A short guide to free academic search

This guide was created by the curator of the JURN search-engine. Below is a short guide to various free search-engines and tools. Specifically, to those tools likely to lead to open material useful for UK students and researchers in the arts and humanities.

Last updated: July 2015. Last checked for link-rot: October 2014.

* “I want to search inside millions of modern non-fiction books”:

Google Book Search.

Amazon ‘Look Inside’

Hathi Trust Digital Library includes Internet Archive books and newspapers in results. (If you’re in the UK and Europe, and you find that the EU’s copyright laws stop you from seeing Hathi materials that Americans can view freely, then use the TOR browser or a proxy to access them: tutorial)

* “I’m researching a historical topic, and I want to search out-of-copyright books and journals (generally pre-1926)”:

Internet Archive: Texts. Search scans of out-of-copyright books — 27,000 from Project Gutenberg, 300,000 titles from the Microsoft book-scanning project, and some from early results of the Million Book Project, among others.

Universal Digital Library. Around 400,000 books in the arts and humanities. Slow, and clunky to use. (Requires either the ExpressView plugin and/or a TIFF viewer plugin.).

JSTOR is now free for articles before 1923. No registration is required. You can also register with MyJSTOR to access a further 1,200 journal titles for free.

Library of Congress has American newspapers before 1922.

Google Book Search will also add out-of-copyright works to the results, depending on your search phrase.

Hathi Trust Digital Library includes Internet Archive books and newspapers in results. (If you’re in the UK and Europe, and you find that the EU’s copyright laws stop you from seeing Hathi materials that Americans can view freely, then use the TOR browser or a proxy to access them: tutorial)

The Hathi Trust search: full view + journals + arts will bring up arts journals from the 1880s-1920s.

* “I already have a fair grasp of the outlines of my topic, and I want to search and freely view open access journals, books and theses”:


* “I already have a fair grasp of the outlines of my topic, and I can obtain commercial academic papers and books once I know they exist”:

Google Scholar.

Journal TOCs.

* “I want to search academic repository material, such as dissertations and theses”:

Note: in search results from repositories you’ll often find only an item’s record (title, author, short description, etc). There will often be no link to a full-text PDF. For some unknown reason repository search tools are deeply reluctant to allow users to limit search results to only free and full-text items such as PDFs.

BASE has worldwide coverage. From late 2013, BASE is able to limit search results to journal articles.

Open DOAR repository search has worldwide coverage.

National repository search services include: Intute: UK Repository Search (100 UK repositories, no longer maintained); RIAN (Ireland); Narcis (Netherlands); SWEpub (Sweden); Aggregator (Poland); Isidore (France); Tesis y Monografias and Recolecta (both Spain); RCAAP (Portugal); Pleiadi (Italy); TROVE (Australia); AuseSearch (Australia); National ETD (South Africa); Collections Canada; and DART Europe (UK and Europe).

Digital Commons is a new arrival in 2014.

CORE searches across academic repositories, with an emphasis on indexing full-text items.

OATD: Open Access Theses and Dissertations.

OpenAIRE harvests records mostly from UK and European repositories.

PQDT Open from ProQuest seems rather limited in scope, very slow in displaying PDFs, and experimental — but may be worth a look.

JURN has an experimental repository search tool based off a cleaned combination of the OpenDOAR and ROAR source lists. As of March 2014 the main JURN search tool also searches theses from selected larger USA repositories and most of the larger UK repositories.

* “I want to find books specifically published as open access”:

aOpen is an excellent new resource that provides an online catalogue of free Open Access books produced in Europe.

Directory of Open Access Books

* “I want to find out what current newspapers and magazines are saying about my topic”:

Google News Search and Microsoft Bing News Search. Current news reporting can sometimes be suprisingly useful, as it can include items such as book and exhibition reviews and obituaries.

Newspaper archives for the 20th century can be searched via Google News archive. More recent archives (back to 2003) can be searched via the Archives tab in the regular Google News.

* “Where can I find images online, relevant to my topic?”:

Europeana, a major European project that enables search across UK and European collections.

