Top 5 digital resources when working from home

One of the impacts of the closure of campuses during lockdown is being cut off from library resources. Having spent a lot of time in libraries as a child, the experience of browsing a physical shelf and finding related sources is a difficult experience to replace. Having a physically present and knowledgeable librarian who can point you to other books that may be of use is an often under-acknowledged, but invaluable, resource.

With access to this resource now gone, I thought it would be valuable to list a few ways to access academic work digitally. Some will be well-known to many of you, but I hope there are some tips in here that will be of use. Click the titles to be taken to the sites where relevant.

Logos for ResearchGate and Academia.

1. ResearchGate / Academia

Many of you will be aware of these websites and use them regularly. They have their various pros and cons. However, they can be an excellent way not only to source a paper or chapter you want, but also to have a look through the catalogue of an author. You can also often find undergraduate and masters dissertations. While it is worth paying more attention to the accuracy and interpretation for these, there are some excellent and comprehensive thesis out there.

The papers and chapters are often, for copyright reasons, pre-prints of what is published. For this reason, it is a good idea to check page numbers and figures are numbered as published before referencing.

2. Google Scholar

Again, a well-known tool but packed full of features that are often over-looked. One of my favourite features is the “cited by” tool. As with many humanities subjects, archaeology has several important publications that go back into the late 19th/early 20th century. Using the “cited by” feature can give you an insight into the subsequent interpretations and reflections on the paper over the years.

It is worth going into the settings on Scholar and having an explore. One of the features that can save finding the perfect paper then not being able to access it is entering your university library, which will give you links to what your library subscription has access to. Scholar can also import citations directly into most major referencing software, which can save a lot of time.

Example of a Google Scholar search
An example of a Google Scholar search. Play around with the settings to make the most of the features most relevent for you3.

3. Libraries

Just because they are physically closed does not mean your library is no longer useful. That includes public and national libraries as well as your university library. You may be surprised at the number of books you are able to “borrow” as ebooks. I am one of those people who prefers a physical book to read, but ebooks are a good backup and have some useful features. Being able to search words or phrases, for example, can be incredibly useful.

Also use this time to explore the digital resources from your public library. Until recently, I had not thought to investigate this and was astounded to see how much there was. There are the expected ebooks and the like, but also audio files of old interviews, video clips, music, and a whole lot of useful and engaging content.

The National Library of Scotland also have a huge amount of free digital content. My own favourite part of this is exploring the historic maps. You can go and see what the area you are in looked like in the mid 19th century or see the coast lines as mapped from a nautical perspective. Also, remember many librarians are still working and will be excited to discuss books and resources.

Old bound books
The ebook may not have the same feel and smell as a beautiful dusty old book, but additional features make them an option worth exploring. (Image WikiCommonsCreative Commons License)

4. Direct Communication

This can be a bit of a scary one, but directly contacting an author whose work you are specifically interested in can be an excellent way to get copies of papers and chapters, as well as opening discussions. My own experiences of doing this have found people who are keen to discuss their own research and enjoy finding new people who are interested in the same things.

Remember to be respectful to the fact they have their own students to talk to, as well as the increasingly overbearing bureaucracy that is becoming the norm in academia. Perhaps also do not time it to combine with the busier times of year, for example during student admittance, especially this year when nobody knows what grades everyone has or what changes the government are about to make.

Header image of the Open Culture website

5. Open Culture

This is a slight departure from the previous four resources. This website is a huge roundup of free resources from various sources. It collects free online courses covering a wide range of subject groups, audio books, ebooks, films and all sorts of digital resources.

A lot of the media is available because it is now out of copyright, so is often quite old, but there are some real gems in there. Because of the sheer amount of stuff available it can sometimes be a bit of a task to trawl through it all but is well worth spending some time to look about and see what there is.

My main issue with using this site though is falling down the rabbit hole of watching wonderful old movies and forgetting to find anything useful!

What else is out there?

This list is, of course, a tiny fraction of what is available out there and is deliberately broad on subject matter. Some things are quite specific to subject area, for example SCRAN is more targeted for history and archaeology. Although, this is also a resource worth exploring, especially if you do not get library access as it has been made free until the end of October 2020!

I would love to hear your own experiences of these resources and anything you would add. One of the things I would love to do going forward is to create a more extensive list of what is out there to add to the blog. Please add your own favourite (legal!) resources in the comments below or over on twitter.

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