Access to Research Publications without Institutional Credentials?

I spend a great deal of my time studying spiders and insects—in the field, through the photographic and descriptive information provided on iNaturalist and other sites, collaborating with professionals and academics, and via publications and data I can access through websites like the World Spider Catalog. But, ultimately, I am a citizen scientist, and I keep coming up against roadblocks with articles I find or that are shared with me. I don’t work for a research institution, so accessing articles via ResearchGate or BioOne, for instance, isn’t possible. I know there is usually a way to request articles individually from the authors, but it’s unknown if and when a response will be received.

Does anyone have any advice for someone who is constantly researching but not a researcher? :thinking:


Your local public library may provide electronic access to many journals.

Or you can just use Sci-Hub which is I think what most people in this situation do:


If no pdf version is available on ResearchGate, Google Scholar, etc, write a short email directly to the corresponding author. A lot of scientists also use Twitter, so that may be another way of connecting with the authors or with someone with access.


What @ten_salamanders said. Scientists love to have people interested in their research and I’ve never had anyone express even a hint of annoyance at being asked. Just mention you don’t have institutional access and that you’ve tried Googling for PDF versions of the article already.


I would just use sci-hub. I have institutional access to most articles and still use sci-hub almost everyday. It is faster and just works well.


Thanks, @reuvenm @ten_salamanders @colinpurrington @cthawley for the tips! This is why I love “hanging around” with smart people! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


Another couple of resources are the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive ( These have been insanely useful with wasps of the US, and they have a ton of (often older) papers. Zookeys sometimes has open access papers as well, but some are pay. I want to say I found a really good paper on Ophionine wasps there.

ResearchGate is also super useful. Accounts are free, and you can also use it to request access to papers, for free. Authors won’t always check their page, but the ones that do are often more than willing to share (and it takes out the need to track down their e-mail and hope you don’t get lost in the spam or junk folder).


Asking an author directly for an article is actually a cultural touchstone!

I have a box of reprints from my most significant paper (from the prior century) gathering dust and was so tickled to get a mailed, printed and hand-filled reprint request card for it a couple years ago. I haven’t seen one since though.


You can get onto ResearchGate without being institutionalised if someone who is already on there sends a request to RG to have you join. It’s how I got on :-)

For Africa there are a couple of good sites with free downloads (you don’t even have to register/login/join):

  • Metamorphosis - Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa
  • Biodiversity Observations - online journal hosted by University of Cape Town.
  • Sabinet - African journals. The older stuff is free.
  • SANBI publications - free downloads of various publications including monographs, Bothalia, SANBI Biodiversity Series, Flowering plants of Africa, Suricata, Strelitzia etc.
  • SANBI Documents - a mix of stuff mostly to do with environmental law and assesments, alien plants, vegetation of sA etc.

{SANBI = South African National Biodiversity Institute}


I’m in the same boat - I have a formal science background, and always want to see the original. What I will do is go to Google Scholar, and search. On the right side of the screen are links that are public (either legally or illegally posted). Often I can get clues from a public paper, either to satisfy my questions, or a lead to others that may be public.
The information provided above is great - I’ll try some of the sources an techniques mentioned.
BTW, I hate paywalls - one of my bugbears. I’ve seen papers from the early 1900’s that were paywall protected. Give me a break!!

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For old works you can read and download a huge number of books from here:

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