You know what’s kind of weird?
At least once a week, on various sites, I see links to articles that are behind some kind of paywall. Sooner or later the comments light up with how they can’t read the article without paying for it or subscribing to a service they really don’t want.
But let me back up for a second. There may be those out there reading my drivel that haven’t a clue what a paywall is. So let me catch them up really quick. A paywall is the “wall” you hit when you’re trying to access something online and you find that you can’t view it, or view all of it, unless you cough up some money. You’ll see this a lot with newspaper websites, magazine sites, and the like. Most of them will give you a couple paragraphs of the article and then a “click here to buy the rest” button. Needless to say, in your quest for information and knowledge, paywalls throw a roadblock in your way.
That’s not the weird thing I was talking about. Paywalls are very much a “business as usual” kind of thing and just another part of the Internet. What’s weird is all the little hints and tips and tricks that I see for getting around them. Apparently on some sites you can hit the stop button really quick and it’ll load the full article. Other sites you can feed the link to Twitter, then access the link through a Twitter account and that works okay because the paywall allows through traffic from Twitter. I’ve heard of a couple of apps and add-ons for browsers that will redirect you around these paywalls and so on and so on.
But you know what’s really weird? Not a single one of those tips, tricks, hints, or workarounds ever seem to involve “Hey, did you check the magazine and newspaper database available via your local library?”
So dig this.
Two days ago I came across an article that sounded really interesting. It’s called The Unleashed Mind and was on the Scientific American website. Well, as things go, I fell over the link to the article but didn’t actually have time to read the article right then. Now, I know there are things like Evernote, Instapaper, and stuff, and believe me, I use them. (Though I prefer OneNote over Evernote.) But nine times out of ten, if I see something that I’m interested in and want to check out later, I send it to my email. Just pop the link in the body and hit send. I check my email a lot, but my Evernote and Instapaper? Not so much.
So I sent myself the link, completely unread, until this morning. This morning I had a spare bit of time and wanted to read the article. There was much brow furrowing when I opened up the link and found two paragraphs and a paywall. Turns out the article wasn’t just a Sci-Am website thing, but it was published in Scientific American Mind, one of their print magazines.
Now I suppose I could’ve Googled about, maybe found a backdoor. Maybe I could’ve fiddled with the site and found a way around their paywall, but I didn’t. My first instinct wasn’t to launch Google but to head over to my library’s website so I could check the magazine databases. Sure enough, our EbscoHost MasterFile Premiere subscription carries Scientific American Mind and in a couple of minutes, I’d sent the article, in full, to the printer. It’s sitting next to me as I write this.
There are a couple of magazines I read on a regular basis just by looking them up in the database. Like most people, I don’t read a magazine cover to cover, I just want to see which articles look interesting and read those. Most librarians know that you can email these articles to yourself, or export them to read later (perhaps on your eReader of choice), tag them, export them, and more.
As librarians we use these kinds of databases on a regular basis, if not everyday. Yet how many of our patrons know about them? I’ve had more than a few patrons go wide eyed and googly when I showed them that, even though we don’t have that issue of Consumer Reports, I can still get that article rating the washing machines. It might be worth mentioning to our users that, yes, we can help you blow right by paywalls and it’s perfectly 100% legal. Sure, we won’t be able to access absolutely everything for you, but when it works, it’s awesome.
Just another one of those underutilized resources you could plug in a novel, and useful way!