Free access to research at your local UK public library

Two-year pilot to provide free walk-in access to over 1.5 million online articles at participating public libraries

[divider]Update: A report of the launch event has been added below the original story. [divider]

Elsevier is participating in Access to Research – a service to provide the UK public with access to academic research through their local public library.

Access to Research logo. Click to view the website.Access to Research is a sophisticated yet easy-to-use online search tool available to anyone to use at participating public libraries. It has an "intelligent" search interface, allowing users to retrieve relevant search results from across the platforms of many different publishers, thousands of journals, and millions of articles. Once a relevant article is identified, the use can click to the relevant publisher's platform, where the article is available at no cost to them to their library.

The initiative was conceived by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research, chaired by Dame Janet Finch. Many, but not all, of the Finch Group's recommendations were focused on open access publishing by UK researchers. Other aspects of the Group's recommendations concentrated on how to expand access within the UK to research written and published elsewhere. In particular, the Finch Group recommended that the wider research community "consider the terms and costs of licenses to provide access to a broad range of relevant content."

Access to Research is the first of these steps to expand access in the UK, and is offered by publishers at no cost. Elsevier is one of 17 publishers contributing to the initiative.

Elsevier chose to participate because the initiative reflects our commitment to enabling the broadest possible access to research results. We are contributing access to more than 1,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell Press titles. So whether it's an entrepreneur testing a new business idea, a student studying for a qualification, a citizen scientist, or a local historian, Access to Research was developed to serve anyone's information needs.

How was service been developed?

"We got this initiative off the ground through a great deal of collaboration and effort from a wide range of stakeholders," said Alicia Wise (@wisealic), Elsevier's Director of Access and Policy and member of the Access to Research Steering Group. Members of the Finch Group – particularly Steven Hall, Managing Director at IOP Publishing who developed the vision for this initiative. It was welcomed by the Right Honourable David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, and endorsed by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills as part of UK national policy along with the other recommendations made by the Finch Group.

Dr. Wise convened the first working group to develop the practical implementation plans, working closely with the Society of Chief Librarians; representatives of the Publishers Association; and the Publishers Licensing Society, headed by Chief Executive Sarah Faulder, who now chairs the Steering Group. "We've been able to achieve this great result only through their really close and cordial collaboration," she said. "But it really would never have happened without the commitment and hard work of the entire group."

To make Access to Research possible, the Steering Group had to overcome various challenges. Dr. Wise explained that a critical mass of publishers and public libraries was recruited by the Publishers Association, Publishers Licensing Society and Society of Chief Librarians. Training was provided to participating library staff so they could feel confident in aiding users and answering inquiries, headed by Irene Campbell, Assistant Director at East Sussex County Council. For the technical infrastructure, Ed Pentz (@epentz), Executive Director of CrossRef, volunteered to pull together options and secure an important partnership with ProQuest for a search interface.

Meanwhile, communications and marketing teams focused on how to help draw attention to the initiative, and Simon Bell, head of partnerships for The British Library, led the development of a long-term, inclusive, and collaborative governance framework.

From an initial low-key technical trial with 250 public libraries, the service has now been rolled out across the UK for an extended two-year pilot. During this time, the Publishers Licensing Society will be looking to gather information about data usage and demand to help assess how best to meet the access gaps after this pilot phase.

Launching Access to Research

By Alice Atkinson-Bonasio (@alicebonasio)

Library at Deptford in Lewisham (Photo by Tom Atkinson)Lewisham, UK — To mark the start of this two-year pilot, an event was held in Lewisham, one of the local authorities participating in the pilot. Publishers, librarians and the many stakeholders who contributed their time and expertise to building Access to Research got together at the beautiful Library at Deptford Lounge to talk about their journey and what the next steps in developing the program will look like.

David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, told the audience that he hoped that as many people as possible would be encouraged to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.

What I like about it is that it breaks down barriers. It breaks down barriers between the research community and the wider community, and it means that you don't have to be a member of that official academic community with special access to be able to see what has been written on whatever subject you're interested in.

Sarah Faulder, CEO of the Publishers' Licencing Society, said this was an initiative that has had full support from both publishers and librarians from the very start. There are more than 8,400 journal titles from all major publishers being made available to the public, amounting to over 1.5 million articles.

Yet she made it clear that this was not just about numbers, impressive as they might be. She shared a glowing testimonial from a user who runs a business research consultancy:

She describes her experience in conducting some rather obscure research - her words – as really positive, with the librarian at the start being extremely helpful in setting her up with a temporary library card so that she could use the service immediately […] She was able to access every article on her list and search for some new ones as well. And she ended by saying that not only will she be using the service on a regular basis, but that having walked around the library and seeing that it was 'a good space for quiet research' she got a permanent library card before she left. She said it was her first one since 1994.

Janene Cox of the Society of Chief Librarians said Access to Research was an exciting addition and enormous enhancement of the digital offer that libraries provided to their communities. "It reaffirms that important role that public libraries have in supporting learning, promoting research and encouraging greater access and use of digital space and technologies," she said.

She added that the project was evidence that "as a sector we're prepared to think innovatively, act collaboratively and seek creative solutions to ensure that the wider offer continues to improve and deliver real outcomes for our communities."

The evening concluded with a live demo of the service, conducted by Phill Hall of Summon, the software platform that is already used widely in university libraries and is supporting Access to Research.  The functionality is very simple, presenting the user with a single search box where they can type keywords, author names, dates, or any other parameters they wish. "If they can use Google, they can use Access to Research," he explained. "It really is that simple."

The challenge Hall sees to those in the publishing industry, however, is supporting librarians as they help the general public digest this information: "In universities, people are trained in how to digest this material," he said, "but the general public may need a little help, so that's where we need to plan the next step for this, to really enhance the informational literacy of the general public."


Elsevier Connect Contributors

Rachel MartinRachel Martin (@rachelcmartin) is the Universal Access Communications Manager at Elsevier, based in Amsterdam. She is responsible for helping to communicate Elsevier's progress in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs and access technologies.

Alice Atkinson-BonasioAlice Atkinson-Bonasio (@alicebonasio) is PR and Communications Manager for Mendeley, the company that created the Mendeley research collaboration platform and workflow tool and was acquired by Elsevier in April. She holds an MA in creative and media enterprises from the University of Warwick and is completing a PhD in online marketing at Bournemouth University. She is based in Mendeley's London office.[divider]

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3 Archived Comments

ahmed February 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm

hi should i do any thing to brows this articles in uk lib. or just elsevier account

Rachel Martin February 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Hi Ahmed,

You can browse and read all the articles, but from within a UK public library at a computer terminal. If you need more information about participating libraries, please see and if you need any additional help you can use the query form here:

With kind wishes,


Santos adán Lopez February 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I studied in England University and I know the UK public library for that I want to have free access to this service.


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