The best open tools to discover research in the arts and humanities in open access

Everyone loves finding free research papers online, especially independent scholars in the arts and humanities. These dedicated and often financially challenged researchers are forced to use open search tools to discover open content. Such open+open tools exist, often in circumstances as precarious as their users, and these tools can be vital for those who do not have access to the walled gardens of universities.

About ten years ago, I did the JURN research tool for these people. JURN discovers the full text of open journals in the arts and humanities. It runs on a Google custom search engine to provide Google-level speed, semantics, relevance ranking, and result deduplication. JURN now also comprehensively covers ecology journals, and it has a sister tool, Graft, which searches the world’s repositories. Neither tool is perfect, even with my annual maintenance and Google automatically weeding out dead URLs. But try it for yourself. Note that JURN may seem weak if you try it with two or three simple keywords, as Google seems to have learned to expect some complexity in the query. But if you succeed, you may discover its “secret sauce” – serendipity.


What about other open search tools for the arts and humanities? A useful novelty is Internet Archive Scholar. Still a work in progress, it features keyword search of selected OA journals, OA aggregator feeds, a host of microfilmed journals, old journals from the 19th and early 20th century, and even pages Archived websites. The tricky search results “Mongolian folk song” suggest that it has good keyword semantics.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) also offers full-text search, but it is limited compared to the full directory. Full-text search will only occasionally bring up a useful article. Note that the DOAJ deletes a log if it has been inactive within the past year, so you cannot search through obsolete or inactive logs.

The Paperiness has slowed down in recent years, and its semantic interpretation of queries is extremely poor anyway. But Paperity is especially useful for gray OA from about 2000 to 2018, if you can sift through a lot of irrelevant results. Its ‘sort by publication date’ + ‘follow by RSS’ combination is particularly noticeable in rarity, although it rarely reveals humanities articles today. The HEART the search results also offer a “sort by recent” filter, this time for new content opened in academic repositories in the UK and European Union (EU) and globally, but it seems to lack RSS. Semantic Scholar has a useful “sort by recency” filter, but again, has no RSS.

As of this writing, the new GoTriple (in beta, end of 2021) searches for “Social Sciences and Humanities” in Europe, but yielded limited results when tested in July 2022. Once ready, GoTriple appears to be most useful for discovering projects and EU-funded results in EU repositories.

Local projects that deserve to be evaluated are the long-standing projects and the new OAmg. Semantic interpretation of keywords is good for both, although users should beware of occasional dubious scholarly links in the results. But certainly, even the powerful Google Scholar– run entirely separately from Google search – doesn’t seem to be able to completely rule them out.

Google News and Bing News can be surprisingly useful for discovering current projects, exhibitions or new books. Bing News is especially good for timely local and regional news. Until recently, I could top up my news access via a public library card, giving home access to ProQuest UK Newsstand with full-text newspapers. My UK public library no longer seems to subscribe, but others may find they have similar local options. (ProQuest News and Newspapers seems to be the current name of the service to inquire about.) As with news, searching for open podcasts can also help discover other searchers. I don’t know of any blog search tool worth using.

Old maps often help researchers, and for the UK, the National Library of Scotland provides an exemplary free and open service. For old pictures of places, PicClic is of immense value. Opened and funded by eBay commissions, it maintains a 2-year archive of all images posted on eBay.


Unfortunately, the dark copyright divide for books is difficult for independent scholars to unravel. google books is the key starting point, but it may only yield snippets or a few free pages. The Internet Archive is a useful follow-up, especially with the new Books to Borrow library (free to sign up) and its recent massive journal ingestion. But the user must learn the original ways of Internet Archive and how it interprets (or not) the search keywords and filters the results.

Open discovery of new books is surprisingly abysmal, especially at Amazon. But those lucky enough to discover a new title should note the 10% free reading offer for Kindle ebooks. This often provides an introduction, and most people have the Amazon account required to download eBooks.

The small number of open access books published – very few arts and humanities titles are listed on the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) for 2022 when you search for “humanities” – means that the lack of a “what’s new” page or an RSS feed is an understandable omission at DOAB. DOAB books are well integrated with other open discovery tools.

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