Google Images and Microsoft’s Bing Image Search. Bing Images has the best user interface, but Google Images has the ability to sort by date.

Flickr can sometimes give useful photos (e.g.: Search Flickr for Noh Japan — 1,600 results).

Google Books Search sometimes gives you usable images on book covers / back covers, and occasionally even inside books. Use a screenshot application to grab them from the screen.

You can do “reverse image search” by clicking on the camera icon in the search-box at Google Image Search. You can also use TinEye to do the same. Upload an image to find out where it came from, and if it’s really what it’s claimed to be.

* “Where can I search for public domain or Creative Commons licensed images?”:

Search @ Creative Commons has a search-engine that allows you to limit searches to items that have a creative commons licence.

Flickr’s Creative Commons directory and search options. You need to be logged in to Flickr for this to work properly. You may want to speed up the horribly bloated new Flickr interface by pretending to be Internet Explorer 8.

The Flickr Commons: public-domain historical collections from museums and archives and the 19th century collection from the British Library.

Kalev Leetaru has uploaded 2.6 million public domain scanned pictures to Flickr, with automatic tagging.

Google Cultural Institute, public-domain images from the world’s great museums and galleries.

Wellcome makes some of its historical medical images available under Creative Commons. Be sure to switch the drop-down on their search box to ‘Historic’ only. Only their historic images are CC Attribution.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has nearly 400,000 images online in hi-res, and which are freely “available for scholarly use in any media.”

The Yale Art Gallery has hi-res digital versions of its Public Domain works.

Google Images has an option to search for Creative Commons images.

U.S. Dept of Agriculture and NOAA photo libraries.

morgueFile — free stock photography from creatives to creatives.

Geograph UK — free-to-use StreetView-like pictures of places and roads.

Use xPert to create valid academic citations (references) for Creative Commons images.

You can also extract images from HD video. In that regard, Vimeo Creative Commons search might be useful. Use a screenshot application to grab them from the screen.

Free fonts can also be searched for via the specialised engine Find That File.

* “Images are not enough for me. I want to see and perhaps even handle the actual artifacts / object collections — are there any in the UK?”:

Archives Hub UK. Searches all the UK special collections and archives (held at universities and colleges). See also the UK’s CultureGrid for object search.

Cornucopia. Searches the collections in UK museums, galleries, and libraries. Funding may be removed from this service in 2010/11, reportedly.

Those who might be satisfied with digital ‘virtual’ 3D objects might also look in the Google 3D Warehouse.

Europeana, a major European project that enables search across UK and European collections, may also be useful in locating collections that can be visited.

* “Are there any maintained full-text search-engines for specific arts and humanities disciplines?”:

In the years I’ve been building JURN, I’ve only found these few: Sisyphos searches in Egyptology / Ancient Near Eastern Studies; Theological Journals Search and Biblical Studies journals cover Christian scholarship; and the Alcuin Society’s Search indexes around 150 sources on fine printing and the book arts.

* “I’ve heard about these free ‘open’ courses that some major universities are starting to put online?”:

MOOC List is a comprehensive search tool.

Major free course providers are Coursera and edX and Futurelearn.

* “Is there a simple search-engine for all audio-books from all major vendors?”

Librophile is the only one that JURN’s curator knows of.

* “Are there search engines for finding Creative Commons music?””

Soundcloud CC search.

While not Creative Commons, the Sounds at the British Library are free to use for those in UK further and higher education.

* “The millions of personal lists of books and DVDs that people make on Amazon, is there a simple way to search them?”:

Search all Amazon Listmania lists. Indexing the U.K., U.S., and Canadian versions of Amazon. Using this search engine you can put in book titles (use quote marks) to discover lists of similar books, or use the standard Google search modifier intitle: to search page titles only.

* I think what I want may only have been published in very small numbers, perhaps even distributed informally?:

Open Grey: System for Information on Grey Literature in Europe. Bibliographical references of reports and other “grey literature” produced in Europe until 2005.

