer, so you never have to leave home. You might not know what you are missing if you have never looked for it!

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