The 24/7 Reference Cooperative Best Practices recommend that Cooperative librarians should “choose resources at the appropriate level for the patron's research. In general, databases are preferable to Google or other general web sources when assisting students with research projects.” The QuestionPoint policy pages have a specific field for libraries to provide access to its databases for Cooperative librarians; it’s the “Guest Login/PIN for Coop librarians” field (see the Policy Page Guidelines for details). But, when staffing for the Cooperative, you may find that the patron’s library has not provided access to their databases. Or, you may have enough information from the policy page to access the databases, but alas – the database is not available at the moment. What to do?
Try Google Scholar. Google Scholar covers peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts, technical reports and books from many subjects – so it is possible to do broad, cross-subject searching. Do a few searches on the patron’s topic to find some good keywords, then use those keywords to look for articles or citations that look helpful. When you find something promising, send the link to the best article/citation to the patron. Be sure and get feedback from the patron, to check that the item(s) you send are what the patron needs. The patron may be able to access the specific item through the library’s databases. If you find useful items in Google Scholar, this will also provide you with good keywords to recommend to the patron, to use in additional searches directly in the library databases.
Also try Directory of Open Access Journals, which covers scientific and scholarly periodicals that publish research or review papers in full text. Over 6,000 journals are indexed in the directory, and all are free to access. And of course, OCLC’s WorldCat is a great source. WorldCat indexes, among many other things, OAIster: a union catalog of millions of records representing open access resources that was built by harvesting from open access collections worldwide using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). Today, OAIster includes more than 25 million records representing digital resources from more than 1,100 contributors. These resources will assist you in locating information from scholarly sources, both as an end result (the articles you find may entirely satisfy the patron’s information need) and as sources for good search terms for further searching directly in the library’s databases.
So, don’t worry if you can’t get access to a library’s databases – you can still provide useful information to the patron through judicious use of high quality open access resources.