The Community Practitioner



Volume 49 Number 3
Summer 2016

The Community Practitioner

Edited by Olya Glantsman

How Practitioners Can Access Academic Literature

Written by Bill Berkowitz, Jasmine Douglas, Melissa Strompolis, Kyrah Brown, and Chris Corbett

Information is power, and community practitioners need access to desired information to make wise community decisions and strengthen their work. Fortunately, most of the time, they can get it. Some practice settings have affiliations with colleges and universities and others are even located within said settings, offering automatic access to staff members. Others are lucky enough to work with undergraduate and graduate students who can access resources for them. But what happens when practitioners do not have affiliations with academic institutions? Or when practitioners do not have students to access the resources?

Much information needed today is freely available to anyone online or (even now) in print. Such information may come from traditional websites or journals in library databases, but also from blogs, podcasts, apps, and even social media postings. Yet if a practitioner needs the latest scholarly evidence on a topic, or wants to consult an academic source, that information may be harder to find; for physical library holdings are limited, and online access to full-text academic journals and reports is sometimes restricted to members of an academic community.

Despite these barriers, many options do remain available for locating what one wants and needs. Here are a few examples of how you can access these resources as a community psychologist working in non-academic settings.

1. Consider online academic databases that may be available through your local public library. For example, Bill Berkowitz, who works as a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, explains that his hometown library system offers unrestricted access to dozens of databases, including Academic OneFile (8,000 academic journals), Expanded Academic ASAP, and an impressive list of e-journals. “If you check what’s available through your own town, you might be surprised!” he says. Bill adds that if your own community doesn’t offer such access, a nearby community might. Policies and resources can vary widely from place to place. Sometimes too an online statewide network can get you what you need.

2. Consider acquiring ‘community membership’ to a local college or university library. Sometimes what you are looking for might only be available through a college or university library. However, colleges and universities themselves vary with public institutions generally tending to have broader access policies than private institutions. Moreover, sometimes a desired data source may be available to you, but only for in-person use rather than remotely. For example, Kyrah Brown, a postdoctoral research associate at the Sedgwick County Health Department (Wichita, Kansas), works to build the research and evaluation capacity of several community agencies. She encourages a very collaborative process that often involves agency staff helping with literature reviews. In such cases, she encourages those staff to obtain a community member library card from the local university. This card grants community members full access to the library’s resources. The membership card is free of charge and community members can only access resources on-site.

If this option falls short, your college library may offer access to members of certain community groups or organizations, often by prior arrangement. If you are a professional working in the area, it
may be worth asking about. Even if such an arrangement does not currently exist, you may still be able to negotiate access and use with the library director. During such a conversation you can explain what resources you need and why you need it. Many, if not most, directors do want to make information available to those needing it as long as no specific policies prohibit such use and no significant cost is involved.

3. Consider collaborating with a colleague who works in an academic setting. A colleague in an academic setting may be able to share a password or access specific information for you. Better yet, an academic colleague may even be able to assist you with getting an affiliate status so that you can access the necessary academic resources. For example, Melissa Strompolis, who works at a statewide nonprofit in South Carolina, was able to capitalize on her relationship with a research partner to become an affiliate investigator with the College of Education at the University of South Carolina. The affiliate investigator status not only provided access to academic resources but also opened the door for research collaborations with other faculty in the College of Education.

4. Consider open access journals or public academic websites. For example: Google Scholar can be a useful tool for finding scholarly resources such as journal articles, research reports, dissertations and theses, technical reports and so on. In addition, Google Scholar can be helpful for finding ‘gray literature’ (e.g., conference proceedings), locating obscure references that may be difficult to find in a larger database, and access books and articles in single search. Google Scholar also has a feature that allows you to review “related articles” as well as articles that have cited the article you found. Two drawbacks to Google Scholar include its inability to limit searches to only peer reviewed articles or only full text articles (as can be done with more robust scholarly databases) and you must pay for full-text articles. Open access journals and databases offer another opportunity to access academic resources. Articles in open access journals are usually peer reviewed (be sure to check the publisher) and permanently free for anyone to read. Many of the major publishers such as Elsevier, have listings of their open access journals. There is also the ‘Directory of Open Access Journals’ which can be a useful resource.

In sum, a number of possibilities for accessing academic literature do exist. The information world (and access) is changing rapidly. This means that what may be hard to find today, may be freely available a year from now (or even less). So it may pay to keep checking. You may have your own access experiences or ideas; and if so we hope you will share them with us, so that we can share them in turn. Please contact us at