Over at the Open Source Paleontologist there is an excellent article about getting hold of research papers (primarily PDFs, but also other sources). It’s well worth a read as he lists various sources for PDFs and ways of searching for them online. There are a few on there I didn’t know about so it’s well worth a look.
Two quick things I will add here (which I also left in a comment on the site) are quite important to this area of scientific research (both for amateurs and professionals). First off, while Andy mentions them, there are increasing numbers of ‘PDF collections’ online, with indices of whole rafts of papers based around subjects (ones for theropods, pterosaurs and ankylosaurs are out there) or people (Marsh is done and Cope I believe is in progress) and more and more researchers are making their papers availbale online on homepages and lab pages (Mike Benton for example has most of his papers, going back to the 70’s, available to download). In other words, in addition to open source journals and google there are huge stores of research inforamtion available online to anyone with a computer and two minutes worth of ‘googling’. Which brings me to my second point.
Why must I (and plenty of other people) put up with the endless requests for papers from people? If you want a copy of *my* papers, then fine, I’ll more than happily send on a PDF or hardcopy if I can. I want people to read my research and cite my papers. That’s a fundamental part of my job and all to the good. What I don’t like is the constant barrage of requests made by people all over the web for every single paper that comes out. This is especially seen on blogs where someone reports on a paper and instantly half a dozen people request copies of the PDF (and this is the same on mailing lists too, with constant requests for papers followed up by loads of other guys asking for a copy once the cry has gone up). It is probably freely available online and if not, the authors will happily send you a copy if you e-mail them.
It is, I feel, discourteous to expect researchers to spend their time randomly e-mailing copies of papers to anyone who asks when they have nothing to do with the paper. Yes it is their chocie to blog about it and spead the news in the first place, but that is in itself a service, and asking for all kinds of ‘extras’ constantly is an unfair use of their time. It will take you as long to e-mail the original author and ask for a copy of the paper as it will to put in a comment on the blog asking for someone to mail the paper to you, who has nothing to do with the work, and is already giving up his time to tell you about it in the first place. It’s especially true of the non-professionals who understandably don’t necessarily have access to all the journals etc. but enough professionals are guilty of the same thing and that’s not an excuse to harry people for reprints and PDFs.
I know some people are good about going this extra mile for service, and yes obviously not every paper is easily available online, or for that matter the contact details of the author (though increasingly that is less and less of an excuse) but it IS a pain. I feel mean when I don’t dig them out myself and send them on because, well, I am a nice guy, but it is (in my opinion) unthinking and unnecessary to expect people to just send out these things when they have real work to do. The act of unthinkingly asking (or even demanding) papers becuase you want to read them is not right. So if you are one of those “I must have it now, please send it to me” types, do stop and think for a minute. You have google. You have online archives. You can contact the authors. You can, and this may be shock, wait a few days before you read it, it won’t kill you – so calm down and look properly online first. If you must contact someone, contact a close research assocaite of the author who is likely to have a copy (a common co-author, his students, or someone who works in a simialr field) who is likely to have it. Send them a short and polite e-mail asking for a copy. Don’t just bang down a bunch of comments on blog threads or e-mail half the palaeo community asking for it.
This is something that rarely affects me personally I admit (apart from when I have my inbox filled with people requesting some new fish paper via the Vert Pal mailing list) and I am not sure how much it bothers others but is I think an important piece of netiquette that people need to think about. Do your own work, and don’t expect others to do it for you. And if you have to ask, ask nicely and ask the right people. Authors are delighted to know people are interested in and reading their papers and it helps them keep track of who is doing what and how their work is recieved, so just ask them.