Reference from Coast to Coast: Stalking and Finding the Full-Text Article

This month we'd like to take a look at finding full text periodical sources. Our library collections cannot be all things to all people. We are limited by our mission, parent organization, space and most of all, budget and funding. But these limits do not necessarily jibe with our user's needs. We often get requests for explanatory materials – articles about popular topics or legal related materials that go beyond case law, statutes and other primary sources. Even the vast amounts of information available via Lexis, Westlaw and HeinOnline don't guarantee accessibility. So, while our collections can't be all things, we, as librarians and information professionals, are often expected to be all things to all people and provide what our collections don't.

So, first things first. As usual – determine what information you have and what you need. Let's say you have a citation to specific material. If something seems a bit off, verify the citation – query your requestor about the source; make sure the title is correct and volume numbers appear accurate. Use a periodicals index such as Current Law Index and a directory such as Ulrich's if need be. Sometimes a request is as straightforward as it seems. Check your own collection. This means your catalog and subscription databases. We can't keep everything in our head and it's pretty embarrassing to be told by an outside library "but your library has this cataloged". You've checked your collection and the title lists for Lexis and Westlaw as well as HeinOnline. And you're out of luck – either the titles aren't available or your citation doesn't fall within the volumes covered.

Now, check someone else's collection. It's this step that provides the most possibilities. You can go the traditional route – check a union catalog and contact one of the libraries listed to determine whether document delivery is available. We're familiar with the use of document delivery providers for scientific, technical and medical literature but many general, business and law libraries offer similar fee based services providing both online ordering and delivery. Another electronic option is using a content service such as Proquest, Goliath, Factiva, Science Direct or Amazon.com. JSTOR (Journal Storage) provides access to scholarly journals from numerous institutions, but they also have an “independent researcher” access option. Using an electronic content service is often the most direct way to obtain the full text of an article. It's fast, you can get immediate results and generally your copyright fees are included. But this time the request comes with an inability to pay.

Yet another option is sending a plea to a discussion listserv such as law-lib. But think before you impose on your colleagues – and however politely received a request may be, it is an imposition -- you may want to save this option for your most desperate times. Or this option may not be available to you because you don't want to publicly reveal (and document in the archives) that you or your Firm is seeking material on a specific subject. So, you don't have it, you can't spend cash money to get it, and you can't publicly request it. Hmmm. Well, everything's on the internet, right?

There are useful internet sites, both subscription or via library web pages, as well as print publications to help you determine if a journal is available full text online. Two of the familiar print directories, Information Today's Fulltext Sources Online and Books & Periodicals ONLINE also offer subscription based electronic access to their directory entries of periodicals, newspapers, newswires, newsletters, and transcripts available full-text online from data aggregators. Both of these directories provide alphabetical title listings detailing limited bibliographic information, dates of coverage, vendor or aggregator and database name/electronic availability. More and more library catalogs are offering options to locate online periodicals. One such source, from the Indiana University Libraries, offers a search box for the journal title and provides dates and sources of online full text options. In Colorado, the Denver Public Library offers access for any Colorado resident to Gold Rush which serves to direct patrons to the best database for their search or can help you find where a journal may appear online.

In addition to using a source like Gold Rush and checking your closest, largest academic library’s catalog, you probably want to check local consortium catalogs and WorldCat. Many library groups now offer something like Prospector at the Denver Public Library. A search here will indicate local affiliated libraries that hold the needed item. Beware, however, that you don’t become so comfortable with an affiliation search that you forget to check the larger world of institutions available via WorldCat or FirstSearch. Take a look at OCLC's FAQ to help distinguish between the Open WordCat Program and WorldCat. If your library doesn't subscribe to these services, check out your local public library, library consortium or State library for public access. For example, MEL, the Michigan Electronic Library, offers Michigan residents "free" access to databases including LegalTrac and WilsonSelectPlus which contain selected full-text sources.

You will note that the majority of sources that provide full text are sources that will generally cost some money. This type of request is a good opportunity to educate our users that published materials are not free. Information has become a very hot commodity and many of the sources that provide full text journal articles are very reasonably priced. This request may also be an opportunity to gently remind the user of the skills needed to retrieve these materials.