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The Best Open Tools for Discovering OA Arts and Humanities Research
Posted On August 9, 2022
Everyone enjoys finding free research materials online, especially independent scholars in the arts and humanities. These dedicated and often financially challenged scholarly workers are forced to use open search tools to discover open content. Such open+open tools do exist, often in circumstances as precarious as their users are, and these tools can be vital for those without access to the walled gardens of universities.

About a decade ago, I made the JURN search tool for such 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 de-duplication of results. 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 with Google automatically weeding out dead URLs. But try it out for yourself. Note that JURN may seem weak if you casually try it with two or three simple keywords, since Google seems to have learned to expect some complexity in the query. But if you have success with it, then you may discover its “secret sauce”—serendipity.


What about other open search tools for the arts and humanities? A useful new arrival is Internet Archive Scholar. Still very much a work in progress, it offers keyword search across selected OA journals, OA aggregator feeds, a wealth of microfilmed journal runs, old journals from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and even archived webpages. Results from the tricky search “Mongolian folk song” suggest it has good keyword semantics.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) also offers full-text search, but it is limited compared to the comprehensive directory. Full-text searching will only occasionally surface a useful article. Note that DOAJ removes a journal if it has been inactive for the past year, so you cannot search across defunct or dormant journals.

The Paperity project has slowed in recent years, and its semantic interpretation of queries is extremely poor anyway. But Paperity is especially useful for gray OA from circa 2000 to 2018, if you can plow through many irrelevant results. Its “sort by publication date” + “follow by RSS” combination is an especially notable rarity, although today it seldom reveals humanities items. The CORE search results also usefully offer a “sort by recent” filter, this time for new open content in academic repositories in the U.K. and European Union (EU) and around the world, but it appears to lack RSS. Semantic Scholar has a useful “sort by recency” filter, but again, has no RSS.

At the time of this writing, the EU’s new GoTriple (in beta, as of late 2021) searches for “Social Sciences and Humanities” in Europe, but gave limited results when tested in July 2022. When ready, GoTriple seems likely to be most useful for discovering EU-funded projects and outputs in EU repositories.

Grassroots projects worth evaluating are the long-standing and the new OAmg. Semantic interpretation of keywords is good on both, although users should be wary of occasional questionable scholarly links in results. But admittedly, even the mighty Google Scholar—run entirely separately from Google Search—cannot seem to fully exclude these.

Google News and Bing News can be surprisingly helpful in discovering current projects, exhibitions, or new books. Bing News is especially good for timely local and regional news. Until recently, I was able to supplement my news access via a public library card—giving home access to ProQuest UK Newsstand with full-text newspapers. My U.K. public library no longer appears to subscribe, but others may find they have similar local options. (ProQuest News & Newspapers appears to be the current name of the service to enquire about.) As with news, open podcast search may also help discover fellow scholars. I know of no blog search tool worth using.

Old maps often aid scholars, and for the U.K., the National Library of Scotland provides an exemplary free and open service. For old images of places, PicClick is of immense value. Open and funded by eBay commissions, it keeps a 2-year archive of all images posted on eBay.


Sadly, the dark copyright gap for books is difficult for independent scholars to shine light into. Google Books is the key starting point, but it may give only snippets or a few free pages. The Internet Archive is a useful follow-on, especially with the new Books to Borrow library (free signup) and its recent mass ingestion of journals. But the user needs to learn the Internet Archive’s quirky ways and how it interprets (or not) search keywords and filters results.

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

The Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) can be misleading if one uses its top-level facets to discover “humanities” or “arts.” One might then think that there were only 11 titles for 2022, as I originally did. But my detailed investigation of the full .CSV database shows just more than 500 arts and humanities in English and published as full books in 2022. DOAB books are well-integrated into other open discovery tools; the DOAB might usefully improve its service with a dedicated discovery RSS feed for new titles purely in the arts and humanities.

David Haden is the editor of Digital Art Live magazine and the curator of the JURN search tool for open discovery of OA arts and humanities content (

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