Sarah Werner (@wynkenhimself) has written a post, “researching while unaffiliated,” on the widespread issue of access to research materials and how, as an independent scholar, she has dealt with this difficulty.
It’s been just over a year since I left my job to become an independent scholar/freelance writer/humanist at large/wow this terminology is bad. I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s possible and not possible in this gig. One huge shift was rethinking how I got access to all those library databases that make my research possible.
I’ve really been pretty fortunate, given that I could easily not have access to anything I need (more on that after the break). But it’s a bit of a hodge-podge and there are still things I don’t have access to. So for the curious, here’s a list of what resources I use and how/if I have access to them. The specifics of the list come from my particular research interests (at the moment, early modern printing practices), but the general strategies and obstacles should resonate well beyond my particular niche.
Werner goes on to share a list of open access catalogs and journals that she has used, and points out how helpful institutional repositories can be for researchers:
… if I don’t have access to a journal, I will sometimes google the title and find that the article’s author has deposited it in their IR. Do you have access to an institutional or disciplinary repository? Have you negotiated contracts that allow you to deposit your work? Please do those things. It really, truly helps.
Other ways Werner has accessed material for her research: alumni affiliation package deals, joining specific professional organizations to access their publications, taking advantage of public library resources, and asking friends for copies of work that they can access.
She closes with an acknowledgement that the methods and workarounds she utilizes in her research are not viable solutions for everyone:
I really am lucky. I’m lucky because thanks to RSA I have access to the single most important thing I need at a really low cost. I’m lucky because I went to well-resourced schools for my BA and PhD. (I just checked: a Maryland alum doesn’t get off-site access to any library resources.) I’m lucky because I live in a place that has research libraries. I’m lucky because I know lots and lots of scholars and they are willing to help.
If I worked on, say, 20th-century manuscripts, and lived in western Maryland, and had gone to a state university for my PhD, and was just starting out in my scholarly career, I wouldn’t be able to work as an independent researcher at all.
Werner’s post highlights why challenging information privilege should be on the minds of practitioners working at the intersection of digital humanities and librarianship.