This is a question we receive regularly at the Beryl Ivey Library, and is a common problem. Many students can find the titles of journal articles without difficulty, but get stuck when it comes to accessing the full text of an article. This is usually the case when you’re using traditional databases rather than Summon.
Why does this happen, you ask? Usually the answer comes down to money: journal subscriptions are extremely expensive. Even though you may be able to see a journal in many different databases, libraries usually only pay for one provider to give full-text access. This means that we might find the citation or the abstract of a journal article in three or four different databases, but will only get the full article from one of those databases.
This is also the reason that the “Get it @ Western” feature doesn’t always work the way we expect it to. Again, Get it @ Western is a fee-based service that is only linked with certain databases. While it is a convenient feature when it works, it will not always provide direct access to full-text articles.
Yet another reason why full-text articles are hard to find is because of our assumptions: it is easy to believe that all journal articles can be found online. Summon and other full-text products can give us this assumption, since they are only displaying online articles. This is not always the case, though. The library may subscribe to a journal only in print, for example; back issues of journals before the internet was popular (i.e. during the mid 1990’s) may not be available electronically, either.
Finally, access problems may come down to timing. Some publishers will release the print version of a journal ahead of the online – even up to a year in advance. This means you would have to photocopy the article rather than printing it from online. Other journals will post the abstract of an article way before the journal is ready (often because the findings of the study are considered ground breaking). In this case, you would have to wait for the full-text journal article to be released.
To help reduce the frustration the above limitations cause, I recommend keeping an internet window open to the library catalogue whenever you’re researching (http://alpha.lib.uwo.ca). This way, you can quickly check which database provides full text access to an article, without having to guess. Sometimes Western may only carry a journal in print, too, which the library catalogue will tell you.
For step-by-step instructions on how to find journal articles quickly, see the blog post: How do you find full-text articles through Western Libraries?
Update: This post was originally written by Heather Campbell in September 2010 and was updated March 2019 by Jordan Bulbrook.