There are several different types of access available. Simply put, there is some you need to pay for and some you don’t.
Unfortunately the majority of journal articles have restricted access behind a paywall. If you have a subscription to an online repository or particular journal you will have access to some paywalled articles but this is unlikely to cover all journals and the cost of access to just one article can be extremely high.
The benefit of finding articles for a Journal Club rather than as part of a larger piece of research is that you don’t need access to specific papers. It’s disappointing that there isn’t access to everything, but if you have a topic in mind then you should be able to find something to work with.
These are articles that a free to access for a limited amount of time. There may be a promotion taking place or a collection available to mark a particular event. Sometimes journals will have a sample issue available or repositories might have collections of papers that are ‘most read’ or around a subject area such as ‘ Arts Education’ or ‘Media and Technology’. It’s worth keeping an eye out for papers that are relevant and keeping an eye on how long they will be available for.
Open Access publications remain available for use (unlike the limited time periods of free-access work). There is a growing movement in support of Open Access for academic papers. Publishers may argue that they have their costs and have reputations as reliable, peer-reviewed publications to uphold, but on the other hand, there is a vast amount of research that has been funded through public resources and there is a strong case for this work to be publicly accessible.
Research Councils UK is committed to making the outputs of publicly funded research available to potential users in business, charitable and public sectors, and to the general public, in addition to other researchers. They have set in place timetables for achieving open access and funding arrangements to help this happen. Further information on the RCUK policy on open access can be accessed here.
Publications can usually be open access via two routes – ‘Green’ and ‘Gold’.
Green Open Access
Authors archive a version of their publications in their institutional or a subject repository. There may be a publisher embargo period before it is available but there is no additional charge for the author or institution. The publisher will usually determine which version of the paper is made available – this is usually the final version that has been accepted for publication, and will retain copyright.
Gold Open Access
The final version of the publication is made immediately available via the journal website without an embargo period but an additional article processing charge (APC) may be charged by the publisher (usually paid for by the institution or as part of the research funding arrangements). These are fully peer-reviewed publications and are usually under a Creative Commons licence.
The Internet has made it easy for anyone to publish their work whether they have an established publisher or institution behind them or not. This doesn’t mean that everything out there is dubious – there are some established open access services that use peer reviewing and are well-regarded. There are of course plenty of self-published articles that don’t have the rigorous grounding you might be after.
This isn’t too much of a problem when it comes to Journal Clubs as long as it is clear to your members where the article has come from. Whilst research that is supporting an investigation should stand up to scrutiny, Journal Club is the scrutiny. You may find it easier to pick apart something that has the potential for bias and use it as a prompt to discuss reliability of published information.