Library:How to Find Open Access Materials for your Research and your Teaching

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What is Open Access?

A very brief definition: "Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge (to the consumer), and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions" (Peter Suber. "Open Access Overview.").

For much more comprehensive definitions/information about Open Access you can check out the Library's Open Access page; the website for the Budapest Open Access Initiative; Peter Suber's webpage on the topic; The Public Library of Science (PLoS) OA subsite and / or the Association of Research Library's Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).



Hand in glove with Open Access is the growing requirement among university administrations and funding agencies that publicly funded research be freely, publicly available.

  • Some post-secondary institutions (such as Harvard) have begun to mandate that faculty/staff pre/post-print research be deposited within their respective Institutional Repositories and to make every effort to ensure that they publish with journals that permit this use.

What does this mean for you?


This means that you may be able to provide online access to a pre or post-print version of an article/research that is otherwise restricted. i.e., the version of the article that was published in a scholarly journal may have licensing restrictions preventing you from linking to it or uploading it into your online course - or may be in a journal that UBC Library does not subscribe to at all.

  • However, the version of the very same article that resides in the author's Institutional Repository (IR) may very well be freely available to the public under a Creative Commons or similar license.
  • Once you have found an item that you would like to use for your course do check and adhere to the permitted uses for materials from the relevant IR.
  • For more information about IR's see below.

Institutional Repositories

"'An institutional repository (IR) is a digital collection of a university's intellectual output. Institutional repositories centralize, preserve, and make accessible the knowledge generated by academic institutions.' (Canadian Association of Research Libraries). In addition to materials like preprints and postprints of academic journal articles, other items such as theses, dissertations, departmental publications, technical reports, bulletins, conference proceedings, course notes and other learning objects may be deposited into an IR. University administrative documents are also eligible." (cIRcle. "What is an Institutional Repository?")


So, how do you find materials in IRs quickly and efficiently?


If you know where an article has been submitted you can navigate directly to that IR and search for the item in question. For example, if you know that the article is here at UBC you can go ahead and search within cIRcle or within UBC Library's Summon search:

  • cIRcle: cIRcle is the University of British Columbia's digital repository for research and teaching materials created by the UBC community and its partners. cIRcle is also openly accessible, which means that it is freely available to anyone via the World Wide Web under the following general conditions:
    • "Copies of full items generally can be reproduced, displayed or performed, and given to third parties in any format or medium for personal research or study, educational, or not-for-profit purposes without prior permission or charge, provided the work is properly acknowledged:
      • the authors, title and full bibliographic details are given a hyperlink and/or URL are given for the original metadata page
      • the content is not changed in any way" (General Policy. cIRcle).
  • Summon - is UBC Library's new search tool. Its aim is to reveal all UBC library licensed/owned materials in one place. When you type your search terms into Summon's search box you will be searching across the Library catalogue, through the contents of all the Library's licensed e-journals and databases and all the materials deposited in cIRcle.
If you do not know....

whether your article has been deposited in an IR or if you don't know which one it resides in you can try a "harvesting" tool. Tools such as these search multiple IRs all at once - eliminating the need for you to navigate to every IR around the world and run duplicate searches.


  • OAIster: "OAIster is a union catalog of millions of records representing open access resources that was built by harvesting from open access collections worldwide using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). Today, OAIster includes more than 25 million records representing digital resources from more than 1,100 contributors."
  • OpenDOAR: "OpenDOAR is an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. Each OpenDOAR repository has been visited by project staff to check the information that is recorded here. This in-depth approach does not rely on automated analysis and gives a quality-controlled list of repositories. As well as providing a simple repository list, Open DOAR lets you search for repositories or search repository contents."
  • ROAR: "The aim of ROAR is to promote the development of open access by providing timely information about the growth and status of repositories throughout the world." ROAR also provides a Google Custom search engine which allows you to search the contents of all of its participating repositories.
  • SHERPA: is a pioneer in "developing open-access institutional repositories in (UK) universities to facilitate the rapid and efficient worldwide dissemination of research. SHERPA services and the SHERPA Partnership are both based at the Centre for Research Communications at the University of Nottingham." SHERPA's website has a full-text search function for SHERPA partner repositories and for all UK Open Access Repositories.
  • Google Scholar is a specialty search engine from Google which concentrates on scholarly content, including Institutional Repositories. It will bring up many other types of results, including licensed content, so you may find it challenging to sift through all the results to find exactly what you need. Nonetheless, it is a powerful tool and likely searches a broader spectrum of IRs than may be available from other harvesters.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commonsis a non-profit organization that provides "copyright licenses and tools that create a balance inside the traditional 'all rights reserved' setting that copyright law creates" (Creative Commons "About").