Modernist Journals project. Large searchable library of art and intellectual journals in and around modernism. Mostly early 20th century.

* Are there search tools for finding open Big Data sets and statistics sets?:

Data Dryad

Databib is a searchable directory of research data repositories.

ZanRan is a search-engine for finding Big Data & statistics.

OpenContext is a hub for archaeology data sets.

Dataverse is a ‘virtual hub’ where you can create and store a data-only repository for your university.

* Is there a free tool which lets me search through the recent and current tables-of-contents of commercial journals?:

The UK service Journal TOCs lets you search by keyword through the tables-of-contents of “20,658 journals collected from 1,373 [commercial] publishers”. Seems to work best with a single keyword.

* Is there a free way of accessing and searching my nation’s newspaper archives?:

In the UK, simply by joining your local free public lending library, you should get free home access to ProQuest UK Newstand at home. UK Newstand allows you to search by keyword across the archives of national and regional newspapers, and retrieve full-text. Most archives seem to go back to around 1998.

* “Are there free art history bibliographies I can use online, without having to register?”:

The Getty Bibliography of the History of Art.

Virtual Catalogue for Art History.

Arcade (search the holdings of New York’s major art libraries).

ARTicles Online (search the journal article catalogues of the European Art Libraries Network, inc. Florence, Munich, and Rome).

Once you have a title, Library Thing is useful for finding an online scan.

(See also: The Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus online)

* “Is there a good software tool to help me to store and organise my research PDFs, as I find them?”:


Mendeley Reference Manager.


* “I’ve downloaded loads of PDFs to my desktop PC for my research. Now is there a way to search inside them all?”:

See JURN’s guide to desktop search software.

* “I want to convert PDF ejournal articles and book chapters to read on my Amazon Kindle ereader”:

The conversion software Mobipocket Creator 4.2 Publisher Edition works quickly and speedily, and produces a “good enough” .prc ebook file, of a type supported by the Kindle. Just copy the resulting .prc over to your Kindle. The MobiPocket Creator Software is wholly free software and is not timebombed, crippled, ad-supported, or subject to a “trial period”. In my experience the conversion is better than that done by the free Calibre conversion software. JURN’s curator has a conversion tutorial.

* “Is there a big list of all the open English language ejournals in the arts and humanities, one that links to the home pages?”:

Yes, the JURN Directory. This is link-checked and repaired regularly…

* Is there an up-to-date directory of highbrow literary “small magazines” in the English-speaking world?”:

Poets & Writers’ Journal and Magazine Directory.

* “I’m an overseas student who can read academic articles in my own language — is there a directory of academic journals in the arts and humanities for my language?”:

Spanish: LatIndex / Dialnet / Dulcinea (and Raco for Catalan open access ejournals, and e-Journal for Mexico). And Tesis y Monografias for searching Spanish repositories for journals.

Brazilian: Livre! and Sumarios (and e-Revistas : Humanities and Redalyc for the wider Central/Latin American region).

Italian: Italinemo, and Biasa for titles before 1930.

French: Revues.org and Persee and Cairn. For a list of French journals in Canada, see Synergies.

German: University of Regensburg ejournal list, and the Digizeitschriften Open Access journals directory. There’s also the Swiss Retrojournals.

Japanese: CiNii (includes the “NII Repository of Electronic Journals and Online Publications”) and Jairo for searching repositories for journals. Also look at the full-text ejournal archive at Journal @rchive.

Turkey: DergiPark. Turkey appears to have a 100% open access policy.

South Korean: Korea Science.

Chinese journal articles can be searched at Baidu Academic and see also Hong Kong Journals.

Those who can read Welsh should consult Welsh Journals Online.

Another alternative Open Access journal directory is, of course, the DOAJ. This directory usefully bars and weeds out predatory journal titles. But keep in mind that it has very tight ‘OA purist’ restrictions on which OA titles it will include, and only indexes current ongoing titles.

Finally, ROAD can also be a useful lookup directory for those seeking OA journals published from a particular small country or region. But do please keep in mind that ROAD makes no attempt to identify or weed out predatory journal titles.

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