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Supporting Scholarly Research with Free Sources

posted: 9.17.09 by archived

As an adjunct with no R1 institutional affiliation, I have found it hard to research the past couple of years. When I was only teaching at a community college, this research was even more difficult because I did not have access to the majority of scholarly journals in my field. At first, I focused on teaching and did not notice this deficiency; however, as I sought to return to the world of research, this gap became obvious. Fortunately, social networking, peer exchange, and the Web provide some viable work-arounds for adjuncts in similar situations: those who cannot afford individual subscriptions to academic journals or services, who teach for institutions with minimal academic resources online, or who are between jobs.

Rather than attempt a comprehensive list, what follows is one of my research processes — and it is a process that has served and continues to serve me well. I have used it when I had access to a good research library and when I was without one. I would rather develop research skills and resources that work in times thick as well as times thin. If you have developed other work-arounds that are effective, please share them in the comments.

The first obvious source is Google Scholar. It ranks the relative scholarly importance of articles by showing how often they are cited. Additionally, Google Scholar provides a list of related articles; this can be almost as good as an annotated bibliography. It is also useful for identifying patterns. Sometimes this has led me to discover related articles in free, online, and open access scholarly journals.

Once potential sources and leads are identified, I move to Google Books. I follow the leads there, locate the books, and find out just how much of the materials I can read online. Unfortunately, it is not possible to copy and paste from Google Books; however, viewing is better than having to buy pricey texts, and it offers you a chance to at least look at them. On top of that, it provides an opportunity to review the working scholarly bibliographies and lists of works cited so that if and when you do hit an open window for materials, you are prepared with a list of goodies to go find. Be sure that you save these books to your GBooks library so that it is easy to relocate the texts.

Finally, I go to ScribD. The site hosts a number of scholarly books and articles, and I download them without hesitation. When I have a book-buying budget, then I will purchase the books. At this point, my budget is limited, so I do what I need to do in order to further my scholarship. Additionally, by downloading a PDF, I can use Adobe Acrobat, mark up my own PDF, and keep my notes stored — all without killing trees or paying $230 for a single book. If texts from academic presses are more reasonably priced, like some of University of Chicago’s books or MIT’s books, then I am certainly happy to buy them or pay for a digital download. Ditto on the academic articles.

While ScribD certainly does not have all the materials that scholars need, you can get a lot of material. I also find a lot of interesting and semi-related material in the sidebars which, like YouTube, show related or potential articles of interests. This sort of incidental or coincidental discovery has led me towards a number of useful sources. For example, when I was researching “Biopower” and “Foucault,” Eugene Thacker’s work was listed in a sidebar. I followed that link and discovered his text The Global Genome. From that developed a new area of interest for me: the rhetoric surrounding genetic capitalism and development. I have spent hours and hours researching a topic that I happened to bump into in a sidebar.  Thus, the peer-exchange nature of sites like ScribD offer the additional benefit of numerous potential paths/distractions/leads to follow — something that can be more intense than straight research in a library’s online or physical resources. Unlike looking at books in similar locations, sites like ScribD enable intersections with ideas based on the user who posts the content as well as the content’s key words.

Finally, be sure to network with people in person and online. Perhaps one or several of them will share their PDF library or access with you. It may be a long shot, but you never know until you check. Fortunately at key points in my intellectual development, people have passed along vital PDFs which reshaped my thinking and theorizing.

As an adjunct, we have far fewer resources than many graduate students and most full-time faculty. This means we must adapt, adopt, and innovate to continue our research. The Web can facilitate this.  Hopefully the peer-exchange and social nature of the Web will also cultivate the development of research work-around strategies that bolster our academic work while avoiding the costs of information access.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Finding Sources, Gregory Zobel, Professional Development & Service, Research, Working with Sources
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