‎ The idea is that content creators can choose to license their works in such a way that they can 1) retain copyright and 2) allow others to reproduce, disseminate and possibly even make derivative works from them "provided they give (the creator) credit" and do not violate the specific conditions the creator sets out (Creative Commons Canada. "Choose a License")


What does this mean for my work?


This means that you may be able to use Creative Commons (CC) licensed materials in ways that you cannot use non-CC licensed materials. Note, this does not mean that you can use CC materials in any manner you see fit - you are responsible for reading and adhering to the requirements of the specific Creative Commons license associated with the material(s) you wish to use. If you are in any doubt as to the permitted uses of an item, it would be better to err on the side of caution and choose materials licensed under the most "open" CC license, i.e., one which only requires Attribution.

Where can I get CC licensed resources?


The Creative Commons website and Creative Commons Canada should be your first two stops when trying to find CC materials to use and/or adapt. Keep in mind that any information pertaining to copyright law that you find on the US website is referring to US law only.

The US site:

  • provides a creative commons search function which "offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organizations."
    • Content can be images, audio, video, text, website or interactive.
    • Images are sourced from sites including Europeana, Fotopedia, Flickr, MediaCommons, and Google Images.
    • Video is sourced from YouTube.
    • Music is sourced from Jamendo and SoundCloud.

The Canadian site:

  • allows you to limit your search to CC licensed or public domain materials in Canada only.
  • has news, information and resources relevant to the Canadian context.

Note: "CC has no control over the results that are returned. Do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are all under a CC license. You should always verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link" to the source image ("CC Search")


  • Flickr: Is another great source of Creative Commons (CC) images.
Note, not all of Flickr's images are creative commons licensed, and as noted above, the various CC licenses have different terms and conditions which are legally binding. Make sure that you check the license terms and conditions - and adhere to them - before using something with a CC license.

To limit your results to items which have been made available for use by a Creative Commons license:

  • Click the "Commons" link in the upper left corner of the Flickr homepage
  • OR bookmark the URL for the Flickr Creative Commons database: http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/
  • OR type "Flickr creative commons" into your search engine


Public Domain

What is the Public Domain?


"In copyright, the realm of works that are not protected either because their term of protection has expired, or because they were released by the creator without intention of claiming copyright, is known as the public domain. Works in the public domain can be appropriated by anyone without liability for infringement" (Creative Commons Canada).

Laws pertaining to the public domain vary greatly across countries - usually a work does not come into the public domain for the life of the creator plus a preset number of years. In Canada this is 50 years. In the US and in the European Union works do not enter the public domain until 70 years after the death of the creator.

Crown Copyright


  • Note Canadian government publications (including Statistics Canada/Census data) are not automatically in the Public Domain. In fact, they are subject to Crown Copyright. This means that the Crown holds copyright on "any work (that) is, or has been, prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department...or the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and for a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year" (About Crown Copyright. Government of Canada Publications).
    • Each Government of Canada webpage has information about the permitted uses of its materials that you can view by clicking the "important notices" link at the bottom of each page.
    • The Crown generally permits reproduction of Government of Canada works without prior permission or license agreements for personal or public non-commercial uses, but to be absolutely certain you should consult this information page from the Government of Canada Publications division: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/ccl/aboutCrownCopyright.html


Where can I search for content in the public domain?


