How to read paywalls resources for free

February 3rd, 2022 Tagged with: qualitative, other

This post was first published as a small website at

Knowledge should be free. There’s a lot more that can be said there by people more eloquent and politically developed than I, but there is also no need to. It’s as simple as that — knowledge should be free.

This page is a resource list describing how to access paywalled and restricted content, and especially academic content, for free.

Academic books#🠑

Go to Library Genesis (LibGen) and try to find it there. LibGen’s search parameter is a little sensitive, so I would try a few keywords instead of (for example) the full title, printing press and publicatoin year.

LibGen has a lot, but it doesn’t have everything; if it doesn’t, go to the Ask For PDFs from People With Institutional Access Facebook group. Search for the resource there, and check out the flowchart in the group banner to see if any of those resources have it available. If they don’t, ask nicely if anyone can send a PDF of the book.

If that route doesn’t work, you may want to try asking on r/AAAARG for access to the AAAARG archive. This mostly works for older philosophy texts and other books in the humanities.

If none of those work, you can try paying for an eBook from a retail outlet like Google Books, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, and “returning” it to get a refund. This is somewhat unsafe.

If none of these work, your book may only be available in print. Check on to see if this is the case. You may be out of luck.

Academic articles#🠑

  1. Find and copy the DOI of the article, or digital object identifier. This is essentially an ID for academic articles. If you can’t find it immediately on the site of the article, you can search for it on CrossRef
  2. Go to SciHub and paste it. SciHub’s URL changes quite frequently because of legal issues, so the best way is just to go to Google and find the current one in your country.

There is an international network of scholars contributing their credentials and labor to make SciHub work, so I’ve never had an issue with it. But in case of trouble,1 you can try some of the following:

Non-academic articles#🠑

Prepend to the beginning of the URL. You can also install the browser extension, or a similar one like the Bypass Paywalls extension on Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

For a few other Medium-based sites like Towards Data Science, I also like to use Medium Unlimited.

Share the resources#🠑

If you obtained a text through any means other than free and accessible resources, you have the opportunity to share that resource and ensure others won’t have to jump through the hoops you did. Here are a few notes on doing so.

Before sharing, we have to make sure the file is shareable. Resources often have a lock called a DRM on them to ensure that a PDF for you can’t be opened on any other machine besides your own.2 If this is the case, download the eBook viewer Calibre and use a plugin called DeDRM to remove it.

If you are sure the file is shareable, you can upload it to the Ask for PDFs Facebook Group and to LibGen. If you are on the tech-y side, you might also consider setting up and hosting a Calibre server.

Last thoughts#🠑

You can email me at [email protected]. Offer suggestions directly at the Github repo.

  1. An example would be when SciHub stopped uploading content due to legal battles at the beginning of 2021
  2. Some indicators for the case is if you "borrowed" an eBook (what the hell is even borrowing an eBook, anyhow), have to open the file through Adobe Digital Editions, or got it from a retail outlet