Open access resources for research

A computer keypad with one key labelled "free".

You can find many publications, journals, research articles, monographs and theses that are free to read online. This guide will help you discover scholarly publications and resources that are freely available to all, wherever you are.

Using these resources, you may be able to access a wider range of content than you would otherwise be able to while using the British Library’s Explore catalogue outside of the British Library’s buildings.

While working off-site, researchers will find that they are not able to access all the digital resources found within the British Library’s Explore catalogue. As a result of licensing restrictions, we are unable to provide off-site access to many of the research publications that we have subscriptions or licenses for, including journal articles and monographs. We are also unable to provide off-site access to UK electronic legal deposit materials, which by law can only be consulted within the British Library’s buildings.

‘Open access’ publications are free to access for everyone, wherever they are in the world, and depending on the license they are made available under, you may also be able to download and share them with others, and in some cases adapt and modify them for your own use. Aside from articles and monographs, you can also discover research findings reported in open access doctoral theses, pre-prints (research articles that have not undergone peer review) and datasets.

An increasing range of publishers make open access content available on their webpages, but many publications are only available when an author has uploaded a copy to an external open access ‘repository’ (a database of publications). There are thousands of repositories, often managed by universities or research funders.

Listed below are useful resources and tools which collate openly available content, and will help you access a wider range of research publications when working off-site.

Find specific publications

  • Open Access Button - use the web interface or internet browser plugin to search for a freely available version of a particular article, using its title, URL, DOI or PubMed ID.
  • Unpaywall - while you browse publisher webpages, this plugin will indicate whether a freely available copy of an article is available from a repository and will give you access at a click of a button.

Search for research articles, monographs and theses

These tools do not index from the same sources and their search interfaces work differently. This means that you may find additional content by trying several of them.

  • EThOS - provides a national aggregated record of all doctoral theses awarded by UK Higher Education institutions, and free access to the full text of as many theses as possible.
  • - as part of its work to open its data to wider use, the British Library makes copies of some of its datasets available for research and creative purposes.
  • CORE - aggregates content from the repositories of many higher education and research organisations.
  • The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) -  indexes freely available publications from global repositories. It allows multilingual searches and results can be refined using a wide range of parameters, including Dewey classification, language, document type and year of publication.
  • Europe PubMed Central - provides access to life sciences articles, books, patents and clinical guidelines. It is the recommended repository for many research funders.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals - an independent database of open access academic journals across all subject areas. Journals listed in the directory are expected to meet certain publishing standards.
  • Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) - a directory for publishers of monographs to provide records of their open access publications. 
  • DART-Europe E-theses Portal. Dart-Europe is a partnership of European research libraries and consortia which aims to improve access to European research theses.
  • Open Access Theses and Dissertations (OATD) - indexes records of theses from institutions across the world and provides a simple search interface.

Preprints, working papers and research data

An increasing number of authors are actively seeking to provide open access to their research articles prior to publication via preprint servers. These articles may not yet be peer-reviewed but contain a wealth of valuable research findings. Many authors also seek to make working papers and their underlying research data available online.

  • arXiv - (pronounced ‘archive’) a repository of preprints across the sciences.
  • bioRxiv - a preprint server for unpublished papers in biology.
  • DataCite - a non-profit organisation that allows organisations to register research outputs, including datasets and other unpublished works like working papers. DataCite provides a search interface for the work registered in its database.
  • SocArXiv - accepts papers from across the social sciences and humanities after moderation.
  • SSRN - originally focused on the social sciences but now also contains work in the humanities and sciences. Please note that unlike many preprint servers, users may be required to register to access articles.

Further information

Ask a Librarian – ask our reference teams for help finding more resources using the remote enquiry service. You do not have to be a Reader to use this service.

For information on the open access resources noted here, you'll find contact information on their respective webpages.