  • Internet Archive is a terrific source of works in the public domain and also hosts the Wayback Machine - "a service that allows people to visit archived versions of Web sites. Visitors to the Wayback Machine can type in a URL, select a date range, and then begin surfing on an archived version of the Web. Imagine surfing circa 1999 and looking at all the Y2K hype, or revisiting an older version of your favorite Web site. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can make all of this possible."
    • The Internet Archive's contents include a variety of original media types including books, government documents, moving images, audio clips and even software titles.
  • Project Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg Canada offer free access to digitized books that are in the public domain.
    • Note, as works enter the public domain in Canada 20 years earlier than they do in the US or the European Union, you may find that some titles offered by Project Gutenberg Canada will not be available from public domain sites outside Canada.
    • Project Gutenberg Canada concentrates its efforts on "Canadian literature (in both of Canada's official languages); non-fiction books on Canadian history, politics, and culture; fiction and non-fiction (from all countries) which are in the Canadian public domain; international books in any language, as is appropriate for a country with Canada's multicultural makeup" (Our Mission).
  • Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is Canada's official "memory institution" with a mandate to "to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations...."
    • The LAC website is a rich source of historical images, documents, books, data, maps and more. Some of these materials are in the public domain and LAC grants you the ability to reproduce them without prior permission. Other materials, however, are restricted. For complete information on reproducing materials found on the LAC website see: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/notices/016-200-e.html
  • Hathi Trust "is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future. There are more than fifty partners in HathiTrust, and membership is open to institutions worldwide."
    • Note, not all of the Hathi Trust's digitized materials are in the public domain. At present public domain items account for approximately 26% of its holdings, or 2.8 million volumes.
    • Also note, only members of Hathi Trust can download PDFs of works in the public domain. (UBC is not a member). Non-members can still view public domain materials in their entirety on the Hathi Trust website. The search engine for the collection is available here: http://www.hathitrust.org/
    • To avoid frustration, check the "full view" box before entering any search terms. This will limit your results to works in the public domain. Once you select your choice you will then have to click the "Go to the beginning of the book" link in the left menu to view the digitized work.
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images: This site provides a searchable database that contains both public domain and copyrighted images: "Some of these photos and images are in the public domain and may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However, some photos and images may be protected by license. We strongly recommend you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use."
  • Google Books - Not all content discoverable by means of Google Books is in the public domain and therefore you will find many items are not freely available. In addition, it is well established that the metadata can be unreliable in the Google books database. This is especially true if you are searching or browsing by publication dates or subject headings. Your best bet is to search by title or author.
    • Note, even if you limit your searches to the items in the "Classics" be prepared to find that many titles in the public domain are still not freely available online through Google Books.

Other Online Source Materials

  • NFB. The National Film Board of Canada is now streaming a considerable portion of its catalogue via the NFB website. Note, according the site's terms of use it is permitted to link to the NFB's videos for non-commercial purposes (so teaching & research is fine). It goes on to say that "the Embeddable Content is for personal use only. Teaching is not considered "personal use" so for this reason you should not embed any NFB content into course shells, professional webpages etc. Fortunately, the NFB's browser URLs are stable for each video title so providing links is very straightforward.
  • PBS: American Experience. This website contains full-length videos from PBS' acclaimed American Experience documentary series. Transcripts and select clips are also provided when available. According to the terms of use for the website you may provide students with a link to the relevant videos on the website, for their personal viewing. Downloading the website content for anything other than personal viewing is not permitted.
  • Civil Rights Digital Library. "The CRDL features a collection of unedited news film from the WSB (Atlanta) and WALB (Albany, Ga.) television archives held by the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia Libraries. The CRDL provides educator resources and contextual materials, including Freedom on Film, relating instructive stories and discussion questions from the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, and the New Georgia Encyclopedia, delivering engaging online articles and multimedia."

Help at Hand

If you have any questions about these resources and/or any library related question you can contact: