The mathematical seeker

A situation from earlier today: An article was needed. It was published in 1986; turns out our institutional subscription to the journal in question was only from 1995 onwards; and it was not one of the cases where some other instance archives and offers the older articles for free. No, it was some legacy package which we just didn’t have. (Damn you, money!)

Turns out the first author had a few articles up on his homepage — but not such old ones. (Damn you, novelty!)

Turns out, finally, that the second author died in 1991 — thus, no homepage for him, and no chance of finding a copy there. (Damn you, mortality!)

The colleague who requested my help has now retired to his room, muttering about looking over his shelves, hoping that maybe he has a paper copy somewhere. If not, then a discreet e-mail to a colleague who might send back an attachment. (I’m pretty sure that every single academic person would be in a jail if copyright and copying restrictions could be supervised. Ah well, at least no-one does it for money.)

(Furthermore, I don’t think there are many torrents floating around with titles like “Hardcore Real Analysis articles 1976-1994 [Elsevier-RIP] FULL TEXT!” — I don’t know if I like or lament that.)

The thing is, any new mathematics articles are easy to get. With three or more authors it’s almost a certainty that at least one will have the submitted version on his or her website; for boasting, quick reference and the like. Old articles are a bother; especially those that are roughly “older than homepages, newer than computers”, Eighties and Nineties and the like, because those will still be sold in some institutional e-package, and not e-available elsewhere. (The really old ones are, if one can find them, and if one actually needs them, often archived somewhere free.)

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