Chronicle of Higher Education Features Research by USC Librarian

Posted by Nathan Masters

Why explains the rise of scholarly pirates – researchers who cirumvent paywalls to access journal articles and other paywalled content? A recent Chronicle of Higher Education story about academic piracy featured research by Carolyn Caffrey Gardner, the USC Libraries' information literacy and educational technology librarian:

Ms. Gardner recently set out to research what motivates scholars to use pirate sites to obtain journal articles. In a survey whose results will be published this month in an open-access journal, Ms. Gardner and her husband, Gabriel J. Gardner, asked about 200 scholars who used alternative methods to view journal articles why they had done so.

While a majority said they had used interlibrary loan, even more said they had turned to a section of the anonymous website Reddit, r/scholar, to ask other Internet users to send them the files they sought. About half of the survey participants said they had used a piracy website such as Sci-Hub or LibGen, and about 20 percent said they had made requests on Twitter using the hashtag #icanhazPDF. Many scholars said they saw those methods as equivalent to a colleague’s dropping off a PDF on their desk.

"They said they wouldn’t have access any other way. ‘I just need access. I don’t really care how,’" she says. "Also many cited that their interlibrary-loan programs were slow." She says some academics also argued that they perform free peer reviews, so they should be able to read articles free too. And others said it wasn’t possible for their library to have every journal they might need for research.

Gardner's research will appear soon in College & Research Libraries, the official journal of the Association of College & Research Libraries.

Read the full story by Corinne Ruff at chronicle.org.