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Access to Research – a great, free digital resource for public libraries

06 March 2020  
Posted by: Rob Mackinlay
Access to Research – a great, free digital resource for public libraries

Access to Research – a great, free digital resource for public libraries

DO your library users have health issues they want to find out more about? Are they concerned about the environment and want to see the latest scientific reports? Do students living locally need to access academic articles in their university holidays? Access to Research (A2R) is a great resource for any user to search, read and print out a copy of any of the more than 30 million journal articles available and an excellent way of encouraging more footfall into branches. The service is only available on terminals in public libraries and cannot be accessed remotely.

Accessibility, sustainability, excellence
Access to Research began as a pilot service in 2014, one of the fruits of the recommendations from the Finch Group, a committee convened by the UK government to explore public access to publicly funded research and chaired by Dame Janet Finch. Their report “Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications”1 was published in 2012 and includes the following observations:

“Very few public libraries provide access to journals, for most members of the public, the only way in which they can gain access to journals is through the walk-in service provided by some university libraries. [So the] proposal is that the major subscription-based publishers should license public libraries throughout the UK ... to provide access to peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings at no charge, for ‘walk-in’ users on library premises.

"At a time when public libraries are under severe pressure, such a move will help to strengthen their position in the communities they serve, and lead to increased usage and value. It would have an immediate effect in extending access to the great majority of journals for the benefit of everyone in the country.” At the launch of the pilot service in 2014, David Willetts, the then Minister for Universities and Science said that A2R “will connect people to a wealth of global knowledge – maximising its impact and value. Neither the libraries nor the public are charged for access to this content.”

Broad parameters
Following the success of the pilot the scheme was re-launched to local authorities across the UK during 2019. As of January 2020, over 95 per cent of local authorities have signed up to offer the service. The monthly reports circulated to all participating libraries include the top 20 search terms for the month, revealing an idiosyncratic list of interests across the nation in addition to the perennial subjects of health, history and science. Looking at the most recent report (December 2019) Medical condi- tions and remedies were well represented (‘Alopecia’, ‘Cognitive Behavioural therapy and depression’) but there is also room for the somewhat specialised (‘Glouces- tershire Regiment’ and ‘Hegel’).

“While most searches: ‘Royal Navy’, ‘Archaeology’ and inevitably ‘Brexit’ for example are instinctively what you might imagine people go to their local library to look up, the fact that entering even the most obscure terms usually returns a host of published research demonstrates how broad-based and useful Access to Research is,” said Sarah Faulder, Chief Executive of Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS). PLS developed the service in partnership with publishers and librarians and continues to manage A2R with support from the leading academic publishers, Libraries Connected, The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and the Publishers Association. The service operates on a platform generously provided by ProQuest.

What do users think of the service? An independent nationwide survey2 heard from Melanie, an archaeologist and A2R user who said: “I wasn’t expecting to have the same level of access as university, but considering it is a free and public resource it has been very helpful.” Simon, who is using the service to research his book, was similarly impressed. “I was quite surprised”, he noted, “how much material was made available, some sub- scription services exclude some journals. I was surprised to find some that I wasn’t expecting to find.”

Local needs
The current re-launch has a number of drivers, principally to remind all public-facing library staff – who may in some cases have come across A2R infrequently – of its benefits, but also to persuade, with much success so far, those handful of remaining authorities which have yet to sign up to offer the service to do so. The CILIP Public & Mobile Libraries Group conference in October 2019 included a presentation on A2R and a lively discussion followed including on how librarians might themselves use A2R to research speakers for library events, and on how the service can support Libraries’ Universal Health Offer as a source of high-quality information on health issues. Naturally, A2R is also a good resource to support Information & Digital Offer activities.

Following feedback from librarians, a news release template for librarians to adapt with a local angle and pass on to their council news- letter or local media is now available. On 25 March, CILIP is running a free short webinar for librarians about A2R. Participants will learn more about the rationale behind A2R, learn how to help users with their most common question about using the service and how best to answer FAQs that are posed about it. The webinar will also include examples of how librarians can make use of A2R to help fulfil other objectives including the Uni- versal Health Offer. It is primarily aimed at Public Library workers, as A2R is only available through public libraries. However the webinar is open to anyone wanting to learn more about the scheme. To book a place visit For further information on A2R visit A2R enquiries and to request posters, media templates and leaflets, contact Robert Stein, PLS, on

1 loads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION. pdf
2 Shared Intelligence. Access to Research – A Report to the PLS and the Society of Chief Librarians.

Contributor: Robert Stein,, Head of Communications, Publishers' Licensing Services Ltd.
Published: 6 March 2020

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