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How to find Open Access material

26 October 2023

by Louise Harrington, Assistant Repository Manager

As part of this year’s International Open Access Week’s theme of community over commercialization, today’s blog post is focused on how you can find free Open Access (OA) content online.

Subject and institutional repositories are a good place to start looking for OA content. Most UK universities and higher education institutions have repositories that collect all their research outputs. These are all listed on the JISC Open DOAR database. Cardiff’s institutional repository is ORCA.

Many academic subjects have specific subject-related repositories for submitted research papers. These papers are all freely available under creative commons licences (note that in most cases, they have not been peer-reviewed). The most famous is arXiv, the pre-print server for physics, maths, computer science and engineering, but increasingly other subjects are following this model, such as biorXiv and medRxiv, which collect papers on biology and medicine and health sciences respectively. Preprint repositories have traditionally been associated with STEM subjects, but there are increasing numbers of Arts and Humanities-based subject repositories; some examples are PhilPapers (philosophy), CogPrints (psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics) and Kultur (creative and applied arts).

A full list of subject repositories is also available on the Open Doar database. OSF Preprints is another aggregated service that collates preprints from across the academic landscape.

If you wish to look particularly for published journal articles, The Directory of Open Access Journals (commonly abbreviated to DOAJ) is a global list of fully OA journals. The CORE database pulls together OA content from repositories and open access journals worldwide, while the Digital Commons Network collates free, full-text scholarly articles from hundreds of universities and colleges worldwide.

It is also becoming increasingly easy to access research theses online. Most UK universities now have a digital storage policy that makes theses available via the institutional repository (sometimes after an embargo period); you can browse all Cardiff’s research theses since 2011 online here. The British Library’s EThOS service has access to thousands of doctoral theses, as does Open Access Theses and Dissertations.

More and more scholarly books are now being made freely available online, both through publisher websites and dedicated repositories. Probably the most well-known resource is Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), while there is also OAPEN, an online library and publication platform, and the Open Book Collective, a collective of publishers, providers and scholarly libraries.

In the past ten years or so, many universities have established Open Access presses, to publish academic journals, books, and conference proceedings. Our own Cardiff University Press is one such example, and others include UCL Press, White Rose University Press, a collaboration n between the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York, and Manchester Open Library, an OA publishing partnership between Manchester University Press and the University of Manchester. A comprehensive list of OA book publishers is available here.

It is not just the traditional academic outputs that are becoming available OA; other types of resources such as textbooks and grey literature/reports are becoming increasingly available online for free. The OER Repositories and Platforms List, hosted by Open Book Publishers, lists open educational resources (OERs) from a range of sources. Others include Open Textbooks and Merlot. The Policy Commons platform collates publications from policy experts, government and independent organisations and think tanks.

There are several browser extensions available that will search for legal OA copies of research articles if you come up against a paywall; the most well-known are:

All in all, there are many avenues for you to access free, superior quality literature and research. You need never be stuck behind a publisher paywall again!