Access to Research in Public Libraries

Jonathan Griffin, Publishers” Licensing Society & Julie Oakley, West Sussex Libraries

The Access to Research service gives free, walk-in access to a wide range of academic and research articles public libraries across the UK. The service includes over 10 million articles from reputable journals published by the world’s leading STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishers (eg Elsevier, Sage, Wiley, Oxford University Press). The articles cover a wide range of topics, ranging from the biological and health sciences (journals include the Lancet and BMJ) to dance and philosophy.

The service was launched in response to recommendations from the Finch Group, a committee convened by the UK government to explore how access to publicly funded research could be expanded. One of the main recommendations of the Group was that the major journal publishers should grant public libraries a licence to provide free access to their academic articles. Access to Research is the publishers’ response to this. Implementation has involved a range of stakeholders though. As well as the publishers, the Society of Chief Librarians has played a key role in rolling out the Service via its ‘People’s Network’ computers countrywide. Proquest has provided the search delivery software, and the project has been co-ordinated by the Publishers Licensing Society.

Access to Research is now half way through its 2 year pilot. Approximately 90% of Local Authorities in the UK have signed up for the service and around 2,500 libraries are actually providing access.

West Sussex was one of the first authorities to start using the service. It is available in all 36 libraries via the public access computers and on all staff computers. Set up was straight forward. The service recognises the library IP address and so provides easy access for customers and staff without the need for passwords or log-ins. It has quickly become a useful additional resource for Information Libraries to search when answering either in depth or general enquiries.

A very recent example of use was when a customer came into Crawley library and asked about Access to Research. He was carrying out research on ancient archaeology and wanted to see if Access to Research would allow him access to relevant journal articles. After use, he confirmed that he had found a lot of relevant material for his research and that it was easy to use. The customer also said that he was using the database in the library for personal research that he hoped would lead to a publication in the future. He was currently in full time work so the availability of Access to Research at his local library was very useful as it enabled him to carry out research locally and avoid the cost and difficulty of travelling to access specialist collections.

Information librarians have also used it to help answer an enquiry regarding the “Schumann Cavity”, its properties and how it works. This resulted in providing the enquirer with details of thirty articles.

Ten articles were identified for an enquiry relating to aircraft stability and flight behavior; and searches for an enquiry about the history of Haiti and its role in slavery with links to France in the 1790s, cited 2 articles covering the Haitian revolution.

Information librarians have promoted Access to Research to library staff by short face to face training sessions. Information about it has also been included in the Information Team newsletter which is sent out to all libraries.  Three simple in house training videos for staff to easily access and familiarise themselves with the database have been produced. Each video lasts 2-3 minutes and can be accessed from any staff computer. These cover a basic introduction to the resource, how to search for an article and how to view it.

Access to Research has also been promoted at various library talks and referred to in information that has accompanied the talk. It has been promoted at local college induction visits to the library as well as at freshers’ fairs. The Sussex area health information professionals group has also been made aware of its availability in libraries

Proof of all of the above is evident in usage statistics which have revealed that West Sussex is one of the highest users in the country.

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