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Research Hacks, Volume I

One of the most persistent complaints about evidence-based policing – against academic research altogether – is its existence behind paywalls. Most police services, or individual police practitioners, do not have the funds for subscriptions to academic databases or to buy journal articles on an one-off basis at $50 a pop. So, they ask, what good is academic research to us?

That’s a great question, but it’s based on a largely false premise. You see, most academic research is publicly available to anyone in Canada with … a public library card. Yup, that’s right, a lot of Canadian public libraries subscribe to academic journal databases. Thus, for the low, low price of $0, you too can go online and surf hot spots research to your heart’s content.

How do I know? I had a hunch and I tested it.

First, I went to my local library. Assuming that the “articles” option might be journal articles, I typed “policing” and hit enter.

I got about 31,000 hits.

To make sure I could actually access the pdf version of a journal article, I selected one. Interesting side note, for those who want to use reference manager software, I note that my library (see right hand column below) allows this.

And voila! I got the journal article I wanted.

To see if this was an one-off, I then googled Canada public library and ebscohost (that being a common academic database) and found a bunch of results from all across Canada. For example, if you live in rural, northern Manitoba, you’re in luck! The Province of Manitoba funds academic database hosting for its public libraries.

The City of Calgary has a fancy library with multiple academic databases. Yes, multiple! Not only do they have Ebscohost, but they also have Academic Search Premier and you can search it on your mobile device. Anyone else remember card catalogues?

If you don’t live in Calgary, not to fret. There are, as I said, public libraries all over Canada with free access to anyone with a patron’s card. Live in Madoc, Ontario? We got you covered. Live in Smithers, BC? You’re good too. And on and on and on.

So, the next time someone tells you that you need to pay for journal access or no EBP for you … ignore them. Try your public library. Or, if you’re a college or university grad, pull out your alumni info because ... guess what? You also likely have online access to your alma mater’s databases. Trust me, there is always a hack*.

* When I shared this info with some colleagues, I received two very interesting responses. "That is cooool," said Lorna. However, my friend who had been unsuccesfully negotiating with a local university to get access for his police service, had a slightly different take: "son-of-a-bitch."

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